What You Need to Know About Mood Disorders

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Mood disorders are psychological disorders that involve mood and emotions. They impact the ability to function and include various depressive disorders and bipolar disorder. Depressive disorders are characterized by a lowering of mood, while bipolar disorder involves both low and elevated moods.

Depressive Disorders

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is one of the most common mental disorders, affecting 300 million people worldwide. About one in six North Americans, meanwhile, will experience depression during their lifetime.

Women are 70 per cent more likely to suffer from depression than men. Though it is a leading cause of disability, it is believed that the majority of people suffering from depression are not being treated.

The most common treatments for mood disorders are antidepressants, talk therapy or a combination of the two. Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, involves talking to a therapist to express, discuss and resolve mental or emotional issues. There are various types of talk therapy.

There are also various types of depression. They include the following:

Major depressive disorder: Also referred to as clinical depression, major depressive disorder consists of a low mood that persists over time. Sadness, loss of interest in previously-enjoyed activities, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, fatigue, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, social withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and suicidal thoughts are all symptoms of clinical depression.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): SAD is a form of depression associated with lower amounts of sunlight during the fall and winter seasons. Treatment for SAD can include Vitamin D supplements and light therapy, which involves sitting or working near artificial light, typically from a light therapy box that emits light that is brighter than indoor light, but not as bright as direct sunlight.

Postpartum depression: Fluctuations in hormones and lack of sleep can contribute to this unexpected depression that occurs after a woman gives birth. Postpartum depression has been getting more attention, which is good, as new moms are being reassured they are not bad if they are struggling with depression and receive encouragement to get the help they need.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder involves episodes of alternating depressed and elevated moods. The elevated moods are known as mania, giving bipolar disorder its previous name: manic depression.

Manic episodes are characterized by increased self-esteem, racing thoughts, talkativeness, rapid speech, distractibility, lack of ability to assess potential consequences of actions and increased interest in sex. At its most severe, which is rare, mania can lead to psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.

A delusion is a false belief. Examples of delusions include believing oneself to be someone else, like Napoleon or Jesus, or that aliens are monitoring one’s thoughts. A hallucination is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or feeling something that is not there.

Less extreme elevations of mood are called hypomania. Episodes of hypomania can be enjoyable and productive or agitated and overwhelming. Hypomania is typically part of “bipolar 2,” the depressive episodes of which can be more severe than “bipolar 1.” Bipolar 1 consists of depression and mania.

According to the WHO, about 60 million people are affected by bipolar disorder worldwide. More than 2 per cent of North Americans will experience a bipolar disorder at some point in their lives, with the 2005 U.S. National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions estimating the lifetime risk of bipolar disorders for Americans as ranging from 3 to 10 per cent.

Bipolar disorder affects approximately the same number of women as men. It is usually diagnosed in late adolescence or early adulthood, but can develop at any age, even in childhood.

Medication is vital in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Various mood stabilizers are typically used. They are prescribed on their own, in combination with each other or, more commonly, in combination with other medications, such as antidepressants.

Understanding the disorder is important to managing the symptoms. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is becoming more common in treating bipolar disorder. Unlike traditional talk therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy does not focus on past experiences to look for potential causes of emotional distress, but on identifying and modifying unhealthy thought and behaviour patterns. CBT is also helpful in the treatment of dysthymia, a mild but chronic form of depression.

If you have a mood disorder, it is important to identify what you are thinking about. Both the over-negative thoughts of depression and over-positive thoughts of mania can be harmful and lead to risky behavior, self-harm or even suicide. Correcting these thoughts is one of the goals of CBT, as are increasing the amount of a person’s activity during times of depression and decreasing it during times of mania.

Living with a Mood Disorder

There is no magic cure for depression or bipolar disorder, but both can be treated and managed. It is important to remember that people are not one-dimensional and our approach to mental health should not be, either. Our mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and social health are all connected.

No one should have to go through a battle alone. If you or someone you know needs help, please see the list of resources we put together just for you.

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Melinda VanRy
Melinda VanRy

Melinda VanRy writes about faith and mental illness on her blog Fruit of Brokenness, and is a Defying Shadows and ALTARWORK contributor. She, her husband, their three home-schooled kids, and too many cats make their home in rural Central New York, closer to Canada than NYC, and not far from Lake Ontario, which she loves.

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