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Overview of Mood Disorders

Overview of Mood Disorders

What are mood disorders?

A mood disorder is a mental health class that health professionals use to broadly describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders.

Children, teens, and adults can have mood disorders. However, children and teens don’t always have the same symptoms as adults. It’s harder to diagnose mood disorders in children because they aren’t always able to express how they feel.

Therapy, antidepressants, and support and self-care can help treat mood disorders.

What are the different types of mood disorders?

These are the most common types of mood disorders:

  • Major depression. Having less interest in usual activities, feeling sad or hopeless, and other symptoms for at least 2weeks may indicate depression.
  • Dysthymia. This is a chronic, low-grade, depressed, or irritable mood that lasts for at least 2 years.
  • Bipolar disorder. This is a condition in which a person has periods of depression alternating with periods of mania or elevated mood.
  • Mood disorder related to another health condition. Many medical illnesses (including cancer, injuries, infections, and chronic illnesses) can trigger symptoms of depression.
  • Substance-induced mood disorder. Symptoms of depression that are due to the effects of medication, drug abuse, alcoholism, exposure to toxins, or other forms of treatment.

What causes mood disorders?

Many factors contribute to mood disorders. They are likely caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. Life events (such as stressful life changes) may also contribute to a depressed mood. Mood disorders also tend to run in families.

Who is at risk for mood disorders?

Anyone can feel sad or depressed at times. However, mood disorders are more intense and harder to manage than normal feelings of sadness. Children, teens, or adults who have a parent with a mood disorder have a greater chance of also having a mood disorder. However, life events and stress can expose or worsen feelings of sadness or depression, making the feelings harder to manage.

Sometimes, life's problems can trigger depression. Being fired from a job, getting divorced, losing a loved one, death in the family, and financial trouble, to name a few, all can be difficult and coping with the pressure may be troublesome. These life events and stress can bring on feelings of sadness or depression or make a mood disorder harder to manage.

The risk of depression in women is nearly twice as high as it is for men. Once a person in the family has this diagnosis, their brothers, sisters, or children have a higher chance of the same diagnosis. In addition, relatives of people with depression are also at increased risk for bipolar disorder .

Once a person in the family has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the chance for their brothers, sisters, or children to have the same diagnosis is increased. Relatives of people with bipolar are also at increased risk for depression.

What are the symptoms of mood disorders?

Depending on age and the type of mood disorder, a person may have different symptoms of depression. The following are the most common symptoms of a mood disorder:

  • Ongoing sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Feeling inadequate or worthless
  • Excessive guilt
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, wishing to die, or attempting suicide (Note: People with this symptom should get treatment right away!)
  • Loss of interest in usual activities or activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Relationship problems
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Decreased energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • A decrease in the ability to make decisions
  • Frequent physical complaints (for example, headache, stomachache, or tiredness) that don’t get better with treatment
  • Running away or threats of running away from home
  • Very sensitive to failure or rejection
  • Irritability, hostility, or aggression

In mood disorders, these feelings are more intense than what a person may normally feel from time to time. It’s also of concern if these feelings continue over time, or interfere with one's interest in family, friends, community, or work. Any person who expresses thoughts of suicide should get medical help right away.

The symptoms of mood disorders may look like other conditions or mental health problems. Always consult a health care provider for a diagnosis.

How are mood disorders diagnosed?

Mood disorders are a real medical disorder. A psychiatrist or other mental health professional usually diagnoses mood disorders through a complete medical history and psychiatric evaluation.

How are mood disorders treated?

Mood disorders can often be treated with success. Treatment may include:

  • Antidepressant and mood stabilizing medications -- especially when combined with psychotherapy have shown to work very well in the treatment of depression
  • Psychotherapy -- most often cognitive-behavioral and/or interpersonal therapy. This therapy is focused on changing the person’s distorted views of himself or herself and the environment around him or her. It also helps to improve interpersonal relationship skills, and identifying stressors in the environment and how to avoid them
  • Family therapy
  • Other therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial stimulation

Families play a vital supportive role in any treatment process.

When correctly diagnosed and treated, people with mood disorders can live, stable, productive, healthy lives.

Can mood disorders be prevented?

At this time, there are no ways to prevent or reduce the incidence of mood disorders. However, early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance the person’s normal growth and development, and improve the quality of life of people with mood disorders.

Key points

  • A mood disorder is a mental health class that health professionals use to broadly describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders.
  • The most common types of mood disorders are major depression, dysthymia (dysthymic disorder), bipolar disorder, mood disorder due to a general medical condition, and substance-induced mood disorder.
  • There is no clear cause of mood disorders. Doctors think they are a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Some types of mood disorders seem to run in families, but no genes have yet been linked to them.
  • In general, nearly everyone with a mood disorder has ongoing feelings of sadness, and may feel helpless, hopeless, and irritable. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years, and can impact quality of life.
  • Depression is most often treated with medication, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, or a combination of medication and therapy. In some cases, other therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial stimulation may be used.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
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