Mood disorders are a group of illnesses in which the primary aspect is a disturbance in the way a person feels, i.e. the person’s mood. The most common mood disorder is depression which is often characterized by strong feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in usual activities lasting for at least several weeks.
Common features of depression include:
- Depressed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities
- Significant changes in appetite which may involve weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in sleeping patterns which include inability to fall asleep, waking up much earlier than needed, or sleeping excessively
- Changes in physical activity, either by being restless or agitated, or by feeling physically slowed down
- Loss of energy and a feeling of being tired out
- Feelings of being worthlessness or feeling exceptional guilt
- Difficulty in concentration and impairments in being able to think through problems or make decisions
- Thinking about death or suicide or planning to commit suicide
- Some people with depression will have significant physical symptoms without any identifiable medical reason.
- Some people with depression may also experience significant anxiety at the same time as the depressive feelings.
Depression is a very common illness with a life time likelihood of an individual having an episode of depression reaching close to 20%. Depression can begin at any time of life, but the most common age of onset for these problems is during late adolescence or early adulthood. Another time in which depression is especially problematic is late in life.
There is no single cause for depression. Some individuals may have a biological vulnerability relating to the way the brain functions which contributes to risk for illness. It is well known that in many situations depression can run in families, and that there may be a genetic vulnerability in some individuals. Other individuals appear to have no biochemical or genetic vulnerability, but may be faced with substantial life stress, significant enough to set off depression. It is also known that, no matter what the individual’s personal vulnerabilities, living in a stressful environment which may include violence, poverty, abuse, or neglect may increase the risk for depression. It is also known that certain medical conditions such as a brain tumor, certain forms of cancers, or other metabolic problems can set off depression. In addition, certain medications prescribed to treat medical illnesses may also cause depression.
There are a wide range of both medications and psychotherapy treatments for depression. While the first treatment tried may not be successful, individuals who stay in treatment and try several treatments nearly always have a positive response to treatment.
Another common mood disorder is bipolar disorder. Most people know this disorder by the term “manic-depressive illness”. Like depression, bipolar disorders also influences predominantly mood, but in a different way. Individuals with bipolar disorder may have episodes of depression that may alternate with what it known as a manic episode. In a manic episode, the mood is unusually high or elevated, although some patients may be particularly irritable or aggressive. Also, change in sleep commonly demonstrated by decreased need for sleep, or complete lack of sleep. Thinking focuses on grandiose ideas about the individual, and that individual’s place in the world. The individual will often demonstrate hyperactivity and feeling of an intense state of high energy. Reckless or risky behavior may also predominate. Thinking is often speeded up so that individuals with mania experience their thoughts moving extremely rapidly. Changes in eating are usually marked by a significant decrease in appetite.Some people have both depressed and manic episodes, some people have only manic episodes, and some have more manic than depressed episodes or more depressed than manic episodes.
Most scientists who study the cause of bipolar disorder believe that biological vulnerabilities are the most important risk factor. It is, however, known that extreme states of stress and a variety of drugs can set off an episode of mania.
There are a variety of very effective treatments for bipolar disorder, particularly a range of medications which are used. Helping the individual cope with the stress of the illness, especially as it affects relationships and ability to work, is often very important. Psychotherapy is often helpful in helping the individual with bipolar disorder address better ways of coping with stress.
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