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What are Mood Disorders?

man with multiple faces depicting a mood disorder

Mood disorder, also called mood affective disorder, includes a range of conditions that can seriously impact your mood and your ability to function in daily life. Although many disorders meet the diagnosis of mood disorder, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder are two of the most common.

While symptoms vary according to the specific mood disorder, they often include elevated mood (or mania), depression, or moods that alternate between profound sadness and extreme happiness and euphoria.

Depressive mood disorders can have a devastating effect on your life, affecting your relationships, work or school performance, and more. They may also increase your risk of suicide.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

MDD is also known as clinical depression, major depression, or unipolar depression. If you have periods of deep sadness and hopelessness which last long after a trauma or stressful event is over or are present for no discernable reason, your doctor may diagnose you with MDD. Symptoms must be present for at least two weeks to meet diagnostic criteria.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the following symptoms are indications of MDD:

  • Feeling sad most of the time or nearly every day
  • Lack of energy or feeling sluggish
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Gaining weight or losing weight
  • Loss of interest in activities that formerly brought enjoyment
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Frequent thoughts about death or suicide
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing

Anxiety often accompanies MDD. Treatment studies find generalized anxiety disorder and MDD co-occur in 40 percent to 98 percent of cases.

Dysthymia, also called persistent depressive disorder (PDD), is similar to MDD but has longer-lasting symptoms. Adults experiencing symptoms for at least two years, or children or adolescents experiencing symptoms for at least one year, may have dysthymia.

Other depressive mood disorders include:

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is depression related to the lack of daylight during certain seasons of the year. The disorder is especially prevalent in northern and southern latitudes from late fall to early spring. Depression that happens only during certain times of the year for at least two consecutive years meets diagnostic criteria for SAD.
  • Depression related to withdrawal from drugs or alcohol or from certain medications.
  • Depression related to a medical condition, including postpartum depression.
  • Psychotic depression is severe depression combined with psychotic episodes which may include hallucinations or delusions.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a cyclical, hormone-based disorder that triggers mood swings, depression, irritability, anger, hopelessness, and more. It occurs during the premenstrual phase of a woman’s cycle and is an unspecified depressive disorder.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by frequent, severe angry outbursts that are not consistent with the child’s developmental age. This depressive disorder is a relatively new diagnosis.
  • Intermittent explosive disorder is a less common mood disorder, marked by repeated, sudden explosions of anger or rage which are out of proportion to the situation. Depression and anxiety often co-occur with this disorder.

Bipolar Disorder (BD)

If you have bipolar or manic-depressive disorder, your moods may swing between extreme highs and extreme lows. When you are in a low mood, your symptoms are similar to those common in clinical depression. During high mood swings, known as periods of mania, you may engage in a frenzy of activity, feel elated, and may be unusually irritable.

The Cleveland Clinic describes four basic types of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar I

  • This is the most severe form of bipolar disorder and includes at least one manic episode lasting at least seven days which may include required hospitalization. You may also experience related depressive episodes, many of which often last for at least two weeks. Sometimes symptoms of both mania and depression co-occur.

Bipolar II disorder

  • Less severe than bipolar I, this disorder causes depressive cycles similar to bipolar I but a less severe form of mania. If you have bipolar II disorder, you can probably handle your daily responsibilities.

Cyclothymia disorder

  • Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder. With this disorder, you may experience mild to moderate, rather than severe, mood swings. Your doctor may diagnose cyclothymia if your symptoms have persisted for at least two years. For children or adolescents, symptoms must last at least one year to meet diagnostic criteria.

Specified or unspecified bipolar disorder

  • If you are experiencing significant mood changes that do not meet the criteria of the bipolar disorders described above, your doctor may diagnose you with “specified” or “unspecified” bipolar disorder.

How are Mood Disorders Treated?

Treatment plans for mood disorders vary according to the specific diagnosis and symptoms but usually incorporate a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Medications used to treat depression or depressive episodes of bipolar disorders may include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Celexa, Lexapro, Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Cymbalta, Effexor, Pristiq, and Fetzima.
  • In some cases, doctors prescribe antipsychotics like Abilify or anticonvulsants to treat certain symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder.

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, is an effective approach for those with depression and other mood disorders. Psychotherapeutic approaches often incorporate several modalities, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and problem-solving therapy. These therapies give patients the tools they need to identify and solve problems, improve stress management and increase their quality of life.

The treatment plan may also include brain stimulation therapy, which is thought to target and change chemicals in the brain that are linked to symptoms of depression and bipolar disorders. Modalities include Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS).

Besides medication, light therapy is commonly used to treat SAD, using a lightbox that provides cool-white, fluorescent light to supplement natural sunlight.

If you have any of the symptoms described, or have suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. If you are in crisis, contact the suicide prevention lifeline at 800-273-8255 or call 911. Otherwise, reach out to a health care professional for help.

Also, please remember: we’re not doctors and this isn’t medical advice. If you think you may be suffering from a mood disorder, please reach out to your healthcare provider.

Mood Disorders and Addiction

Many individuals who struggle with mood disorders including bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder may also struggle with addiction-related challenges.

In some cases, individuals with mood disorders may use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism to manage debilitating depression, anxiety, or mood swings. In other cases, individuals may find their drug and alcohol use worsens underlying mental health conditions.

In either case, individuals with mental health and addiction-related challenges should seek treatment that specifically focuses on co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis. These programs are specially designed to treat mental health and addiction concerns simultaneously, which is a best practice supported by research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse among others.

Turning Point of Tampa has been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.