By Catherine A. Sanderson, Amherst College
Mood disorders are a type of very prevalent psychological disorder. These include the presence of sad, empty, or irritable moods, typically accompanied by physical and cognitive symptoms. In fact, mood disorders like clinical depression and postpartum depression often go unnoticed and get worse in the absence of professional help.
For people with a mood disorder, feelings of sadness persist over time and are severe enough to impact daily life functioning; it’s not just feeling sad but feeling so sad that you lose interest in taking part in normal daily life activities—seeing friends, exercising, watching a movie, and so on.
But the specific type of mood change is different for different types of disorders, both in terms of duration of the mood change, type of mood change, and its trigger.
Just like with anxiety disorders, specific types of depressive disorders have different symptoms. The most serious mood disorder is a major depressive disorder. People with this disorder are known as “clinically depressed”, meaning they show a loss of interest in normal daily life activities and a depressed mood which impairs their ability to function in daily life.
To receive an official diagnosis, the person needs to experience five or more of the following nine symptoms within a two-week period:
- Depressed mood for most or all of the day.
- Decreased or lack of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed.
- Significant changes in weight and/or appetite.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Feelings of slowed physical activity or restlessness.
- Lack of energy or fatigue that lasts most or all of the day.
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating.
- Preoccupation with death or thoughts of suicide.
Most people at least occasionally experience some feelings of depression, which can include feeling deeply discouraged about the future, dissatisfied with their life, and isolated from others.
Identifying Clinical Depression
People who are clinically depressed also experience significant difficulty in going about normal daily life routines—going to work or school, showering, brushing their teeth, and so on. They may find it hard to even get out of bed. Most seriously, they may wonder if these feelings will ever go away and if suicide would bring an end to their pain.
A diagnosis of clinical depression also requires two other criteria. First, these feelings have to last for at least two weeks. So, feeling even quite glum for a couple of days isn’t sufficient.
Second, these feelings cannot have a clear cause. For example, if you experience the death of a loved one, or are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, it’s pretty clear why you might feel depressed. This is an important distinction since it means that people who experience these negative feelings, but the cause is pretty clear, do not technically have clinical depression.
This article comes directly from content in the video series Introduction to Psychology. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Another type of mood disorder, bipolar disorder, is also characterized by periods of a depressed or sad mood and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
But in the case of bipolar disorder, people alternate between these depressive episodes, in which they feel hopeless and lethargic, and episodes of mania, in which they experience abnormally elevated moods as well as increased activity and energy.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
During manic episodes, the person is typically euphoric, hyperactive, and wildly optimistic. Their speech is loud, rapid, and hard to interrupt. They seem to have little need for sleep. They often show excessive confidence, which can lead to highly destructive behavior, such as reckless spending, gambling, or investment in risky ventures.
In some cases, these episodes can include psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions that affect the person’s sense of reality and may require hospitalization.
Bipolar Disorder: Undetectable?
Bipolar disorder is much less common than depression, but it’s also possible that some cases are overlooked, particularly since milder forms of mania may not be recognized as problematic.
In fact, bipolar disorder is relatively common among people in particular industries, in which creativity is especially valuable—poets, novelists, and entertainers. Actress Carrie Fisher, of the Star Wars fame, had bipolar disorder and worked hard to raise awareness and reduce stigma about this, and other, psychological disorders. Both major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder are disorders that persist over time, and typically don’t have a clear cause or trigger.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Other types of mood disorders may include many of the same symptoms involving mood disturbance but are categorized differently to highlight a known cause. For example, people with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, feel perfectly fine during most of the year, but develop symptoms of depression, sleepiness, and weight gain during the winter months. This disorder is officially known as a major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.
Seasonal affective disorder is thought to be triggered by disruptions in the body’s normal circadian rhythm, which occurs following seasonal variations in the amount of daylight. During winter, when days are shorter and people spend less time outdoors, they have less exposure to light.
Reduced sunlight also decreases levels of serotonin and increases levels of melatonin, which can contribute to mood changes. This explains why the seasonal affective disorder is more common in people living in colder climates and in areas that are further from the equator.
Estimates are that SAD affects about 9% of people living in Alaska, but only about 1% of those living in Florida. It also explains why light therapy, to offset the seasonal loss of daylight, can help reduce its symptoms.
Another mood disorder with a clear trigger is postpartum depression. Many women experience hormonal shifts during pregnancy or after the birth of a child that can lead to mood changes, anxiety, and irritability.
But for some women, these feelings are more severe and long-lasting. Women who develop postpartum depression experience highly disruptive symptoms, including severe mood swings, feeling inadequate or worthless, difficulty bonding with the baby, intense sadness, and anxiety and panic attacks. They may also have thoughts of hurting themselves and/or the baby.
Common Questions the Different Types of Mood Disorders
Mood disorders are a type of very prevalent psychological disorder. These include the presence of sad, empty, or irritable moods, typically accompanied by physical and cognitive symptoms.
Mood disorders can be varied namely clinical depression, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) among others.
Just like with anxiety disorders, specific types of depressive disorders have different symptoms. The specific type of mood change is different for different types of disorders, both in terms of duration of the mood change, type of mood change, and its trigger.