Types of Mood Disorders and Their Characteristics

A mood disorder is an altered emotional state that persists chronically for a period of time. We'll be discussing the characteristics of mood disorders

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), approximately 10% of US adults (20-30 million individuals) will be diagnosed with a mood disorder in any given year. Of that 10%, nearly half will suffer from severe symptoms.

Due to the prevalence of mood disorders, it’s important to gain a better understanding not only of what characterizes a mood disorder but how they’re diagnosed, treated, and managed.

In what follows, we’ll be discussing the characteristics of a mood disorder, the different types of mood disorders, associated causes, and risk factors, as well as the available diagnostic and treatment protocols.

What is a Mood Disorder?

A mood disorder is an umbrella term used to describe an altered emotional state that persists chronically for a period of time.

While minor symptoms of depression may last for a couple of days to a couple of weeks, the symptoms of a mood disorder, such as chronic depressive disorder, can persist for over two years. The persistent length of symptoms truly differentiates the mood disorder from an individual experiencing minor mood swings over the course of a given day.

The result of chronic mood disorders is often physically debilitating and emotionally crippling for an individual, taking a toll on both the person and the support system that surrounds them. Though mood disorders can vary in severity, they tend to require more thorough medical and psychological therapy.

Types of Mood Disorders

The two most commonly diagnosed and well-known types of mood disorders are depression and bipolar disorder. These terms are used to describe a more specific subtype of mood disorder. The severity of the associated symptoms will clarify these subtypes.

The vast majority of mood disorders are presumed by experts to be partially caused by abnormalities in brain chemistry that hinder the function of brain neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Other causes can include genetics, lifestyle factors, and environmental events.

The following are examples of mood disorders and subtypes:

  • Major or Clinical Depressive Disorder
  • Postpartum Depression
  • Dysthymia and Cyclothymia
  • Psychosis
  • Medication-induced Depressive Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • SADs (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder, which can also be called a chronic depressive disorder, clinical depression, or persistent depression,  is a mental health condition that results in extreme feelings of sadness lasting from two weeks to over two years.

Major Depressive Disorder

Other symptoms of major depressive disorder include hopelessness, restlessness, trouble sleeping, lack of concentration and focus, low self-esteem, zero appetites, and an overall feeling of demise.

Subtypes of the major depressive disorder include postpartum depression, dysthymia, psychotic depression, and medically-induced depression.

Bipolar Disorder

While there are several types and severity levels of bipolar disorder, the underlying definition is categorized as persistent and extreme mood swings, encompassing both periods of manic depression and episodes of euphoria. The moods of both extremes can become so severe that individuals can quickly lose the ability to function normally.

Those diagnosed with bipolar disorder have a high likelihood of developing depression as the symptoms of each disorder often overlap. In addition, a similar relationship exists between the conditions of depression and anxiety disorders.

Subtypes of bipolar disorder include Bipolar I and II, cyclothymia, and other unspecified diagnoses of manic depressive disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that only presents itself during specific seasons of the year, most commonly winter. Symptoms of SADs greatly resemble clinical depression, though they may only last for weeks or months instead of years, and they are more manageable.

The most prevalent regions of the world in which the condition of SAD occurs are in the far northern and southern latitudes during the winter season at times of decreased exposure to sunlight.

While SADs are generally considered less severe than most other mood disorders, symptoms can still become quite unmanageable in the most extreme of cases.

Risk Factors Associated with Mood Disorders

The following are the most common risk factors associated with various mood disorders:

  • Genetics and Family History
  • Abnormal Brain Chemistry
  • Environmental Stressors (Work, Relationships, Isolation, Loneliness, Traumatic Events)
  • Lifestyle Decisions (Drug and Alcohol Abuse)

While mood disorders may occur independent of risk factors, the development of a mood disorder may be mitigated by making healthy lifestyle choices, avoiding substance abuse, and reducing stress.

Mood Disorder Diagnosis

The diagnosis of each mood disorder is accomplished via the use of the DSM-5 Criteria for each specific disorder. A specific mood disorder is characterized by meeting several conditions. An example is that five or more symptoms listed in the DSM-5 must be present to fit the specific diagnosis in question.

Some of the criteria for depression include lack of interest in pleasure, insomnia, significant weight loss, fatigue, and lack of concentration. Several other possible symptoms are listed in the DSM-5, and the individual must have at least 5 of these symptoms during a two-week period consistently.

Mood Disorder Treatment

Treatment of mood disorders will likely involve a combination of psychotherapy and medication therapy. However, psychotherapy alone is sufficient treatment for the condition in minor cases. When medical treatment is indicated, the common medications utilized are Amitriptyline, Celexa, Cymbalta, Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac. These medications help by increasing the amount of serotonin or norepinephrine available for homeostatic mechanisms and additional post-synaptic nerve stimulation.

Mood Disorder Treatment

A medical provider experienced in mental health treatment or a mental health professional is the best qualified to diagnose and treat this illness.

Final Thoughts

Mood disorders do not spontaneously improve, and the individual with the condition will need to be evaluated and treated. Otherwise, the condition can worsen and cause mental pain, physical strain, and significant interference with daily life.

If symptoms are detected and begin to worsen, seek professional help immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment lead to the best outcome.

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