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Mood Disorders: What They Are and How to Spot Them

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The stigma around mental health disorders is progressively changing.

For example, these days more people recognize that something like depression isn’t something you can just “snap out of.”

And it’s changing for the better with regard to other mood and personality disorders, too.

People are more likely to seek treatment than ever before, and they’re more likely to discuss their mental and emotional health with friends and family members. Because the conversation surrounding mental health is opening up so much, it’s important that people are well-informed about the symptoms and causes of these disorders.

This makes it easier for loved ones to watch for warning signs of a mood disorder and encourage people to get the help they need.

What Constitutes a Mood Disorder?

Mood disorders are a category of illnesses that broadly describe a serious change in mood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Any mood disorder represents a category of mental illnesses in which the underlying problem primarily affects a person’s persistent emotional state (their mood).” Mood disorders are most commonly associated with symptoms of depression and bipolar disorders. An estimated 21.4% of U.S. adults experience any mood disorder at some time in their lives.

The difference between simply experiencing the normal ups and downs in life and having a mood disorder has to do with the severity and frequency of these feelings.

For example, if a person has been feeling down for more than two weeks, it’s likely they’re suffering from some form of depression.

In many cases, mood disorders will be so intense that people find it hard to function in their daily life. And that intensity usually lasts until they get some help.

It’s important to note that a personality disorder is not the same as a mood disorder, though they are somewhat related.

A personality disorder goes beyond mood – it encompasses the person’s entire personality and how they relate to other people.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, some common personality disorders include:

  • Paranoid personality disorder – Suspiciousness of other people’s motives. Seeing others as mean or spiteful when that’s not necessarily the case.
  • Schizoid personality disorder – Limited ability to express emotions. Detachment from relationships.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder – Acute discomfort in relationships, distorted thinking and perceptions. Eccentric behavior is sometimes displayed.

The Most Common Types of Mood Disorders and Their Symptoms

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one might be dealing with a mood disorder, what can you do?

The first thing you should do is learn about the symptoms of the most common disorders. This can help you identify more quickly when you or a loved one needs some assistance.

Here are some of the most common types of disorders, their symptoms, and possible treatment options.

1. Major Depression

Symptoms: Not having as much interest in everyday activities or even hobbies you once enjoyed. Feeling sad, hopeless, and having a lack of energy. Symptoms typically last for at least two weeks.

2. Dysthymia

Symptoms: This is considered low-grade depression. However, the symptoms of sadness and hopelessness are noticeable and are often accompanied by irritability. These symptoms usually last for at least two years.

3. Bipolar Disorder

Symptoms: Someone with bipolar disorder has extremely high highs and extremely low lows. They alternate between the two, usually without notice.

When on a high, the person doesn’t sleep or eat that much, and they can engage in risky behavior.

4. Mood Disorders Related to Other Health Conditions

Symptoms: Anytime someone experiences a serious medical condition, it can take a toll on their emotional health.

A serious car accident, a cancer diagnosis, or a chronic, painful condition can lead to depression. Or, if a person is already prone to depression, their symptoms can be exacerbated by the condition.

5. Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

Symptoms: Certain chemicals – including environmental toxins, prescription medications, alcohol, and recreational drugs – can have an adverse effect on a person’s mood. They can feel depressed, anxious, angry, or engage in risky behavior.

What kind of treatment options do patients with mood disorders have?

Oftentimes, the disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance. Therefore, a doctor may prescribe anti-depressants or some other combination of medications to treat the disorder.

However, according to Russell T. Joffe, the Dean of the New Jersey Medical School and co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, it’s best if doctors take a holistic treatment approach.

Medication can only do so much. The goal should be to treat the full range of symptoms a patient is experiencing.

Some ways to do this is to combine medication with cognitive behavioral therapy, support group meetings, and even substance abuse recovery programs.

Implementing multiple tools like this will help those suffering with these disorders to avoid recurrence or amplification of their symptoms.

What to Do If You or Someone You Love Is Dealing with a Mood or Personality Disorder

The most important thing a person with a mood or personality disorder needs is to be surrounded by people who can help them.

If you or a loved one is trying to cope with depression or another mood disorder, please know that you don’t have to deal with it on your own.

Talk to a loved one who has an understanding heart, who can be a shoulder to cry on. If a friend or family member is the one struggling, do what you can to be that loving support system for them.

This is not a time to close yourself off from others – it’s the time to get some help.

Help for mood disorders can come in a variety of forms.

You or your loved one might enjoy being part of a support group. Or, an inpatient or outpatient program offered through Las Encinas Hospital might be the best option.

We invite you to learn more about our programs. We offer multiple support and treatment programs for people dealing with mood disorders.

Remember – you’re not alone in this. There are people out there who want to help, who want to support you as you find solutions that will lead toward better mental and emotional balance.

Have you or a loved one been struggling with extreme moods or frequent changes in mood? Please contact us to find out more about mood disorders and which treatment might fit your needs, or those of your loved one, the best.