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Mood Disorders: Emotions as Illness

24 September, 2015 - 11:06


  1. Summarize and differentiate the various forms of mood disorders, in particular dysthymia, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder.
  2. Explain the genetic and environmental factors that increase the likelihood that a person will develop a mood disorder.

The everyday variations in our feelings of happiness and sadness reflect ourmood, which can be defined as the positivor negativfeelings that are in the background of our everyday experiences. In most cases we are in a relatively good mood, and this positive mood has some positive consequences—it encourages us to do what needs to be done and to make the most of the situations we are in (Isen, 2003). 1 When we are in a good mood our thought processes open up, and we are more likely to approach others. We are more friendly and helpful to others when we are in a good mood than we are when we are in a bad mood, and we may think more creatively (De Dreu, Baas, & Nijstad, 2008). 2 On the other hand, when we are in a bad mood we are more likely to prefer to be alone rather than interact with others, we focus on the negative things around us, and our creativity suffers.

It is not unusual to feel “down” or “low” at times, particularly after a painful event such as the death of someone close to us, a disappointment at work, or an argument with a partner. We often get depressed when we are tired, and many people report being particularly sad during the winter when the days are shorter. Mood (or affective) disorders are psychological disorders in which the persons mood negativelinfluences his or her physical, perceptual, social, and cognitive processes. People who suffer from mood disorderstend to experience more intense—and particularly more intense negative—moods. About 10% of the U.S. population suffers from a mood disorder in a given year.

The most common symptom of mood disorders is negative mood, also known as sadness or depression. Consider the feelings of this person, who was struggling with depression and was diagnosed with major depressivdisorder:

Ididnt want to facanyone;Ididnt want to talkto anyone. Ididnt really want to do anything for myself…I couldnt sit down for a minute really to do anything that took deeconcentration…It was likhad big huge weights on my legs and I was trying to swim and just kept sinking. And I’d get a little bit of air, just enough to survivand then Id go bacdown again. It was just constantly, constantly just fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting. (National Instituteof Mental Health, 2010) 3

Mood disorders can occur a t any age, and the median age of onset is 32 years (Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin, & Walters, 2005). 4 Recurrence of depressive episodes is fairly common and is greatest for those who first experience depression before the age of 15 years. About twice as many women suffer from depression than do men (Culbertson, 1997). 5This gender difference is consistent across many countries and cannot be explained entirely by the fact that women are more likely to seek treatment for their depression. Rates of depression have been increasing over the past years, although the reasons for this increase are not known (Kessler e t al., 2003). 6

As you can see below, the experience of depression has a variety of negative effects on our behaviors. In addition to the loss of interest, productivity, and social contact that accompanies depression, the person’s sense of hopelessness and sadness may become so severe that he or she considers or even succeeds in committing suicide. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, and a suicide occurs approximately every 16 minutes. Almost all the people who commit suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death (American Association of Suicidology, 2010; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2007; Sudak,2005). 7

Behaviors Associated with Depression

  • Changes in appetite; weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and pessimism
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not improve with treatment
  • Sleep disorders, either trouble sleeping o r excessive sleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide o r attempts at suicide