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What are Mood Disorders?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Mood disorders, also called affective disorders, are a group of illnesses that have as their distinguishing characteristic an experience of mood that is unusual for the circumstances. Common mood disorders include bipolar disorder, depression, postpartum depression, cyclothymia, schizoaffective disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. Most of these conditions are at least somewhat treatable with drugs and psychotherapy.

Mood disorders in which a single mood exists to an unhealthy degree are called unipolar disorders. Severe depression is an example of a unipolar disorder and is relatively common among both adolescents and adults. Depression may be characterized by a number of symptoms, including diminished pleasure or interest, irregular sleep patterns, fatigue, suicidal thoughts, lack of concentration or memory, and delusional guilt. Generally speaking, a person may be diagnosed with depression if four or more of these features have been present for a two-week period, in tandem with either loss of interest or a generally depressed mood.

Psychotherapy may help a patient with a mood disorder.
Psychotherapy may help a patient with a mood disorder.

Mania is another of the unipolar mood disorders. Mania is essentially the inverted state of depression, often characterized by an unrealistically high self-image, a lack of sleep accompanied by little or no fatigue, runaway trains of thought, engaging in potentially harmful pleasurable activities to an alarming degree, distractibility, and an increased agitation of movement. If these symptoms persist for more than a continuous week, are not the result of drug use, and are severe enough to impair social interaction, a diagnosis of mania may result.

Severe depression is a unipolar mood disorder.
Severe depression is a unipolar mood disorder.

Bipolar disorder, also sometimes referred to as manic depression, is a disorder in which both the states of mania and depression exist at different times. Someone suffering from bipolar disorder will likely experience a period of mania, followed by a period of depression. These shifts usually follow a set pattern, with mood changes occurring anywhere from once every few months to, in some rare cases, once every few hours. Additionally, for someone suffering from bipolar disorder, characteristics of both a manic and a depressive state may coexist.

Dysthymia is a chronic mood disorder with symptoms that are less severe than major depression.
Dysthymia is a chronic mood disorder with symptoms that are less severe than major depression.

Mood disorders are quite common in the modern world, with nearly 1% of the adult population of the United States suffering from bipolar disorder alone. These disorders often go untreated for long periods of time, because many people have trouble accepting that they are suffering from an illness, rather than “normal” depression or mania. Luckily, treatment is available, and there is a growing amount of public recognition of mood disorders as illnesses which can, and should, be treated.

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Discussion Comments


Please help! I get really angry for the least little reason and constantly have intrusive memories. Well, that’s what I call it.

What happens is I can be watching TV or reading and I will get a memory from a lifetime ago that doesn't even matter anymore, but I still get the feeling from the situation I was in whether it was embarrassing or upsetting or made me angry and I get angry with people for the least little thing. I snap and if the person persists, I can lash out in a very aggressive way. I punch walls and windows, break things, grab people by the throat and threaten their lives. Not that I would do anything like that, but I also say very hurtful things to the person.

I don't want to react this way. I try and hold it back, but then the shouting starts and then the arguing starts then so on and so on. After it all I feel like a jerk and that adds to the memories of guilt, embarrassment and self consciousness. What is going on with me? I have been like this since I was a child, at 12 or so. I'm a 29 year old man now and it’s worse. I'm afraid of what I am capable of. When I have said this to doctors, they put me on these drugs that turned me into a zombie. I slept all the time so I stopped taking them a long time ago. They didn't help anyway. I just slept a lot.

When I would tell the doctor that the meds weren't doing anything but making me sleep, that they didn't change my mood, they increased the dose and gave me a new sleepy med, which also didn't do jack but make me sleepy. I think that the doc just wanted to make me so docile that I just wouldn't bother her anymore. I don’t know.


I am a father of three beautiful kids, ages 7, 8 and 9 years, one boy and two girls. All are very bright and bubbly, but we all share a dark family secret and we can’t find answers for them.

Ever since they were born, they have suffered and experience incessant abuse by their nagging, raging mother, who blames me for everything that is wrong with the marriage and takes it out on the children when she realizes I have started to ignore her behavior. She doesn’t hold a conversation with me for more than a minute without turning it into something negative or abusive or just plain hurtful. There does not seem a shred of a thing I can do about it.

I am a social worker myself and this relationship, which has been going on for ten years, has taken its toll on me. I refuse to give up on my kids or her, in the hope that sometime soon she will do something about her aggression and abusive behavior. I am hesitant to say it, but I sense there is a deep issue here and it can only be worked on by in depth counseling and dealing with her challenging behaviors.

I have been experiencing a deep depression with it myself, finding no real reason to deal with it any more. For the sake of my children, I stay to ensure they have a safety mechanism. She can do what she wants, but I am deaf to her words until she can deal with it. Underneath though, I really want constructive answers. Help please, anyone!


My dad died two months ago and I'm in shock. I am hurting so bad, I do not know what to do. My mama wants to always start arguments over the stupidest things. I am tired of my life. All I can do is cry. I am tired of my life.


My wife suffers from psychosis. We live in England. She destroys stuff at home and all the thoughts she has. I thought I would ask the Community Mental Health team for help. I was caring for her since she got sick but sometimes it was really difficult. I thought if she took some medication or someone could help me calm her a bit when she was really angry. Well the CMHT told me to abandon her as that's what families usually do in England. She's British, born in England, and she's black. The CMHT workers told me to send her back home to Africa -- that's the disgraceful health care here.

When I asked the health care services for help, I had been dealing with my wife on my own, and it wasn't easy at all. I had to fight the services just so they would do something. All they did was to get her to the hospital for seven days and then put her back on the street. That's all.

She lives today on the streets of London. I can't help her anymore because she doesn't trust anybody, not even me or her mother.

I'm originally from Germany and seriously this what I have learned about the NHS. It's like in Nazi Germany 1939 when Hitler was murdering sick Germans.

I have suffered from depression because of my experience and not so much because of her illness, but because of disgusting creatures working for the NHS. I had the sad opportunity to meet them and ask for help and all I got was "Leave her on the street."

Every time I think of England and its health care, I like vomiting.


I'm angry all the time, and no matter what I do to try to make myself happy, I remain mad. I want to be happy at least sometimes, but I just can't. The only thing that eases my anger is by punching things until I bleed. What's wrong with me?


I have been in a major depression since late last year, about four or five months. I worked with a psychologist for about three months trying non-medicated methods to counter depression such as exercise, breathing and relaxation techniques, and the application of small electric currents to the brain using a device called the Alpha-Stim (not as scary as it sounds, quite harmless actually). When none of these methods worked, I told my therapist it was time to return to medication, which I had previously been on for 10 years.

A highly respected psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar II disorder and said he could treat it, but insisted that I first work with a local hospital program to dispose of a gun I had bought several months earlier when I was in a more suicidal state of mind, and complete a few weeks of intensive outpatient therapy. Finally getting a diagnosis and hearing that my condition could be treated was a huge relief. It gave me more hope than I had felt in years. But when I went to the hospital to sign up for the outpatient program. a doctor interviewed me for 15 minutes and then her supervisor came over and told me that the other psychiatrist's diagnosis was wrong, that I was just a unipolar depressive and not bipolar II, and that he was having me committed to a psych ward for five days against my will!

They detained me on the spot and I had no opportunity to challenge their decision until a court hearing five days later. They never even called my psychiatrist or therapist before making their decision, although I had expressly asked them to. Then I was locked up on a psych ward for five days.

At first I refused treatment on the grounds that they had no business locking me up, and that I preferred the medical advice of my own doctor whose diagnosis I trusted. Although anyone would be angry in this situation, and the law gave me the right to refuse treatment, the staff and doctors took my non-cooperation as more evidence of my illness and made it clear that they would oppose my release if I didn't comply with what they wanted.

I was terrified, angry, facing five days of detention and possible weeks more if the judge believed the hospital's version of events, and under intense psychological pressure to conform. Finally I was able to calm down and got advice from family members that my best hope of getting out was to submit. I started playing along, chatting with the other inmates to show that I was a nice sociable person, participating in group sessions and agreeing to whatever medication they prescribed. Needless to say, they were very pleased with my progress. They released me just about the same time that I was legally required to be given a hearing before a judge. Talking with other people about what happened, I believe that the hospital acted the way they did to avoid any potential liability from treating a depressed person who had previously acted on, but did not carry out, a plan for suicide.

The experience has left me feeling completely violated and unable to trust in the psychiatric system. This must be what it feels like to be raped. I went to the hospital full of hope and honestly asking for help, and was treated like a criminal.

There hasn't been a single day since my release that I haven't broken down crying from the sense of humiliation, anger and fear that they will somehow capture me again. My depression is going untreated because I do not feel safe trusting medical professionals.

For those of you out there struggling with these issues, my advice to you is to understand the mental health laws of your state and be very careful in what you say to health professionals. They might be more concerned with their own legal liability than with your interests. Or, they may be well-intentioned but not believe you, and you may find yourself incarcerated without rights.


I suffered from mood disorders as a very young child with allergies resulting in excessive temper tantrums to the point my mother was advised by the examining pediatrician (before she decided to see an allergist about me) that I ought to be given a lobotomy!

Environmental factors of food, drink, and air play a big part in mood disorders for allergy-sensitive people, particularly children. If I had not been taken to an allergist so young for anti-allergy injections, I probably would have either ended up a juvenile delinquent or spending more time in a psych ward than at school.

The problem is locating the allergens causing the mood disorders, which will frequently be accompanied by physical reactions as well which are the instigators of the mood disorders.

I eventually outgrew them when with my developing intelligence level combined with the therapy, I realized I could not continue such erratic behavior in public without a lot of trouble from society. In adults, however, the physical allergy symptoms might not be present or noticeable either which makes detecting their mood aberrations as an allergic effect almost impossible. Before going to a psychotherapist, I would strongly recommend first visiting an allergist to determine if the disorder is due to allergy.

If it is not, then I would suggest next visiting a neurologist to trace an alternative physical cause because as I have found from personal experience with so-called pyschotherapists for treatment of circumstantially-induced stress and depression, their diagnoses are very subjective.


My son is 18 years old and is going through the pressures of growing up. He is not happy with the car we bought for him because his friends at school have nicer ones. He steals, has done drugs, and is angry at anything that confronts him. We are holding on in hopes of a turnaround. One step forward two steps back. His grades could be a lot better but he doesn't care.


I've been married to a man with severe anger issues, for over 20 years. We were separated this past summer, because his behavior is greatly affecting my teenage children. I back down and take his abuse, where they just get so mad at him a lash out and then he really gets mad.

Thinking you can stick it out is really putting yourself in for a world of hardship and your kids. He went on an anti-anxiety medication which helps some, but he still goes off the deep end if any little thing goes wrong, then he is all apologetic.

I came back to him because he is seeing a counselor but he needs different meds. He perceives things falsely and overreacts. Unfortunately, our teenage daughter has mood issues also. What a nightmare!


I don't know if I have a mood disorder but I can say that little things make me angry and I have turned to a little bit of recreational marijuana use and I'm only 15.


If anyone can respond please to my message, i would really appreciate it.

i really don't know if I'm bipolar or if i have some type of mood abnormality, but I've never been a very patient person. I'm 18 years old and I've always also had a bad temper. my parents would get a kick at asking me the same question over and over and over again as a younger child because they would see how frustrated i would get. i don't know if that could be a reason why maybe my temper or my patience is worse now but i also have a lot of anger and grudges towards my parents and some family members for various things they have done to me and i can get mad at little things.

but the way i see it is the principle of things and that's why i can get so mad at little things sometimes. if someone can please respond to my message with their opinion, i would really appreciate it.


i have mood disorder. yes it's hard because most people think you're crazy for years. i have got treatment but there is no cure for this. so step back and take a look. most people go to prison due to this problem. they have a hard time finding a job or keep a job. this is why they end up on drugs.


I have been recently put on mood control medication after a traumatic experience and I could not control my crying. I cry at anything now sad because I observed three people dying with no compassion, or to me, they were not given dignity in there last minutes at a nursing home where I did volunteer work.

My problem relates to post traumatic syndrome. I was previously being treated for depression and one doctor increased my medication to high dosages after the incident happened.

Do I have bi polar? I have asked this question before to the doctors but all I was told was no, so I am still in limbo with all this stuff. By the way, the sodium valproate that the new doctor put me on is working. He has increased it to 300 mg. a day now because I can't handle stress of any kind.


i also suffer from the same type of problem. Sometimes I have very stupid behavior. i fight over small things and perceive the things in a wrong manner. this affects my day to day routine and my study. Sometimes i sleep late and my family members think i do not want to work. I overreact to things. Tell me: should i consult a doctor?


I can relate to a lot of the comments posted. My husband too suffers from Bipolar disorder. One minute he will be completely happy, and the next he is fuming and yelling about things that are not even an issue in my eyes.

We also have two beautiful daughters and it is affecting his relationship with them. He does not want to spend time with the family. He would rather hang out with his friends or play video games to cope.

He gets so mad so fast over stupid little things. It seems like he has to find something to get mad about every day or multiple times a day. He will lash out at me especially and call me very degrading names. He will occasionally hit a wall or two, but I guess its better than him hitting me.

I love him so much, I just wish I could help that and is why I am now in college to become a psychologist. I grew up with a Bipolar sister so I can handle it a little bit better than most I think. Unfortunately for him, as a result of his anger he has turned to marijuana to deal with it. He is a great husband and father, but I don't know what to do sometimes.

I know it is not his fault so I am trying to do everything I can to help him. He will erupt randomly and start calling me names and making absurd accusations about me. Afterward, once he calms down, he will apologize and get very depressed because of how he treated me.

Things go back to normal and I am able to calm him down more quickly in the two years that we have been together so I know we can stick it out. I know that he does love me and his children, but the bipolar is blocking his true emotions a lot of the time. It is just nice to know that I am not the only woman trying to cope with a Bipolar husband.


You should check out Borderline Personality Disorder. Some of the symptoms people are posting kind of sound like that.


My husband has a bipolar symptoms. His mood changes in every second. He say things over and over that will make him mad. He is very negative about things, he does not see things the way normal people see. Right now, it helps with our relationship because he works overseas. We only see each other every three months. Our 16-year-old son committed suicide last summer. He had the same behavior as my husband.


my mom will come home from work and she just finds the littlest, stupidest things to fight about. you always feel like you're walking on egg shells around her, and you have to watch what you say or do because she flies off the handle. it's like she likes fighting and she thinks she is always right.

she will yell at us for doing certain things, but then you turn around and notice she does the same thing and when you point it out she doesn't realize. and when fighting she never lets you put a word in and when you do she just always says you're making excuses you when were actually just explaining something that happened.

i am trying to find out what kind of disorder my mom has. she only has some symptoms of bipolar disorder but i know something is seriously wrong and i want help her. anyone know what it possibly could be so i can look into it?


It is interesting to read these posts. My boyfriend exhibits this same type of behavior and I suspected it was some type of mood disorder.

Everything will be fine one minute and then all of a sudden he becomes irate about something to the point of wanting to hit me or destroying things. There is no reasoning with him when he gets this way. He becomes accusatory and does not take the blame for anything and sees nothing wrong with his behavior.

These posts have been an eye opener. As much as I love him, it is impossible to maintain a healthy relationship with him. This is very sad.

I see the problem now for what it is--a serious mood disorder.


dear amon 32503: I recently split from my husband of just over a year. What you are describing sounds very familiar. One day everything would be fine, we would be happy, crazy in love, he would be kind and loving. The next something would start to stress him out, and at first he would be distant saying nothing was wrong. Eventually it would come out, but attached to his original stress was his insecurities that I was cheating on him or hiding something from him. And always nothing was his fault, no blame was on him at all ever. The last fight that led to our break, he punched me in my head. I would encourage you to talk to your family physician on your own, bring up your concerns, and perhaps together you can figure a way to get your husband seen without making him uncomfortable or angry. These things seem to get worse as the time goes by. It is not healthy for you or your children to be around his irrational behavior. I hope with all my heart that he will get treatment! God bless! --Hurting


Any bipolar run in his family?


I need help. My husband exhibits serious mood swings, where one minute things are fine, then the next he is flying off the handle about how we all think he is crazy, worthless, stupid. We have been married for 5 years and this last episode has sent me over the edge.

We had a great anniversary weekend! We partied with friends over the weekend. The next day I couldn't get a word out of him. This happens often where he is mad, upset, depressed over something only he can comprehend. I have tried to ration with him, but there is no talking to him. He only see's things his way. I mentioned us going to talk to someone and he said he was not crazy and refused to go. Please help. How can I save my marriage? We have two beautiful children.


For years. I have been attempting to have my son diagnosed, he displays hyper activity, short attention span, destructive behavior, anger, complete melt downs. Recently he had made suicidal threats and made a attempt of strangulation with a belt.

Presently has been admitted into a youth home for assessment and according to what has been told a mood disorder is the possibility for his behavior as well as for the activity level. The clinicians are suggesting that depakote be prescribed for treatment.

My question is...The behavior my son is presenting fits into the mood disorder and if this medication regimen is effective? I appreciate any help with this matter.


well you and your sister should try to understand what she's going through, but if that doesn't work then i would see what you're saying, but just try to understand her and tell that you're just trying to help her.


I am concerned about my little sister...She lives away from us so we don't see her often, but we just had the opportunity to spend 5 days with her. All I can say is Oh My god! She is a serious freak! She flies off the handle and makes ridiculous accusations. I have never seen anyone lose their temper like her, especially if she's been drinking. Of course, she can turn it off in a nano-second if there's someone she's trying to impress in the near vicinity. These episodes seem to happen on a daily basis apart from her usually over reaction to everyday events. Could this be some sort of mood disorder or is she just seriously immature and rude beyond belief. We have recommended she see a health professional, but she thinks we're just her evil sisters making more of an issue than need be. She doesn't see a problem with her behavior despite that her 3 sisters now want absolutely nothing to do with her.

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