A dysphoric mood is a psychological condition in which people feel chronically sad, depressed, anxious, and lonely. It is not a true mood disorder, but rather is a state that is often brought on or exacerbated by other mental imbalances, though it can exist on its own, too. People aren’t usually diagnosed unless they’ve been experiencing feelings of sadness and depression for a long time, and it’s usually considered more serious than just fleeting disappointment or “blues.” Psychologists and medical providers often look for ways of treating the condition through medications and lifestyle changes so that sufferers can reclaim many of the joys in life that this mood tends to dampen.
Place on the Mood Disorder Spectrum
Mental health is a complex field covering a wide range of problems that are often charted on a spectrum that relates to intensity and overall impact on life and health. Dysphoric moods are usually considered to be less serious and volatile than more pronounced illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, and they aren’t usually nearly as debilitating, either. Most experts do not consider chronic mood problems on the spectrum of major mental illnesses, though many acknowledge that moods and true disorders often occur together.
Even when it occurs in isolation, however, this sort of mood can come in varying intensities. Some patients have only mild cases, often marked by general feelings of malaise and low energy, and most people are able to function fairly normally; others have more profound feelings of loneliness and sadness that can lead to thoughts of worthlessness and suicide, and can significantly hamper efficiency and the ability to lead a “normal” life. An acute episode may completely overwhelm the sufferer to the point where his or her daily activities and social interactions are impacted.
The emotional state of people who suffer from this condition is usually characterized by one or many negative emotions, including sadness, anxiety, restlessness, and irritability. This condition can include a variety of emotions, so the experience can vary from one person to the next. Diagnosis usually focuses on how long a person has been feeling these sorts of thoughts, and how easy or difficult it is to move past them. In most cases the mood is unlike regular sadness or fleeting, temporary depressive episodes in that it can’t be overcome and has more to do with body chemistry than pure emotions.
Dysphoric moods often look a lot like clinical depression. The main difference is usually found in root causes. Depression is generally a result of chemical imbalances in the brain, whereas a dysphoric mood is more often caused by hormones or external stimulants. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause this emotional state, for example, and it may also be the side effect of a drug. In women, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) are both frequently characterized by negative feelings that occur around the onset of menstruation, and some experts suggest that sufferers have excessive reactions to the normal hormonal changes that occur in the body during the menstrual cycle.
Intersections With Other Disorders
Many psychiatric conditions, including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and personality disorders, list dysphoria as a symptom. A major concern when dealing with many of these conditions in conjunction with mood problems is the possibility of suicide. When sufferers have intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair, they may have suicidal thoughts; as such, caregivers usually need to pay special attention to patient safety in these cases.
Psychotic episodes, which happen when sufferers lose touch with reality, can also be a grave concern. These may include hallucinations, delusions, and an overall skewed view of reality. Mood can greatly impact how people experience psychotic episodes, and as a result someone with dysphoria might also have delusions that reflect ideas of persecution, paranoia, or self-loathing. In other words, the mood tends to bring out the very worst aspects of many different disorders.
Approaches to alleviating the condition usually depend on the underlying cause. A diabetic who is having a hypoglycemic episode needs to get his or her blood glucose levels back to normal by eating something containing sugar, for instance, and in most cases his or her mood will dissipate; a woman with symptoms of PMDD may address her negative emotions with changes in diet, exercise, or medications. Psychiatric conditions can often be treated by a variety of drugs in combination with therapy, too. When the mood is chronic and unrelenting, pharmaceutical intervention is sometimes the best way back to health.