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Depression and Mood Disorder

What is it?

Depression is a normal part of life but when it gets severe it is considered a mood disorder and this can occur at any age. If the mood disorder consists of both depression and periods of mania it is called bipolar disorder (a condition that used to be called manic depression).

Depression is characterized by feelings of hopelessness, tiredness, an inability to have fun and/or thoughts of death or suicide. Very young children may say they feel sick or have a headache as a way of communicating their depressed mood.

Mania is characterized by feeling extremely energetic and optimistic, which can lead to bad decisions. Often people speak very rapidly when in a manic state.
Psychologists often use the word “affective” as a synonym for emotion or mood; if someone says “there is a problem with affect” it just means “a problem with mood/emotion.”

What causes it?

While the mechanism behind mood disorders is not understood it is thought to be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Many medical conditions can lead to chemical imbalances, for example neurological or metabolic disorders. At this point science simply cannot pinpoint the sequence of events that cause mood disorders in a particular case, and there is no doubt many causes that lead to the same symptoms.

Treatment considerations

The main method of treatment is medication. Usually it takes some experimentation to find which medications are effective and this may change over time. Psychotherapy and Behaviour Therapy can provide helpful coping mechanisms.

Developmental considerations

Mood disorders can seriously impair quality of life and medications can have unpleasant side effects. The biggest risk in cases of severe depression is suicide. So while the term ‘mood disorder’ may not sound serious, it is a problem that needs treatment.

Looking down the road

Depression may be a one-time event or a recurring problem. Bi-polar disorder is a lifelong condition, with episodes that come and go. The key is being aware of the condition and getting appropriate treatment whenever it is needed.


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