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Depression, bipolar disorder, and mood disorders


Most people feel depressed at some point in their lives. Losing a loved one, getting divorce, feeling excluded from a friend group—all of these situations can cause a person to feel sad and lonely.  

However, depression isn't just feeling sad. It disrupts your daily routine and brings pain to you and others who care about you. It's a common ailment condition that impacts millions of people, but it's also a very dangerous one.

Sadness, despair, hopelessness, restlessness, unmotivation, and a general lack of interest or pleasure in life are all symptoms of depression.

It's possible that these emotions are just a fleeting episode of "the blues". But if the feelings last more than two weeks and interfere with everyday activities, it's likely to be depressive disorder.

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Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders: Recognizing signs, treatment, and more

Mood disorders occur when a person’s mood or emotional state is negatively mismatched with their current context or situation. While of course it’s completely normal for moods to change with changing circumstances, when these changes are extreme, abrupt, or incongruous with one’s reality to the extent that they interfere with their functioning, it may be cause for concern. 

The most common mood disorders are depression (major depressive disorder) and bipolar disorder. Mood disorders affect people of all ages, and it is estimated that 21% of adults experience mood disorders at some point in their lives. 

What are the symptoms of mood disorders?

Symptoms of mood disorders can vary, but common symptoms can include: 

  • Continuous sad, anxious, hopeless or numb feelings, or periods of profound sadness followed by periods of giddiness

  • Low self-esteem

  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy

  • Inability to sleep enough or sleeping too much

  • Decrease in overall energy levels

  • Consistent irritability or sensitivity 

  • Suicidal thoughts

What are examples of mood disorders?

Major depressive disorder (the official name for depression) and bipolar disorder are the two most commonly known mood disorders. Other mood disorders include seasonal affective disorder, cyclothymic disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. 


Depression is a common disorder that causes periods of extreme sadness that interfere with an individual’s ability to function in their day-to-day life. While some periods of depression are normal and healthy, it is considered clinical when the feelings of despair last for two weeks or longer.

What are the causes of depression?

There is no one cause of depression. Some begin experiencing depression after a major life event, others have always felt hopeless regardless of their circumstances and don’t know why. Though it’s not always known what causes depression, there are some factors that can indicate a higher risk for developing depression.

These include:

  • Genetics/family history

  • Brain chemistry

  • Stress levels

  • Nutrition

  • Substance use

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Bipolar disorder

Another common mood disorder is bipolar disorder, which causes extreme shifts in mood, energy level, and concentration. Individuals swing between manic episodes (high energy, euphoric feelings) and depressive episodes (low energy, feelings of despair). 

There are three types of bipolar disorder:

  • bipolar I disorder,

  • bipolar II disorder, and

  • cyclothymic disorder.

Bipolar I disorder is defined by manic episodes lasting at least a week and depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks.

Bipolar II disorder is defined by depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, which are less extreme than manic episodes (think well-rested instead of hyperactive or happy instead of blissful).

Cyclothymic disorder is defined by hypomanic and depressive episodes that last for at least two years each.

What are the signs of bipolar disorder?

People suffering from bipolar disorder go through manic and depressive episodes, which each have their own specific set of symptoms.

Symptoms of manic episodes include:

  • Increased energy

  • Agitation

  • Increased confidence

  • Poor decision making

  • Increased talkativeness

Symptoms of depressive episodes include:

  • Depressed, irritable, or sad feelings

  • Significant weight loss

  • Loss of interest in activities

  • Low self-confidence

  • Indecisiveness 

What are the causes of bipolar disorder?

No one is exactly sure what causes bipolar disorder, but there are certain factors that are thought to make individuals at higher risk for developing the disorder.

These include:

  • The biology of an individual’s brain

  • Genetics

  • Stressful life events

  • Substance use


Treatment for mood disorders is typically a combination of psychotherapy and medication. 

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves regular conversations with a mental health professional, like a therapist or psychiatrist.

There are many different approaches to psychotherapy, but they all focus on building coping skills that work best for the client. Psychotherapy is used to treat many mental health issues, like anxiety disorders, addictions, and eating disorders, in addition to mood disorders.

Sometimes, talk therapy alone is not enough to treat a mood disorder, and that’s where medication can be helpful. Medication must be prescribed by a medical doctor—a therapist or social worker cannot prescribe drugs, while a psychiatrist can. 

Medications commonly used to treat mood disorders include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. 

Though they can be scary and overwhelming, mood disorders are highly treatable. Psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both can help individuals suffering from mood disorders live a happy, healthy life. 

Assisting someone who is depressed

It's natural to want to reach out and help a family member or friend who is going through a bout of depression. But when it comes to depression, it's not always obvious what you can do to assist.

Loved ones of people with depression may stay quiet out of fear of exacerbating the issue or alienating the person they care about. While more people are becoming aware of depression and its consequences, the stigma associated with it remains, preventing individuals from talking about it.

If you suspect a loved one is having a depressive episode, there are many things you may do to help.

Below are some articles that may help individuals who are trying to figure out how to effectively assist a loved one who is depressed.

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