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Depression and Mood Disorders


Rates of depression in America were recently found to have climbed to 33%, affecting one in every three U.S. adults.

Depression comes in several levels and many forms—from major depressive disorder (MDD) to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Depressive episodes are also a symptom of mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, and personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).

A monarch original illustration of two men who may be experiencing symptoms of depression.

1. What's depression, and how is it different from major depressive disorder (MDD)?

Most of us will feel depressed or down at some point in their lives.

Grief after losing a loved one or getting divorce or feeling excluded from a friend group—all of these situations can cause a person to feel sad and lonely.  

However, the official definition of depression aka major depressive disorder (MDD) is not simply feeling down or sad.

Depression disrupts your daily routine and brings pain to you and others who care about you.

It's a common ailment condition that impacted 21 million Americans in 2020, but it's also a very dangerous disorder.

Sadness, despair, hopelessness, restlessness, lack of motivation, and a general loss of interest or pleasure in life are all symptoms of depression or major depressive disorder (MDD).

It's possible that these emotions are just a fleeting episode of "the blues."

However, if the feelings last more than two weeks and interfere with everyday activities, you may have depressive disorder.

It's important to connect with a therapist who specializes in treating depression.

See therapists who offer free 15-minute initial consultations and in-person or telehealth video therapy sessions.

2. Causes of depression

There is no one single cause of depression or MDD.

Some of us begin experiencing depression after a major life event, such as divorce or the loss of a loved one.

Others may feel constant overwhelming hopelessness regardless of our circumstances.

That said, there are some factors that can indicate a higher risk for developing depression:

  • Genetics and family history

  • Brain chemistry

  • Stress levels

  • Nutrition

  • Addiction and/or substance use and abuse

3. Take our online depression assessment

If you’re concerned you might be depressed, take our online depression assessment to receive immediate feedback about whether to seek support and treatment.

It's fast, free, confidential, and clinically validated.

4. How to find help and support for depression

If you suspect you might be depressed, it’s important to reach out to speak with a doctor or mental health professional, such as a therapist. 

The Monarch Directory by SimplePractice can connect you with licensed therapists who specialize in treating depression.

Many therapists on Monarch offer free 15-minute initial consultations and in-person or telehealth video therapy sessions.

If you have health insurance coverage, you can also browse therapists who accept your insurance.

5. What are mood disorders?

Mood disorders occur when a person’s mood or emotional state is negatively mismatched with their current context or situation.

While 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 will experience mood disorders at some point in their lives. 

A Monarch by SimplePractice original illustration of a woman comforting a friend who may be experiencing a mood disorder or depression.

6. Signs and symptoms of mood disorders

Symptoms of mood disorders 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 and feeling tired all the time

  • Decrease in overall energy levels

  • Consistent irritability or sensitivity 

  • Suicidal thoughts

7. Examples of mood disorders

Major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder are the two most commonly known mood disorders.

Other mood disorders include seasonal affective disorder (SAD), cyclothymic disorder, postpartum depression (PPD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). 

8. Bipolar disorder

Another common mood disorder is bipolar disorder, which causes extreme shifts in mood, energy level, and concentration.

Individuals with bipolar disorder swing between manic episodes (high energy, euphoric feelings) and depressive episodes (low energy, feelings of despair). 

There are 3 types of bipolar 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.

9. Signs and symptoms 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 

10. What causes 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

11. Treatment for depression, bipolar, and other mood disorders

The treatment for depression, bipolar, and other 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, clinical psychologist, or psychiatrist.

There are many different approaches and styles of therapy.

Psychotherapy is used to treat many mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, addictions, and eating disorders, in addition to mood disorders.

The most successful evidence-based treatment for depression, however, is a psychological approach known as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

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 psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or medical doctor—a therapist or social worker cannot prescribe drugs, while a psychiatrist can. 

Prescription medications commonly used to treat mood disorders include antidepressants (SSRIs and SNRIs), mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. 

12. How to help someone who's depressed

It's natural to want to reach out and help a family member or friend who is experiencing depression or a mood disorder.

That said, when it comes to depression, it's not always obvious what you can do to provide support.

Friends and relatives of people with depression may stay quiet out of fear of stigma.

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

Here are some articles and resources with tips for assisting a friend or loved one who is depressed:

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