Mood Disorders

Moods are our emotions. They affect us every day. Sometimes we’re sad, other times we’re happy. We might even be sad and happy in the same day. But sometimes people’s mood can get “stuck” on sad. Or the moods might change a lot or become extreme. When this happens, it affects our lives. And it might be caused by a group of mental illnesses called mood disorders.

Mood disorders are a group of mental illnesses that affect how you feel and think about yourself, other people and life in general. There are a few different types of mood disorders: depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder.

Depression leaves you feeling sad or depressed. Some people experience depression as feeling “numb” or having no feelings. Depression can also make you feel irritable, hopeless and guilty. Many people living with depression lose interest in things they used to enjoy or and they often isolate themselves from family and friends. But depression can affect more than your mood: you might have a hard time concentrating or remembering. You might sleep or eat less than usual or more than usual. You might also feel tired all the time. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s affected by the seasons. It usually affects people in the winter months, when there’s less daylight. Postpartum depression is a type of depression that affects a mother after they give birth. Postpartum depression is likely brought on by different biological changes as well as the social and emotional changes in parents’ lives. Sometimes people’s mood can get “stuck” on sad. When this happens, it affects our lives.

Dysthymic disorder (also called dysthymia) is similar to depression. With dysthymic disorder, your symptoms of depression are milder but last for a longer period of time.

Bipolar disorder is made up of three different parts: depression, mania and normal feelings. The depression in bipolar disorder is like depression in any mood disorder. Mania is what makes bipolar disorder different. Some people experience this as feeling very happy, but others feel very irritable or angry during an episode of mania. Common symptoms of mania include feeling very powerful, not needing much sleep and having racing thoughts. During an episode of mania, many people also do things they wouldn’t normally do, like go on expensive shopping sprees they can’t afford, have risky sex or use alcohol and other substances more than usual. Bipolar disorder can look different in each person depending on how long the mania and depression episodes last, how severe they are, how quickly a person’s mood changes and how long a person has normal mood in between. Some people experience psychosis during an episode of severe depression or mania. There are two parts to psychosis: delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are strong beliefs that aren’t true, such as the belief that you have special powers. Hallucinations are things you sense that aren’t real.

Mood disorders are among the most common mental illnesses. In fact, about one in seven Canadian will experience a mood disorder at some point in their life. They’re more likely to affect the following groups of people:

  • Women – Women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, dysthymic disorder and SAD. But bipolar disorder seems to affect men and women equally.
  • Young people – While mood disorders can affect you at any time in your life, many people start to experience symptoms in their teens and twenties. About 3.5 per cent of children and three per cent to seven per cent of teens are diagnosed with depression. Many people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder between the ages of 15 and 19.
  • Family members – Having a close relative who has a mood disorder increases your risk of having one
  • People who experience substance use problems – Some substances can cause a mood disorder, trigger an episode of mania or depression or make a mood disorder worse, could I have a mood disorder?
  • People living with other health and mental health problems – People with long-term health problems like cancer, AIDS, heart disease or Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to experience depression. People living with an anxiety disorder or eating disorder are also more likely to experience depression
  • I have overwhelming feelings of sadness or grief;
  • I’ve lost interest in taking part in activities I used to enjoy;
  • I’ve lost my desire for sex;
  • I find myself avoiding other people;
  • I’m sleeping more or less than usual;
  • I’m eating more or less than usual;
  • I’m having difficulty concentrating or making decisions;
  • I’m feeling extremely irritable and angry;
  • I’m feeling guilty all the time;
  • I often think about death or ending my life.
  • I’ve been in an excessively high or elevated mood;
  • I feel extremely irritable or angry;
  • I’m optimistic about everything, even when others aren’t;
  • I’m making quick decisions often without thinking them through;
  • I’m spending money more quickly or my sexual habits have changed;
  • My thoughts are racing; I have a lot of plans;
  • I’m really energetic; I can’t seem to stay still;
  • I’m talking more quickly than usual and people seem to have a hard time understanding me;
  • I’m feeling little need for sleep;
  • I have an extremely short attention span.

Mood disorders are very treatable. With the right treatment, about 80 per cent of people no longer feel any symptoms at all. Some common treatments, used on their own or in combination, are:

  • Counselling – The most common forms of counselling for people living with a mood disorder are cognitive behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most common therapy treatment for mood disorders. CBT helps you understand the relationship between your mood, thoughts and behaviours. It also teaches skills like problem-solving that may help prevent symptoms from coming back in the future. When you’re depressed, your relationships with others often suffer. Interpersonal therapy can teach you skills to improve how you interact with other people.
  • Medication – Depression is usually treated with a group of medications called antidepressants and bipolar disorder is usually treated with a group of medication called mood stabilizers. You may also be prescribed other medications for psychosis or anxiety.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy – Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may help people who experience severe depression or bipolar disorder, particularly when treatments like counselling and medication haven’t helped. Treatment is done in the hospital, and it involves passing an electrical current through the brain for a few seconds while you’re under general anaesthesia. Modern ECT is very safe, fast-acting and effective.
  • Light therapy – People who experience SAD may find light therapy helpful. Light therapy uses a special kind of light that’s much brighter than indoor lighting. But this may not be a good option for everyone, so it’s important to talk to your doctor before you start light therapy.
  • Self-management – There are some things you can do on your own to help keep you feeling better. Regular exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep and keeping a consistent sleep schedule, managing stress, spending time with friends and family, spirituality and monitoring your use of alcohol and other substances can help manage mood problems.

Reach out for help

If you’ve experienced these symptoms for a long time, it’s best to talk to your doctor. You can also contact the Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region for more information at (403) 297-1700 or email: