Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Blog written by Rebecca Hicks, RN
According to a 2018 statistic, almost 9 percent of Canada's population (minus the Territories) were diagnosed with a Mood Disorder (Mood disorders, by age group
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Statistics Canada. Table 13-10-0096-18 Mood disorders, by age group). It's likely that you or someone you know has experienced symptoms of a mood disorder. Today's blog will shed some light on what a mood disorder is and how it's treated. I will include some references and websites that can provide more information on this topic if you are interested in learning more. It is important to note that this blog is not intended to be used to diagnose yourself or anyone else, but is meant to share information about the topic. If you or someone you know are experiencing any of these symptoms please see your family doctor or qualified health care professional for an assessment.
There are many types and sub-types of mood disorders but for today's blog I'm going to focus on the two most common, Depression and Bipolar Disorder.
Depression is the most common mood disorder. As the name indicates, it's a disorder that involves low mood. Symptoms may include feeling sad, empty or hopeless, loss of interest or pleasure in all or most activities, changes in eating patterns (weight loss or weight gain), disturbed sleep, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, difficulty concentrating or indecisiveness, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide (DSM-V). In order to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, a person have to have at least five or more of the above symptoms for a period of two weeks or more. Depression is a complex mood disorder caused by various factors including genetic predisposition, personality, stress and brain chemistry. Depression is often episodic, which means it can last for a period of time and then go into remission-or periods of time with no symptoms. Unfortunately there is currently no medical test (blood test, MRI etc.) that can indicate if someone has a major depressive disorder. It is up to a qualified health care professional to complete assessments to determine if someone has this disorder.
There are many treatment options available for people experiencing symptoms of depression. These can include medications (most commonly antidepressants), counseling or psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioural therapy), and brain stimulation therapies. Treatments can be used individually or in combination. Every person is different in what works for them. Just like other medical disorders such as diabetes or heart disease, depression can be effectively managed by combining a healthy lifestyle and treatments.
Bipolar disorder involves periods of depression and periods of mania. Mania is defined as a distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated or irritable mood, and increased goal-directed activity or energy, lasting at least 1 week and present most of the day (DSM-V). Symptoms may include inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, distractibility, increase in goal-directed activities, and excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences ( ie., gambling, sexual indiscretions, risky driving, or foolish business investments). As you can imagine, these kinds of symptoms can have significant impacts on a person's life. In addition to periods of mania, bipolar is also diagnosed by having periods of depression. The word bipolar describes these periods of "polar opposites", with extreme highs and extreme lows. The causes of bipolar disorder are unknown, however there is strong evidence that biological factors, including genetics, play an important role. Difficult family relationships,stress and/or substances do not cause the illness but may trigger an episode in someone who already has bipolar disorder. Just like in the case of depression, there is no medical test currently available to diagnose bipolar disorder, but a qualified health care professional can complete assessments that will ask about thoughts, feelings, behaviours, timelines and personal and family medical history to determine the diagnoses.
Bipolar disorder is most often treated through medications and psychotherapy. Although both types of treatment are needed, it is usually medications that are needed first to manage symptoms. The main types of medications used to treat bipolar disorder are mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and antidepressants. Just like in the case of depression or other medical disorders, bipolar disorder can be managed by combining treatment with a healthy lifestyle.
For more information about today's topic you can visit the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) website at https://www.camh.ca/ where you can find an abundance of information about various mental health disorders and symptoms. As mentioned at the start of the blog, please reach out to your family physician, psychiatrist, nurse, counselor, hospital, friends, or family if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Depression and bipolar disorder are treatable! You don't need to do this alone.