Mood Disorders

Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, are physical conditions that affect the brain. Most mood disorders have in common the occurrence of major depressive episodes—times when individuals experience prolonged sadness or hopelessness, irritability, inability to concentrate or take pleasure in daily life, and other potentially debilitating symptoms, which may include recurring thoughts of death or suicide. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior. Individuals who experience bipolar disorder often report shifts between depression and periods of heighted mood (called mania or hypomania) that can lead to impulsiveness, racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep, and, in severe cases, delusions and hallucinations.

The exact cause of mood disorders is not known, but it is known that an imbalance in brain chemicals plays a role. These conditions also have a genetic component, meaning they can run in families. Mood disorders can be debilitating, but 80% of those who seek treatment are treated effectively with medication, talk therapy, or both. With proper treatment and wellness plans, individuals with these diagnoses can live well and lead full, happy lives.

What distinguishes mood disorders from ordinary mood swings?

  • Intensity: Mood swings that come with a mood disorder are usually more severe than ordinary mood swings.
  • Duration: A bad mood is usually gone in a few days, but mania or depression can last weeks or months. Even when an individual with bipolar disorder experiences rapid cycling between depression and mania, it may take a long period of time before the individual returns to a stable mood.
  • Interference with life: Mood disorders can interrupt an individual’s ability to perform daily activities. For example, depression can make a person unable to get out of bed or go to work, and mania can cause a person to go for days without sleep or to spend money they don’t have.

The Numbers

More than 20% of U.S. adults experience a mood disorder within their lifetime (National Institute of Mental Health).

Each year, only 19.6% of the U.S. adults who live with a mood disorder receive minimally adequate health care (NIMH), and that number is even lower for U.S. adults who live with bipolar disorder (NIMH).

In 2010, fewer than 2% of primary care physician office visits included screening for depression, according to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

More than 38,000 people die by suicide in a year, while there are 713,000 emergency room visits for self-inflicted injury. (CDC)

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young Americans aged 15–24, surpassed only by deaths caused by accidents. (CDC)

Of the age group 25–44, suicide is the 4th leading cause of death, and of those aged 45–64, suicide is the 8th most common cause of death. (CDC)

Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide. More than 90% of people who die by suicide experience depression and other mental health conditions or a substance-abuse disorder (usually combined with other mental health conditions). (NIMH)