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When someone has abnormal feelings that affect his or her life, he or she might be suffering from a mood disorder.

In this lesson, we’ll look closer at the types of mood disorders and the different theoretical views of them.

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Mood Disorders

There’s something wrong with Eva. Sometimes, she feels like she can conquer the world. She’s energetic and social, and her mind moves at a mile a minute.

She’ll go for weeks at a time without sleep, but never feel tired. But other times, she feels exhausted and sad. She doesn’t want to talk to her friends or do things that she usually likes to do. She doesn’t even really feel like getting out of bed. It’s like the entire world is pressing down on her.

Eva is suffering from a mood disorder, also called affective disorder, which is a psychological disorder that involves abnormal or exaggerated feelings. Let’s look at the two main types of mood disorders and two common views of mood disorders.

Unipolar vs. Bipolar

Eva’s mood swings back and forth between two extremes. On one end of the spectrum, she feels extremely happy, energized, and full of life. At the other end, she feels sad, depressed, and exhausted.

When a person with a mood disorder swings between depression and mania, they have bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic depression. Think of bipolar disorder like the cycle between night and day. The depression part is like night. Eva is tired.

She’s sad. She’s not interested in anything. On the other hand, the mania part of bipolar disorder is like day. She’s energized, ambitious, and excited.Of course, the cycles between mania and depression last longer than a day; usually, a full cycle of mania and depression lasts months or even years. In each full cycle, there is one manic phase, one depressive phase, and possibly a phase that is neither manic nor depressive but where Eva feels close to normal.

So Eva has bipolar disorder, but imagine for a minute that she never felt manic. What if she only ever felt sad, exhausted, and uninterested in the world around her?Depressive disorder, also sometimes called unipolar depression, is when a person feels sad and loses interest in the things around him or her. When someone is depressed, they might also feel tired or like their body is very heavy. In addition, they might have a hard time concentrating. Unlike bipolar depression, depressive disorder is not accompanied by mania.

Instead, it usually involves one long stretch of depression that lasts anywhere from two weeks to years.And just as bipolar and unipolar depression are different in nature, they also are treated with different types of medication. Bipolar disorder patients are given mood stabilizers, like lithium, and unipolar depressive patients are given antidepressant medications, like Prozac.

Views

So we know about the two main types of depression: bipolar and unipolar.

But what causes mood disorders? Though scientists don’t know for sure, there are some theories about the cause of mood disorders.The biological view says that mood disorders are caused by abnormalities in a person’s brain. For example, maybe Eva’s bipolar disorder is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters. Because the chemical balance is off, she experiences the extreme highs and lows of bipolar disorder.There is evidence to support the biological view of mood disorders, including many studies that show that people with mood disorders have neurotransmitter imbalances. The strongest evidence in favor of the biological view, though, is the high success rate of medication that stabilizes the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain.As we mentioned before, people with bipolar disorder, like Eva, are given mood stabilizers, and people with unipolar depression are given antidepressant medications.

Both of these types of drugs work on the levels of chemicals in a person’s brain. Because so many people get better after taking the drugs, it suggests that there is a biological foundation for mood disorders.But biology can’t explain everything, which is why the psychosocial view of mood disorders also exists. In this view, a person’s environment leads to the development of the disorder. For example, maybe Eva had a really traumatic childhood. That could affect her mood even as an adult.

Psychosocial theories of mood disorders are more popular in explaining unipolar depression than bipolar disorder, mainly because there’s more research linking psychosocial theories and unipolar depression. Besides childhood trauma, other psychosocial theories about depression include negative thought patterns and learned behaviors. Psychosocial treatments involve talking to a psychologist, individually or in a group, in order to work through whatever issues are causing the depression.

In real life, nothing is black or white, and that includes psychological theory. Most psychologists recognize that a mixture of biology and environment play a role in mood disorders, and treatment usually involves both medication and talk therapy.

Lesson Summary

Mood disorders are psychological disorders involving a problem with emotional functioning. The two most common mood disorders are bipolar disorder, which involves swinging between manic and depressive episodes, and unipolar depression, which involves feeling sad and withdrawing from society.There are also two main views of what causes mood disorders: the biological view, which says that mood disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and the psychosocial view, which says that a person’s environment is responsible for mood disorders. Most psychologists recognize that a combination of the two views is best, and mood disorders are usually treated with both drugs and talk therapy.

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to recognize the differences between unipolar and bipolar disorders. The ability to analyze the two types of mood disorders and discuss some of the theoretical views on the disorders might come naturally.

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