What are mood disorders?
Everyday mood is characterized by normal fluctuations as we wake up some days feeling excited and happy to get out of bed, while some other days, we don’t quite feel so happy. Thus, feeling happy and good can be seen as a positive (+) score above the normal, while feeling unhappy may be seen as a negative (-) score below the normal. So, we can assume for example, that a hypothetical score within +10 and -10 of baseline (zero) is the normal range of mood. Even when we experience good news, we naturally would become very excited and happy, but within a few minutes to hours…at most a few days, we would have calmed down and adjusted to the new reality of the good news we have received. On the other hand, if we receive very bad news, one may become upset and even start crying. But again, with the passage of time, hours to days, the pain lessens and we start to feel better. Thus, in essence, spikes (both positive and negative) may occur but will usually fall back to the normal range within a few hours to days.
Abnormal mood or mood disorders occur when there is a severe increase or severe decrease in mood, which then remains persistently so, for a very long time – unlike the usual transient fluctuations of everyday life. So, two things mark out mood disorders: The severity of symptoms, and the duration that such symptoms persist.
What is Bipolar Disorder
This is a common mood disorder which occurs in 1% of the adult population. It often starts during adolescence, usually between the ages of 15 – 24 years. It is particularly characterized by mood swings, from a high of feeling very happy and elated; to a low of feeling sad and depressed at different time points.
The high periods (mania) are characterized by feeling very elated, happy and good for no particular reason. Other symptoms include feelings of exaggerated importance and an unusually high over-estimation of their abilities and powers (grandiosity). Thus, they may become excessively generous, spend money lavishly – even when they don’t particularly have much, engage in risky behaviours such as over-speeding, and may also have sexual dis-inhibition. Other features include being full of energy, restlessness and reduced need for sleep. They may also have racing thoughts, talk excessively, and be full of new and ‘brilliant’ ideas.
The low periods (depression) on the other hand, are characterized by feelings of sadness, fatigue and a lack of energy, hopelessness, guilt, and difficulties concentrating on tasks. They may also be excessively weepy – for no specific reason, may experience reduced appetite and may also become so despondent that they begin to entertain thoughts of suicide as a viable option out of their ‘perceived’ miserable existence.
What are the symptoms of mania and hypomania:
- Hyperactivity and restlessness
- extreme feelings of elation or state of happiness
- racing thoughts and talking very fast
- Reduced need for sleep
- Over-exaggerated and unrealistic beliefs about one’s abilities and powers
- Symptoms sustained for a much longer period that is clearly different from usual patterns of behaviour.
- Social disinhibition and over-familiarity with strangers.
- Excessive spending and over-generosity.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Persisting feelings of sadness and misery
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Reduced energy, and feeling tired all of the time
- Difficulty with paying attention and concentrating on tasks
- Sleep disturbances (excessive sleeping or too little sleep)
- Loss of appetite
- Thoughts of suicide, or suicide attempts.
Other symptoms may include:
- Hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or otherwise sensing the presence of things that are not actually there and cannot be sensed by others).
- Delusions (false, unshakeable and strongly held beliefs that are resistant to logical reasoning and cannot be explained by a person’s usual cultural or religious practices).
- Difficulties with communication due to pressured and excessive speech (mania) or due to slow and very low speech (depression)
A combination of genetic, psychological and social factors often act together to manifest the disorder. For example, most persons with bipolar disorder usually have a family member with a history of mood disorder. Periods of stress, as well as work, financial or family problems may precipitate an episode.
Treatment usually requires a combination of medications and the use of psychotherapy. If you suspect that you or someone you know may be suffering from bipolar disorder, see a psychiatrist for an evaluation and subsequent treatment plan.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 2nd February 2023