Mood Disorders

The disorders in this category include those where the primary symptom is a disturbance in mood. In other words, having inappropriate, exaggerated, or a limited range of feelings. Everybody gets down sometimes, and everybody experiences a sense of excitement and emotional pleasure. We all are at a different place on the continuum of emotional reactions and this varies all the time, depending on particular experiences and events in our life. To be diagnosed with a mood disorder, the feelings must be to the extreme. Most importantly: it is time to ask for support when YOUR threshold of distress is reached and you feel impaired in social, occupational or other settings. In other words, crying, and/or feeling depressed, suicidal frequently. Or, the opposite extreme, having excessive energy where sleep is not needed for days at a time and during this time the decision making process in significantly impaired.

Please remember that the definitions and criteria for diagnoses are constantly evolving and changing (the DSM-IV has been revised several times and is in revision right now). Therefore you will find that not all professionals will agree all the time in regards to certain diagnoses. Thus, we would like to repeat and stress again that it is most important how much YOU are bothered by certain issues, feelings, behaviours and reactions and how much YOU perceive that these interfere in your life. This is where the personal, open and honest discussion with your individual psychologist will be so important and crucial in order to help you to find a way forward in YOUR life (irrespective of diagnosis or not).

Major Depressive Disorder

images3Depression is much more than just low mood. We all feel sad from time to time, but for some people the feeling does not go away. Depression can make the smallest task seem like climbing a mountain. The key signs of depression are feeling down, depressed or hopeless, or having little interest or pleasure in doing things for most days over the past month. Other possible signs include irritability, loss of energy, tiredness, sleep problems, changes in appetite, low self-esteem, problems with concentration, reduced sex drive and/or feelings of emptiness or loneliness. Often people with depression also experience constant worry (anxiety). This can cause physical symptoms like pain, a pounding heart or stomach cramps. In some people these physical symptoms are their main concern. Some people may feel so bad that they wish they were dead.


Dysthymia involves having a low mood for most of the day, for more days than not, and ongoing for at least two years. During this time, there must be two or more of the following symptoms: under– or over eating, sleep difficulties, fatigue, low self-esteem, difficulty with concentration or decision making, and feelings of hopelessness. 

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder has been broken down into two types:
Bipolar I
: For a diagnosis of Bipolar I disorder, a person must have at least one manic episode. Mania is sometimes referred to as the other extreme to depression. Mania is an intense high where the person feels euphoric, almost indestructible in areas such as personal finances, business dealings, or relationships. They may have an elevated self-esteem, be more talkative than usual, have flight of ideas, a reduced need for sleep, and be easily distracted. The high, although it may sound appealing, will often lead to severe difficulties in these areas, such as spending much more money than intended, making extremely rash business and personal decisions, involvement in dangerous sexual behaviour, and/or the use of drugs or alcohol. Depression is often experienced as the high quickly fades and as the consequences of their activities becomes apparent, the depressive episode can be exacerbated.

Bipolar II: Similar to Bipolar I Disorder, there are periods of highs as described above and often followed by periods of depression. Bipolar II Disorder, however is different in that the highs are hypo manic, rather than manic. In other words, they have similar symptoms but they are not severe enough to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning and typically do not require hospitalization in order to assure the safety of the person


Like Bipolar II Disorder, symptoms of cyclothymia include periods of hypomania (see above). Depressive symptoms are also present as the hypomania fades. These symptoms however, do not meet the criteria for a major depressive episode, in other words, are not as severe as those found in Bipolar Disorder.

Post-Natal Depression

The ‘blues’ are common after childbirth and involve a brief period of the mother feeling ‘down’. This feeling usually passes in a few days. Post natal depression is a much more serious condition involving a more major depression that continues for a longer period of time. Postnatal psychosis is rare and involves symptoms of psychosis (being out of touch with reality).

The signs or symptoms of postnatal depression are the same as for depression and can include a persistent sad, low, or ‘depressed’ mood; irritability; decreased energy; problems with eating, sleeping; inability to cope with the new baby and even thoughts of hopelessness or death. Postnatal psychosis is distinguished by psychotic symptoms (beliefs or thoughts that are out of touch with reality), together with either a depressed or extremely high mood.

There are a number of risk factors which increase the chance of developing postnatal depression. These include a past history of depression or other mental health problems; lack of social support; birth complications; and other life stresses e.g., money or housing problems. Postnatal psychosis is rare.

There are other presentations that fit under the umbrella of mood disorders and than can be a target for psychological intervention. See also the comments related to Grief later in the description.