Mental Illnesses

Mood disorders are mental illnesses in which the sufferer experiences moods which are unusual for the circumstances in which they find themselves. Among the most common  mood disorders are depression,  bipolar disease, (also known as manic-depression), seasonal affective disorder, (SAD),  cyclothymia,  and postpartum depression.

Mood disorders are the most common mental illnesses among adults. It is believed they affect about 8 to 10 % of the population at any one time. They cause a significant impediment to one’s ability to function socially, at work, or in any aspect of  life.

Scientists believe they are caused by an imbalance of chemicals within the brain, and also by environmental influences. Recent studies indicate there may also be hereditary  factors involved. 

Brief overviews of the most common mood disorders follow.


People suffering from depression (sometimes called unipolar depression)  lose interest in their normal activities. They feel sad, worthless, discouraged, hopeless and are constantly fatigued despite lack of activity. They experience change in appetite, disturbed sleep patterns and have difficulty concentrating or making decisions. They experience thoughts of death and should be monitored for suicide attempts.

Treatment consists of medication and sometimes psychotherapy. Without treatment, depression may last for months or even years.


This disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings, interspersed with periods of normal behavior. An individual with this illness alternates between states of deep depression and extreme elation.

During the manic phase, he will be hyperactive, excessively elated, optimistic, require little sleep, exhibit poor judgement, impulsiveness, and may rapidly fly into fierce rages over minor irritations.

This disorder can be effectively treated with medication and therapy in 80 to 90 % of all cases.


The symptoms are similar to those of major depression, but they occur during late Autumn, Winter and early Spring when the hours of sunlight are few.

 Treatments include exposure to as much sunlight as possible by sitting in a sunny window, or under a skylight, walking outdoors during daylight hours, or taking a winter vacation to a tropical destination. It can also be treated with light therapy using a full-spectrum light box, and medication, prescribed by a physician.


This is a mild form of bipolar disease. The patient experiences short periods of emotional highs and lows interspersed with periods during which his moods are stable. The patient can still function at work and in social situations, although not as efficiently as usual.

The onset of the disease is gradual and usually occurs during early adulthood. Treatment includes medication and psychotherapy.


This is a type of major depression which sometimes occurs in women who have recently given birth. It can interfere with a mother’s ability to bond with her infant. It is vital that she receive prompt and in-depth medical attention as soon as her depression is noted. 

It can be treated with medication and usually disappears spontaneously by the time the baby is two.

Mental illnesses  are the most common health issues in North America today, and mood disorders are only one form of mental illness.

The good news is that most mental illnesses are treatable. Even people with serious mental diseases can lead productive lives with proper treatment. If you know someone whom you suspect is mentally ill, strongly encourage them  to seek medical help. It’s as close as the family doctor.