Diagnosing and Treating Mood Disorders

Diagnosing Mood Disorders

In our day to day life, we experience various stressful situations that affect our mood and state of mind in a negative way; when our negative mood persists well beyond the situation that caused it, this could be an indication of a mood disorder. In order to be diagnosed with a mood disorder a person must exhibit drastic occurrences of negative feelings and thoughts, such as crying due to extreme sadness, becoming depressed for no apparent reason, and/or thinking about suicide frequently. According to AllPsych ONLINE (2003), there are four mood disorders which include major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. To diagnose these individual mood disorders, each one has general symptoms that help define which disorder a patient is exhibiting.

A person with major depressive disorder must exhibit symptoms of “depressed mood (such as feelings of sadness or emptiness); reduced interest in activities that used to be enjoyed; sleep disturbances (either not being able to sleep well or sleeping too much); loss of energy or a significant reduction in energy level; difficulty concentrating, holding a conversation, paying attention, or making decisions that used to be made fairly easily; [and] have suicidal thoughts or intentions” (AllPsych ONLINE, 2003, p.). A person with this disorder finds it nearly impossible to function normally in life.

Dysthymic disorder is diagnosed by symptoms of “under—or over eating, sleep difficulties, fatigue, low self-esteem, difficulty with concentration or decision making, and feelings of hopelessness” (AllPsych ONLINE, 2003, p.). A patient must also experience a depressed mood for the greater part of the day for two years on a majority of those days with no prior diagnosis of major depressive disorder in order to be diagnosed with dysthymic disorder (AllPsych ONLINE, 2003). The symptoms of dysthymic disorder are less severe than major depressive disorder as can be seen by the lack of suicidal thoughts or intentions.

Bipolar disorder one is characterized by more severe symptoms from quickly alternating episodes of depression and mania, “a state in which [a] person becomes euphoric or “high,” extremely active, [impulsive,] excessively talkative, and easily distracted” (Morris and Maisto, 2002, p. 493). Bipolar disorder two is affiliated with a prolonged state of euphoria and happiness from hypomania during which many poor choices may later exacerbate depression symptoms (AllPsych ONLINE, 2003). Bipolar disorder one quickly shifts from positive to negative moods, causing frustration and sometimes insanity that requires a patient be hospitalized. Bipolar disorder two has longer periods of hypomania that can become mania or turn into serious depression (WebMD, 2008). According to AllPsych ONLINE (2003), cyclothymic disorder is similar to bipolar disorder in that it includes periods of hypomania followed by depressive episodes, but these depressive episodes are less severe.

Treatment for Mood Disorders

Depending on how severe a patient’s mood disorder is, a psychologist may use an eclectic approach to psychotherapy, medication, or both. For patients exhibiting less severe symptoms from a mood disorder, for instance dysthymic disorder, psychotherapy with an emphasis on a cognitive behavioral approach may be used. This eclectic approach would help a depressive patient identify negative, self-defeating, and absolute thought patterns in order to reconstruct them into “coping” and rational thoughts for dealing with stressful situations (Morris and Maisto, 2002). Identifying the causes that increase depressive symptoms allows the patient to better understand how situations have or may affect them. Cyclothymic and major depressive disorder will likely use a form of psychotherapy in conjunction with antidepressants, such as Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac (AllPsych ONLINE, 2003); each of which block the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters responsible for stable moods by allowing these chemical messengers to become more abundant for utilization by the brain. “The first-line therapy for bipolar patients with severe mania or mixed episodes is an antipsychotic medication combined with either lithium or the anticonvulsant Depakote (valproate)” (WebMD, 2008). The psychotherapy and medication contribute to a greater effectiveness in treating symptoms, but most of these disorders are chronic and unable to be completely cured.

Most of us take for granted that we can remain happy for a majority of the day, even in the face of stressful situations. For people with mood disorders, the simplest problem can bring about confusion and despair that cause them to develop a low self-esteem; these individuals have to struggle daily to feel normal by taking life-long regimens of medication along with making regular visits to speak with a professional.





AllPsych ONLINE. (2003). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th

edition) DSM-IV.  Retrieved November 5, 2009 from


Morris, C. G., & Maisto, A. A. (2002). Psychology: An introduction (12th ed.). Upper

Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

WebMD. (2008). Bipolar Disorder Guide. Hypomania and mania in bipolar disorder.

Retrieved November 5, 2009 from http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-


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