Understanding Affective (Mood) Disorders

Most people have mood changes now and then. One day they may feel cranky and the next day they feel great. But with an affective disorder, mood changes aren't so simple. These disorders can cause great emotional pain, and can greatly disrupt your life. Affective disorders can be treated. Talk with your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. He or she can help.

Woman comforting a friend.

What are affective disorders?

Affective disorders are illnesses that affect the way you think and feel. The symptoms may be quite severe. In most cases, they won't go away on their own. The most common affective disorders are depression and bipolar disorder.

  • Depression. The main symptom of depression is a feeling of deep sadness. You may also feel hopeless, or that life isn't worth living. At times, you may have thoughts of suicide or death. Most people have some sadness in their lives. These feelings often lessen with time. But people with severe depression may not get better without treatment.

  • Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is sometimes called manic-depressive illness. That's because it causes extreme mood swings. At times you may feel intensely happy and full of energy. These episodes are often followed by great despair. In some cases, you may have both extremes at once. It’s likely that you'll have phases when your mood shifts back and forth. You may have these mood swings just once in a while. Or they may happen a few times a year. Without treatment, they will likely keep happening throughout your life.

What causes affective disorders?

No one knows just what causes affective disorders. It is known they run in families. Changes in certain chemicals in your brain also may play a role. Major life changes, stress, trauma, certain physical illnesses, and medicines can each result in an affective disorder. These disorders affect both men and women. They also may strike people of every age, race, and income level.