About Mood Disorders
Marked by changes in mood, depression and bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) are both highly treatable, medical illnesses. Unfortunately, many people don’t get the help they need because of the misunderstanding surrounding the illnesses or the fear associated with stigma. The following are brief descriptions of depression and bipolar disorder. For more in-depth information, be sure to see our pages on depression and bipolar disorder and the differences between them.
Depression: It’s Not Just in Your Head
Everyone, at various times in life, feels sad or blue. It’s normal to feel sad on occasion. Sometimes, sadness is a result of things that happen in your life: for example, you move to a different city and leave friends behind…you lose your job…or a loved one dies. But what’s the difference between “normal” feelings of sadness and the feelings caused by depression?
How intense the mood is: Depression is more intense than a simple “bad mood.”
How long the mood lasts: A bad mood is usually gone in a few days, but depression lasts two weeks or longer.
How much it interferes with your life: A bad mood doesn’t keep you from going to work or school or spending time with friends. Depression can keep you from doing these things and may even make it difficult to get out of bed.
While it’s normal for people to experience ups and downs during their lives, those living with depression experience specific symptoms daily for two weeks or more, making it difficult to function at work, at school or in relationships.
Depression is a treatable illness marked by changes in mood, thought and behavior. It affects people of all ages, races, ethnic groups and social classes. Although it can occur at any age, the illness often surfaces between the ages of 25 and 44. The “lifetime prevalence” of depression is 24 percent for women and 15 percent for men. This means that, at some point in their lives, 24 percent of women and 15 percent of men will experience an episode of major depression.
Bipolar Disorder: More Than a Mood Swing
Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is a treatable illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior. It is called bipolar disorder because a person’s mood can alternate between the “poles” of mania (high, elevated mood) and depression (low, depressed mood). These changes in mood (“mood swings”) can last for hours, days, weeks or even months. These highs and lows are frequently seasonal. Many people with bipolar disorder report feeling symptoms of depression more often in the winter and symptoms of mania more often in the spring.
Bipolar disorder affects nearly six (6) million adult Americans and an equal number of men and women. It tends to run in families and is found among all races, ethnic groups and social classes. Like depression and other serious illnesses, bipolar disorder can also adversely affect spouses, significant others, family members, friends and coworkers. It usually begins in late adolescence (often appearing as depression during the teen years), although it can start in early childhood or as late as the 40s and 50s.
Mood Disorders Are Treatable
The majority of people with mood disorders are able to find treatments that work. Talk therapy, medication or a combination of both help individuals feel better and change situations in their lives that may be contributing to their illnesses (substance use, harmful relationships, etc.).
Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness
False beliefs about mental illness can cause significant problems.
Learn what you can do about stigma.
Stigma is when someone judges you based on a personal trait. Unfortunately, this is a common experience for people who have a mental health condition. Stigma may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment. Or it may be subtle, such as someone assuming you could be unstable, violent or dangerous because you have a mental health condition. You may even judge yourself. Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, colleagues or others you know
- Discrimination at work or school
- Difficulty finding housing
- Bullying, physical violence or harassment
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness
- The belief that you will never be able to succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation
Steps to cope with stigma
Here are some ways you can deal with stigma:
- Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you have a condition that needs treatment. Don’t let the fear of being “labeled” with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what’s wrong in concrete terms and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.
- Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may have the mistaken belief that your condition is a sign of personal weakness, or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking psychological counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others with mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.
- Don’t isolate yourself. If you have a mental illness, you may be reluctant to tell anyone about it. Have the courage to confide in your spouse, family members, friends, clergy or other members of your community. Reach out to people you trust for the compassion, support and understanding you need.
- Don’t equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying “I’m bipolar,” say “I have bipolar disorder.” Instead of calling yourself “a schizophrenic,” call yourself “a person with schizophrenia.” Don’t say you “are depressed.” Say you “have clinical depression.”
- Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the Depression and Bipolar Suport Alliance (DBSA) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) they offer local programs and Internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people with mental illness, their family members and the general public. A number of state and federal agencies and programs also offer support for people who have mental health conditions. Examples include agencies such as Vocational Rehabilitation and Veterans Affairs (VA).
- Get help at school. If you or your child has a mental illness that affects learning, find out what plans and programs might help. Discrimination against students because of a mental health condition is against the law, and educators at primary, secondary and college levels are required to accommodate students as best they can. Talk to teachers, professors or administrators about the best approach and available resources. If a teacher doesn’t know about a student’s disability, it can lead to discrimination, barriers to learning and poor grades.
- Speak out against stigma. Express your opinions at events, in letters to the editor or on the Internet. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.
Others’ judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on the facts. Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support, and helping educate others can make a big difference.