Anyone you know experiencing emotional distress or having a depressed mood? Chances are that person is suffering from an affective disorder. This term includes a wide range of mental illnesses, including panic disorder and social phobia that could lead to substance-induced mood disorders and suicidal thoughts. Find out how you can assist someone who is experiencing one or more of these conditions.
What are Affective Disorders?
Affective disorders, also known as mood disorders, are a group of psychiatric disorders that affect a person's mood and emotional state. Mood can be described as a prolonged emotional state that can impact one's whole experience of the world. A seasonal pattern of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of mood disorder that occurs during the winter months. People with this condition suffer a pervasive pattern of depressive symptoms and other mood disturbances, which can last for up to 5 months.
There are several other types of affective disorders accompanied by varying degrees of psychotic symptoms; the most common being major depressive disorder (MDD). Other affective disorders include:
- Dysthymic disorder
- Severe depression
- Bipolar disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Cyclothymic disorder
- Schizoaffective disorder
- Delusional disorder
Affective disorders affect both men and women equally but often first appear during a person's young adult years; the average age of onset for major depressive disorder (MDD) is 29 years old. Nearly 1 million Australians suffered from affective disorders in 2007, according to the Australian Department of Health. A higher proportion of women than men experienced co-occurring disorders.
An affective disorder diagnosis does not mean that there is something wrong with the individual or that they will never find happiness again; it means an individual has learned how to manage their emotional disorders more effectively so they may live life to its fullest potential. Some individuals who had affective disorders have even gone on to become successful entrepreneurs. Researchers are currently looking into an effective treatment that will allow individuals to live their lives with affective disorders without interference, like medications and therapy.
What are the Symptoms of an Affective Disorder?
People with affective disorders suffer from mood disorders, which can lead to a downward spiral in their lives. Some of the common symptoms of an affective disorder include:
- Symptoms of depression
- Irritable mood
- Decreased energy levels
- Persistent aches or pains without obvious cause
- Manic phases
- Low self-esteem
- Withdrawal from friends, family and co-workers
- Loss of interest in hobbies that were once enjoyed
- Tiredness and lack of energy for normal daily activities
- Loss or increase in appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in sex
- Suicidal ideation
- Difficulty making decisions
- Neglecting personal hygiene or appearance
People with affective disorders may also experience anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. This leads them to engage in uncharacteristic behaviours such as overeating, over-working or substance abuse.
What Causes Affective Disorders?
Scientists and medical professionals do not yet know the exact cause of affective disorders, but it is believed that multiple factors affect a person's chance of developing one, including:
Having a family history of affective disorders increases your risk for developing an affective disorder; twin studies suggest heredity plays a role in affective disorders development.
Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, affect mood and motivation; other chemicals like dopamine may also play a role in causing affective disorders. Chemical imbalances in the brain are believed to trigger different types of mood disorders.
Abnormal brain structure
Some people with affective disorders have abnormalities in their brains. These abnormalities may be caused by genetic or environmental influences (e.g. drug addiction).
Stressful life events
Affective disorders symptoms often worsen during times of stress or trauma. People who have experienced traumatic events in the past are more likely to experience affective disorders symptoms than those who have not.
Overconsumption of caffeine, alcohol, or drug use
Some medical professionals believe affective disorders symptoms are caused by substance abuse.
People in colder climates are more likely to have affective disorders symptoms than those in tropical places, according to some studies. It is believed that lower levels of sunlight affect affective disorders symptoms development.
What Are the Treatments for Affective Disorders?
Medications for affective disorders, such as antidepressants, can alleviate symptoms by stimulating certain receptors in the brain. These medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Antidepressant medications may help reduce affective disorder symptoms, but they only provide short-term benefits and long-term side effects. Prolonged use of these can lead to many side effects, including:
- Dry Mouth
- Sleep disorders
- Digestive issues
- Erectile dysfunction
There are several other treatment options that people with affective disorders can consider in conjunction with conventional treatments. These include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT)
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
- Family therapy or couples counselling
- Light therapy
Prevention Methods for Affective Disorders
Currently, affective disorders cannot be cured or prevented completely; however, there are some ways to reduce your risk of developing an affective disorder and improve your quality of life. People with an existing mental health condition is more likely to suffer from various types of mood disorders, so it is best to keep their health in check through the following:
- Eating a balanced diet
- Getting enough sleep
- Reducing stress levels
- Regular exercise
- Maintaining social relationships
- Limiting caffeine intake
- Limiting alcohol use
- Avoiding recreational drug use
Diagnosis of Affective Disorders
Screening for affective disorders symptoms early on in life can help prevent long-term issues. When affective disorders symptoms are detected early, an effective treatment plan that focuses on preventing symptoms from worsening may be implemented. This is particularly important for people who have had manic episodes or anxiety disorders even before the age of 10 years old.
A mental health professional can conduct a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether the patient's manic episodes or constant depressed mood is a severe form of an affective disorder or a milder form that is more easily treated.
Affective disorders affect daily life and relationships for people who experience them; however, receiving the right treatment can help not only prevent the symptoms of these psychotic disorders from worsening over time, but it will also hinder the possible development of various medical conditions. The mind and the body, as we all know, are one. Physical conditions will result if the former suffers, and vice versa.