Depression and bipolar disorder are imbalances in brain chemistry or circuitry that affect mood, perception and behavior. They are often called "mood disorders."
Depression has a range of intensity. It can be a low-grade chronic sadness or a severe illness that interferes with daily functioning at work and at home. If left untreated, severe depression can lead to thoughts or acts of suicide.
Like many chronic health issues, depression often runs in families, but it can also be triggered by stress or loss, such as a death, divorce, or termination of a job.
Other possible causes of depression:
- Emotional trauma
- Change in hormones because of menstrual cycle or after the birth of a child
- Loss of light in wintertime
- Substance abuse
- Medical conditions, such as a stroke or heart attack
Common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness and feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Anxiety, irritability, or anger
- Loss of pleasure in all aspects of life
- Trouble sleeping or eating
- An almost flu-like level of exhaustion that makes daily tasks, like taking a shower or grocery shopping, feel overwhelming
Bipolar disorder combines two types of extreme emotional states that may alternate in cycles: deep depression plus an intense and uncontrollable energy called "mania."
Symptoms of mania include:
- An unusually elevated or euphoric mood
- Rapid, intense, and uninterruptable bursts of talking
- Ability to go without sleep for prolonged periods
- Uncontrolled promiscuity, spending sprees, fast driving, or gambling
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Alcohol or substance abuse
Both depression and bipolar disorder have variations in their causes and symptoms. They can also be part of a larger problem, like drug dependency. As a result, mood disorders can be complex to diagnose.
Yet, both are treatable with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Therapy is also helpful to the loved ones of someone suffering from mood disorders, so they can understand the condition better—and also gain some perspective on how the condition is indirectly affecting them.