An affective disorder, also known as a mood disorder, is any mental condition whose main symptom is a major uncontrollable shifting of mood. There are a variety of affective disorders and they are typically categorized by the prevalence of the two main ends of the mood spectrum: mania and depression. Mania is a state of increased energy with feelings of euphoria and impulsiveness, while depression is a lack of energy with feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Affective disorders can be mostly mania or depression, or an abrupt shifting between the two.
One of the most common types of affective disorder is manic depressive illness, more commonly called bipolar disorder. The disorder causes a major change in mood, with manic episodes, making someone feel euphoric and invincible. Manic episodes can be dangerous because they may make a person more likely to become involved in risky behavior, such as unsafe sexual promiscuity or reckless driving. After the manic episode is over, the person typically goes through a depressive episode, in which he or she feels worthless, shameful, or even suicidal. The length of the episodes and the amount of time between the shifts depends on person, but typically last about two weeks.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a temporary affective disorder that is directly related to changes in the weather. A person with SAD typically becomes inexplicably fatigued or restless when the weather becomes colder or darker, such as during the transition to autumn or winter. Rare cases may occur when a person experiences symptoms when the weather becomes lighter or warmer rather than darker. SAD usually subsides without treatment once the weather reverts back to the person's preferred state.
Affective disorders can occur simultaneously with other mental disorders. Schizoaffective disorder is an affective disorder that occurs in people with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that causes delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. If a person has schizoaffective disorder, he or she will also go through periods of mania, depression, or a combination of both. In order to be classified as someone with schizoaffective disorder, a schizophrenic must retain their schizophrenia symptoms while also experiencing regular intervals of mood changes.
Although affective disorders cannot usually be cured, they can often be treated in order to prevent the symptoms from interfering with a person’s daily life. Mood stabilizing medications, such as lithium, valproate, or carbamazepine, are often prescribed to prevent chemical imbalances in the brain that contribute to mood swings. Therapy can also be implemented to help people with the disorders discover what factors, such as stress or substance use, trigger their episodes and how to deal with the triggers in a safe, effective way.