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What is an Affective Disorder?

Allison Boelcke
By Allison Boelcke
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By Crispety — On Mar 03, 2011

Subway11 - I heard about Vitamin B6 being good for mood stabilization.

I think that it could be really challenging to live with someone with affective mood disorder if they don’t take their medication.

The extreme ups and downs of their moods can be difficult to deal with.

I had an uncle that was diagnosed with being Bipolar and my aunt had a difficult time with him because he didn’t always want to take his medication and during his maniac phase he would go out and spend a lot of money on things.

He would act really impulsive and would talk uncontrollably. He would have to be hospitalized a couple of times in order to stabilize his moods.

By subway11 — On Mar 01, 2011

Mutsy - I heard that about 20% of the population of Alaska suffers from seasonal affective disorder because of the long periods of darkness.

In fact the weather plays a large role in the incidences of seasonal affective mood disorder. For example, in warm climates this condition is very rare.

In Florida only 1% of the cases results in seasonal affective depression disorder. I also read that in order to prevent this disorder from occurring not only should you have plenty of light in your home but you should also eat foods rich in Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin C which have a positive effect in elevating your mood.

By mutsy — On Feb 28, 2011

I recently read that seasonal affective depression disorder occurs during the fall and lasts throughout the winter months and begins again in late spring and early summer.

They attribute the lack of sunlight in the winter to the decreased levels of serotonin in the brain. They say that spending time outdoors can act as a mild antidepressant because light increases the melatonin in the system which acts as a relaxer.

Exercise also helps to elevate your mood by boosting levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

I always wonder if the cases of seasonal affective disorder are higher in areas like Alaska that have six months of darkness. I could not imagine not seeing the sun for six months. I think that it would depress me too.

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