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Mood Disorders

What are they?

Our lives are punctuated by all sorts of emotions that can make life easy or more difficult, and that also affect our moods.

Mood is a state of mind predominated by a specific emotion (anxiety, bad or good mood, etc.). An emotion is a general feeling that strongly influences our behavior and perception of the world around us (anger, sadness, joy, etc.). They are what we feel inside. Affects are the external expressions of the emotion we feel. Humans can feel a wide variety of emotions that can be expressed in many ways. These emotions are neither good nor bad, but may be pleasant or painful. Normally, people remain in control of their emotions and their corresponding affects because the intensity of their emotions is not overwhelming.

However, for some people, the happy and difficult moments take on such intensity that they lose control of their emotions and the way those emotions are expressed. Mood disorders are very common, especially depression, which affects almost one in five people at some point in their lives. Mood disorders do not discriminate—they can affect children, adolescents, and adults of any age, no matter what their ethnic background, sex, social condition, or level of education.

Mood disorders can take a number of forms: 

  • Depression: This disorder is marked by profound sadness and certain psychomotor symptoms (slowness or reduced concentration) or somatic symptoms (loss of appetite or sleep). 
  • Dysthymic disorder: The individual experiences a milder form of depression where the sadness and other symptoms are less intense, but the condition persists unabated for at least two years. 
  • Bipolar disorder (commonly called manic-depression): Periods of depression alternate with manic periods of great excitement, energy, euphoria, or irritability. These mood swings are uncontrollable and sometimes frequent. 
  • Cyclothymia: The individual appears to have a milder form of bipolar disorder where the sadness and other symptoms are less intense, but the condition persists unabated for at least two years.

People with mood disorders are more at risk for other psychiatric conditions like drug or alcohol problems, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder.


What causes it?

We know that our brain cells are constantly communicating with each other through neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters regulate our emotions, movements, thoughts, cognitive functions, (memory, concentration, judgment, etc.) and survival functions (sleep, appetite, digestion, elimination, pain control, reflexes, etc.).

In mood disorders, the neurotransmitters’ equilibrium is disturbed, but we don’t know why. There is no one cause of mood disorders; they probably result from a combination of factors that together lead to the onset of symptoms. These factors can be

  • Biological:
    • Heredity 
    • Changes in the equilibrium of certain neurotransmitters or hormones 
    • Certain diseases like Parkinson’s disease or stroke 
  • Psychosocial: stress factors in the person’s life 
  • Environmental: abusive or long-term consumption of drugs or alcohol


What can be done?

Mood disorders are illnesses. Sometimes they can be prevented and they can be treated.

Steps for prevention, steps for action

Even though it’s not always possible to prevent mood disorders, certain behaviors can lessen the risk of developing them. A healthy lifestyle (eating well, getting plenty of exercise and sleep, reducing consumption of alcohol or drugs) and a strong social support network (confiding in friends, keeping busy, etc.) are particularly effective in preventing depression.

If the above-mentioned symptoms apply to you, you can take action right away by making changes to your lifestyle. Lifestyle changes won’t cure mood disorders, but they can eliminate factors that aggravate or contribute to them. Be sure to get to bed at a reasonable hour, eat well, maintain good personal hygiene, exercise daily (for help with an exercise plan consult the website:, and cut down on drugs, and alcohol (


When to seek professional help

If you have experienced debilitating suffering for a number of days and are having difficulty meeting your professional or family obligations, you should see your family doctor or a psychologist. Don’t wait until you are incapable of functioning normally before seeking help. A professional can determine with you whether the problem is really a mood disorder and suggest a treatment plan adapted to your needs. A physical checkup and laboratory tests are sometimes necessary to eliminate other illnesses with symptoms similar to those of mood disorders.

If you have suicidal thoughts or fear for your safety or that of someone you know, call Info-Santé (telephone: 811) or see a doctor IMMEDIATELY.


How they are treated

There are proven treatments for mood disorders, and the earlier you seek help, the better the chances treatment will be successful. In most cases, psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two has been found to be very effective. Mood disorder experts generally recommend cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy.

To find a psychotherapist with the approach that’s right for you and with whom you feel comfortable, ask your family doctor or contact the local health and social services center, Ordre des psychologues du Québec ( , or Association des médecins psychiatres du Québec (

Medication, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers act by restoring the balance between the neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate emotions, cognitive function (memory, concentration, etc.), and somatic functions (sleep, appetite, energy, etc.). If your doctor prescribes medication, it is important to take it regularly. Be patient. Restoring balance to your brain can take time, sometimes up to four to eight weeks. To avoid a relapse, it is very important to continue the treatment as prescribed even if you are feeling better. Treating the first episode of a mood disorder can take anywhere from several months to one or two years, depending on its severity. If you have several episodes, your doctor will probably suggest lifelong medication.

The purpose of these medications is to eliminate rather than just reduce or partially reduce symptoms. Sometimes, medication can cause side effects. If so, be sure to tell your doctor. Don’t stop taking your medication before talking with your doctor. Another drug may be appropriate.


For information or help

The following are some useful links for getting emergency help or more information: