Affective disorders are a set of psychiatric disorders, also called mood disorders.

The main types of affective disorders are depression and bipolar disorder. Symptoms vary by individual and can range from mild to severe.

A psychiatrist or other trained mental health professional can diagnose an affective disorder. This is done with a psychiatric evaluation.

Affective disorders can be disruptive to your life. However, there are effective treatments available, including both medication and psychotherapy.

The two main types of affective disorders are depression and bipolar disorder. Each includes subtypes and variations in severity.

Depression

Depression is a medical term that describes ongoing feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness. It’s more than simply feeling down for a day or two.

If you have depression, you may experience episodes that last for several days or even weeks.

It’s estimated that more than 264 million people worldwide live with depression, which can take on multiple forms.

The most common types of depression include:

There are also certain types of depression experienced by females, due to hormonal changes at various life stages.

Examples include perinatal depression during pregnancy and postpartum depression after birth. Some women also experience depression alongside other symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

It is possible for men to experience postpartum depression as well, though this isn’t associated with hormonal changes like in women.

Sometimes depression can also develop as a secondary condition to an underlying medical issue. Some issues include:

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition where a person experiences extreme shifts in mood.

These mood changes may include episodes of depression along with periods of mania or hypomania.

There are different types of bipolar disorder. They include:

  • Bipolar I. Bipolar I is defined by episodes of mania that last for at least 7 days. You may also experience depressive episodes that last for 2 weeks or more, though depression may not occur in bipolar I.
  • Bipolar II. This type includes episodes of depression lasting at least 2 weeks along with milder mania, called hypomania.
  • Cyclothymia. This mild form of bipolar disorder still includes periods of depression and hypomania, but with no clear timeline for each episode. Also called cyclothymic disorder, you may be diagnosed if you’ve experienced cycling hypomania and depression for 2 years or more.

The symptoms of affective disorders can vary greatly. There are some common signs, however, for each of the main types.

Depression

  • prolonged sadness
  • irritability or anxiety
  • lethargy and lack of energy
  • lack of interest in normal activities
  • major changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feelings of guilt
  • aches and pains that have no physical explanation
  • suicidal thoughts
  • unusual and chronic mood changes

Bipolar disorder

During a depressive episode, the symptoms may be similar to those for major depressive disorder.

During mania, you might experience:

The causes of affective disorders aren’t fully understood.

Neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, play a major role in affecting mood. When they’re imbalanced in some way, or don’t signal properly to your brain, an affective disorder can be the result. What exactly causes the imbalance isn’t fully known.

Life events can trigger affective disorders. A traumatic event or personal loss can cause depression or another affective disorder. Use of alcohol and drugs is also a risk factor.

There also seems to be a genetic factor. If someone in your family has one of these disorders, you’re at a greater risk of developing one as well. This means that they’re hereditary.

However, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll develop an affective disorder just because a family member has one.

There are no medical tests to diagnose affective disorders.

To make a diagnosis, a mental health professional can give you a psychiatric evaluation. They will follow set guidelines.

You should expect to be asked about your symptoms. Some tests may be done to look for underlying medical conditions.

There are two main treatments for affective disorders: medication and therapy. Treatment usually involves a combination of both.

There are many antidepressant medications available. You may need to try several before you find one that helps relieve your symptoms without too many side effects.

Psychotherapy in addition to medication is also an important part of treatment. It can help you learn to cope with your disorder and possibly change behaviors that contribute to it.

In addition to therapy and medications, supplemental approaches may be used to help treat some types of depression. These include vitamin D supplements and light therapy, which is supplied by specialized lamps.

Talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter supplements for your condition.

Your doctor may also recommend certain lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, a consistent sleep schedule, and a healthy diet. These can help complement your medical treatments, but shouldn’t replace them.

With appropriate and long-term treatment, the recovery outlook for an affective disorder is good.

It’s important to understand that in most cases, these are chronic conditions. Most often they have to be treated long-term.

While some cases are severe, most people with affective disorders who are being treated can live a normal life.