Affective disorders are a set of psychiatric disorders, also called mood disorders. The main types of affective disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety 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 three main types of affective disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. Each includes subtypes and variations in severity.


Depression, or major depressive disorder, is characterized by 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. A milder form of depression is called dysthymia.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder means having periods of depression and periods of mania. Mania is when you feel extremely positive and active. This may sound good, but mania also makes you feel irritable, aggressive, impulsive, and even delusional.

There are different types of bipolar disorder. They’re classified by the severity of depression and presence of mania, as well as by how often mood swings occur.

Anxiety disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders. All are characterized by feelings of nervousness, anxiety, and even fear. The classifications include:

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


  • 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 swings

Bipolar disorder

  • during depression: symptoms similar to those for major depressive disorder
  • during mania: less sleep and feelings of exaggerated self-confidence, irritability, aggression, self-importance, impulsiveness, recklessness, or in severe cases delusions or hallucinations

Anxiety disorders

  • constant worry
  • obsessive thoughts
  • restlessness
  • trouble concentrating
  • trembling
  • irritability
  • difficulty sleeping
  • sweating
  • shortness of breath and rapid heart rate
  • nausea

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 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 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 will 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 psychiatrist or other trained mental health professional can give you a psychiatric evaluation. They will follow set guidelines. Expect to be asked about your symptoms.

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

There are many different 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.

With appropriate and long-term treatment, the recovery outlook for affective disorder is good. It’s important to understand that in most cases, these are chronic conditions. Most often they have to be treated over the long term. While some cases are severe, most people with affective disorders who are being treated can live a normal life.