Updated January 2023
Mood disorders are the most common kind of mental illness. They impact people of all ages, from children to seniors—and in many cases, go undiagnosed and untreated.
If you're in a community-serving career, it is very likely that you've encountered people suffering from mood disorders.
In 2021, 9.6 per cent of Canadians were diagnosed with mood disorders, up from nine per cent the previous year. And some estimates suggest at least 21% of the U.S. population is dealing with this category of mental illness.
Early diagnosis and intervention are absolutely crucial—and that begins with mental health training and awareness.
What are the most common kinds of mood disorders, and what symptoms should you be aware of? Let's get started.
Major depression is the most common kind of mood disorder. It is characterized by a period of depression that lasts longer than two weeks, featuring symptoms such as:
- Social withdrawal
- Emotional numbness
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty remembering things
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits (more or less than usual)
Young people are particularly vulnerable to depression. In 2017, the CBC reported that Canadians aged 15 to 24 had the highest rates of depression of any age group in the country—with suicide accounting for nearly a quarter of all deaths in that age group.
Data shows that depression is becoming a serious problem among older adults as well. Nearly half of all seniors in long-term care suffer from depression—and 18% have no documented diagnosis or treatment plan (source: Canadian Institute for Health Information).
And if we look at the global picture, we find the World Health Organization reports that 280 million people suffer from depression worldwide. It is a leading cause of disability, and results in 700,000 suicides per year.
Depression is highly treatable, but stigma and lack of mental health resources pose serious barriers to diagnosis and effective treatment.
The WHO says fewer than half the people affected globally receive treatment for depression—and in many countries, less than 25 per cent get the help they need.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme ups and down—periods of depression alternating with periods of mania or elevated mood. It's even possible for both states to happen simultaneously.
During lows, you will notice the symptoms of major depression, while manic phases tend to feature:
- Feelings of euphoria, joy, and excitement
- Inflated self-esteem
- Decreased need for sleep
- Accelerated, hard-to-follow speech
- Racing thoughts, lots of plans
- Extremely short attention span
- Participation in high-risk activities
There are various types of bipolar disorder, each with their own characteristics and levels of intensity:
Bi-polar 1: Manic or mixed episodes that last for at least one week, and depressive episodes that last for at least two weeks. Patient may experience severe manic symptoms and require hospitalization.
Bi-polar 2: A pattern of depressive and manic episodes, but lacking the intensity of bipolar 1 symptoms.
Cyclothymia: A milder form of bipolar disorder featuring lower-grade depression mixed with less severe manic episodes, cycling back and forth for at least two years.
It's key to note that most cases of bipolar disorder begin before a person reaches 25 years of age. It can be difficult to diagnose because it develops gradually and gets worse over time.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but it can be managed with therapies and medication, such as:
- Mood stabilizing and anti-anxiety drugs
- Antipsychotic and anti-seizure medications
- Cognitive behaviour therapy
Conditions that Commonly Trigger Mood Disorders
It's quite common for other medical or mental health issues to trigger a mood disorder. The most typical examples are:
Mood disorders related to serious health conditions, such as cancer, debilitating injuries, and chronic illness. A frightening diagnosis or life-altering condition often triggers depression.
Substance-induced mood disorders. Depression is common among people suffering from drug, alcohol, and other kinds of addiction. Toxic drug therapies and treatments may also bring on depressive states.
Mood Disorder VS Bad Mood
Everyone feels down from time to time. We all experience dark moods, irritability, and sadness. What differentiates a bad mood from a legitimate mood disorder?
If you suspect someone you work with in the community is suffering from a mood disorder, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Mood disorders are more intense and much harder to control than "normal" feelings of sadness.
- Mood disorders run in families (children of parents with mood disorders are at higher risk of developing similar mental health challenges).
- Stress can bring on mood disorders or make an existing condition much harder to manage (losing a job, death of a loved one, divorce, and money problems are all common instigators).
- The risk of depression in women is nearly twice as high as it is for men.
Learn more with mental health training
Introductory mental health training is ideal for people who work in healthcare, law enforcement, education, social services—or any role that entails close contact with the community.
A deeper understanding of mental illness can improve daily interactions with others, lead to earlier diagnoses, reduce stigma, and improve access to quality treatment.
When it comes to mental health, knowledge really does save lives.
If you'd like to learn more about mental health education for professionals, we welcome you to explore our Mental Health and Addictions certificate. It's delivered online by experienced health care professionals and can be completed in three to six months.
Click below to browse topics and skills covered in class and chat live with an admissions advisor.