What are Affective Disorders?

Affective disorders consist of a set of different mood disorders. The main types include anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe (becoming potentially disruptive to your everyday life), and they will affect as many as 1 in 10 Canadians in a given year.

Anxiety Disorder

More than 25% of Canadians will have at least one anxiety disorder in their lifetime. There are several different classifications of anxiety disorders, which can include social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (more commonly known as PTSD.) The symptoms associated with each of these anxiety disorders can include things like fear, flashbacks, obsessive thoughts, panic attacks, isolation, trembling, trouble sleeping/restlessness, sweating, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, nausea, and more.

Anxiety is often treated with a combination of medication and therapy. Therapy may include counselling, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), or a combination of the two. Medications used to treat anxiety include benzodiazepines, tricyclics, and in some cases, anti-depressants. You can also try to manage your anxiety through stress management, relaxation techniques, exercise, and even by joining support groups both online and off.

Bipolar Disorder

There are four different types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, and other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders. They all involve changes in mood, as well as changes in energy and activity levels. These mood changes are also often described as periods of extreme elation (also known as manic episodes), to periods of feeling sad, down or hopeless (known as depressive episodes.) However, each type of bipolar disorder also comes with its own set of symptoms. Bipolar I, for example, is defined by manic episodes and symptoms that last approximately 7 days and can require hospitalization due to their severity. Depressive episodes can also occur for as long as 2 weeks. It’s also possible for the two to occur together. Bipolar II consists of hypomanic and depressive episodes but are usually not as severe as bipolar I. Cyclothymic disorder is defined by periods of both hypomanic and depressive symptoms that can last for as long as 2 years, while other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders come with similar symptoms, but don’t necessarily match any of the aforementioned categories.

Along with periods of high highs and low lows, symptoms that someone with bipolar disorder may also experience include difficult sleeping (or sleeping too much), be agitated or irritable, eat too much or not eat enough, have trouble concentrating, forget things, speak fast, as well as engage in risky behaviour.

Bipolar disorders are typically treated with stabilizing drugs and psychotherapy.


Depression, also sometimes referred to as major depressive disorder, is one of the most common types of affective disorders that individuals will be diagnosed with. In Canada, an estimated 1 in 4 people have depression to the point where they require treatment.

Depression can have a negative impact on the mood, including your feelings as well as the way in which you think and act. Other signs that you may be suffering from depression include feelings of hopelessness, crying, loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed, trouble concentrating or making decisions, social withdrawal/isolation, anger or irritability, changes in appetite, weight gain or weight loss, lack of energy, reckless behaviour, and even thoughts of suicide. Depression is typically diagnosed when a combination of these symptoms last for 2 or more weeks.

Anyone can develop depression, though there are certain risk factors that can also contribute, including those that are environmental (such as exposure to violence, abuse, poverty or neglect), biochemical (such as certain chemicals in the brain), as well as those with certain personality traits like having low self-esteem or those easily overwhelmed by stressful situations. In addition, depression can also be hereditary, meaning that it can run in families. For example, if a sibling has depression, then the other sibling has a high likelihood of also developing depression.

The good news is that depression can be treated, and said treatment is often successful with as many as 80 to 90 percent of people diagnosed with depression responding well to the type of treatment in which they receive. This often includes medication and psychotherapy — sometimes used together. The most commonly prescribed medication that is used treat depression are anti-depressants, which are non-habit forming and help modify brain chemistry. It is important to note that if you are prescribed an anti-depressant, it may take several weeks to a few months before you begin to notice its effects. It’s also important to let your physician know of any side effects you experience as a result of the medication. In many cases, the side effects experienced will usually go away, but in some cases, it may mean having to adjust the dose of your medication or prescribe a different medication all together. Psychotherapy treatment often refers to “talk” therapy that involves a counsellor or psychiatrist and may also include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which helps an individual to recognize and change distorted thinking.

Originally published at alighahary.ca on February 14, 2019.



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