Women typically experience a spectrum of moods, both positive and negative. But those suffering from mood disorders are subjected to extreme positive and negative emotions along with a loss of their sense of control over their emotional experiences. The irregularity of their moods is so severe that it causes them distress and interferes with their ability to function in their lives. Symptoms tend to occur in a cyclical fashion over an individual's life. Mood disorders encompass both Unipolar Depression, also referred to as Major Depressive Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder.
Major depression affects up to 25% of women over their lifetimes, and women around the world have twice the prevalence of depression than men. Usually, a person is diagnosed with depression if they experience either depressed mood or loss of enjoyment in typically pleasurable things, along with symptoms such as:
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Changes in sleep and activity
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Problems thinking and making decisions, or
- Recurring thoughts of death and suicide
Women suffering from major depression may also experience anxiety or, in severe cases, psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations.
Bipolar Disorder is a less common condition, in which a person experiences a period of depression followed by a manic "high". A manic episode is a period lasting at least a week marked by symptoms such as an abnormally elevated mood, exaggerated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, pressured speech, irritability or distractibility, and reckless or impulsive behaviors such as sexual indiscretion or spending sprees. A person in a manic phase may also experience psychotic symptoms.
The cause of mood disorders is not well understood, but researchers think they are usually associated with changes in brain chemistry. There may also be a genetic component. Often, too, environmental factors such as stressful events can trigger the illness. Both major depression and bipolar disorder are illnesses that recur in episodes throughout a person's life. But with a combination of medication and psychotherapy, most people are able to manage their illness and regain control of their lives.