Introduction to Perspectives and Treatments Related to Mood Disorders

What you’ll learn to do: examine various perspectives and treatment methods for mood disorders

A person sitting and looking out a window.

Meta-analyses show that high scores on the personality domain neuroticism are a strong predictor for the development of mood disorders. A number of authors have also suggested that mood disorders are an evolutionary adaptation. A low or depressed mood can increase an individual’s ability to cope with situations in which the effort to pursue a major goal could result in danger, loss, or wasted effort. In such situations, low motivation may give an advantage by inhibiting certain actions. This theory helps to explain why negative life incidents precede depression in around 80% of cases, and why they so often strike people during their peak reproductive years. These characteristics would be difficult to understand if depression were a dysfunction.

A depressed mood is a predictable response to certain types of life occurrences, such as loss of status, divorce, or death of a child or spouse. These are events that signal a loss of reproductive ability or potential, or that did so in humans’ ancestral environment. A depressed mood can be seen as an adaptive response in the sense that it causes an individual to turn away from the earlier (and reproductively unsuccessful) modes of behavior.

A depressed mood is common during illnesses, such as influenza. It has been argued that this is an evolved mechanism that assists the individual in recovering by limiting their physical activity. The occurrence of low-level depression during the winter months, or seasonal affective disorder, may have been adaptive in the past, by limiting physical activity at times when food was scarce. It is argued that humans have retained the instinct to experience low mood during the winter months, even if the availability of food is no longer determined by the weather.

There are different types of treatments available for mood disorders, such as therapy and medications. Behavior therapy, CBT, and interpersonal therapy have all shown to be potentially beneficial in depression. Major depressive disorder medications usually include antidepressants, while bipolar disorder medications can consist of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, and/or lithium. Lithium specifically has been proven to reduce suicide and all causes of mortality in people with mood disorders. If mitochondrial dysfunction or mitochondrial diseases are the cause of mood disorders like bipolar disorder, then it has been hypothesized that N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR), S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), creatine monohydrate (CM), and melatonin could be potential treatment options. In determining treatment, there are many types of depression scales that are used. One of the depression scales is a self-report scale called Beck Depression Inventory (BDI). Another scale is the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD). HAMD is a clinical rating scale in which the patient is rated based on clinician observation. The Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) is a scale for depression symptoms that applies to the general population. This scale is typically used in research and not for self-reports. The PHQ-9 which stands for Patient-Health Questionnaire-9 questions, is a self-report as well. Finally, the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ) evaluates bipolar disorder.