Mental Illness and Suicide

What are mood disorders?

Four basic forms of mood disorders are major depression, cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar disorder), seasonal affective disorder and mania (euphoric, hyperactive, over inflated ego, unrealistic optimism).

How common are mood disorders?

About 20 percent of the U.S. population reports at least one depressive symptom in a given month, and 12 percent report two or more in a year. A survey conducted in 1992 found rates of major depression reaching 5 percent in the previous 30 days, 17 percent for a lifetime. Bipolar disorder is less common, occurring at a rate of 1 percent in the general population, but some believe the diagnosis is often overlooked because manic elation is too rarely reported as an illness.

Relationship between psychiatric disorders and mood disorders

Depression is a common feature of mental illness, whatever its nature and origin. A person with a history of any serious psychiatric disorder has almost as high a chance of developing major depression as someone who has had major depression itself in the past.

Personality and mood disorders

People are more easily demoralized by depression and slower to recover if they are withdrawn and unreasonably self-critical or irritable, impulsive, and hypersensitive to loss. Most people with major depression also show some signs of anxiety, and 15 percent to 30 percent have panic attacks. As a biological mechanism for coping with danger, anxiety creates a need for help or protection that may give way to despair if it is disappointed. Chronically anxious people may also medicate themselves with alcohol or drugs that can cause depression.

Do you think you have a mood disorder?

Take a confidential online mood disorder screening with the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

Staying well when you have a mental health condition

When you have a mental health condition, you may not realize how important your overall health is to your recovery. Having poor overall health can get in the way and make recovery harder. Finding ways to take care of your health can aid your recovery and help you feel better. Here are some things you can do.

Connect with others

Spending time with positive, loving people you care about and trust can ease stress, help your mood and improve the way you feel overall. They may be family members, close friends, members of a support group or a counselor at the local drop-in center.

Advocate for yourself

You deserve good health care. All too often, people with mental illnesses develop other health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, because their health is overlooked. If your doctor is not asking about your overall health, let him know that it’s important to you and essential to your recovery.

Get the care you need

Get routine check-ups and visit your doctor when you’re not feeling well. It may be due to your medicine or a symptom of your mental illness. But it could also be a different health problem.

Plan your sleep schedule

Sleep can affect your mood and your body and is important to your recovery. Not getting the right amount of sleep can make day-to-day functioning and recovery harder. For tips on how to sleep better, contact the National Sleep Foundation at (703) 243-1697 or visit

Watch what you eat

Sometimes, medicine can cause you to gain weight. Other times, eating unhealthy foods can cause weight gain. Foods high in calories and saturated or “bad” fats can raise your blood pressure and cholesterol. This can increase you chances of gaining weight and having other health problems, like heart disease and diabetes. Here are some shortcuts you can take to healthy eating.

  • If fresh vegetables are too costly, buy frozen vegetables. They can cost less and last a long time in your freezer.
  • If you eat at fast food restaurants, many now offer healthy foods such as salads or grilled chicken.
  • Talk to your doctor to learn more about how to have a healthy diet.

Manage stress

Everyone has stress. It is a normal part of life. You can feel stress in your body when you have too much to do or when you haven’t slept well. You can also feel stress when you worry about your job, money, relationships, or a friend or family member who is ill or in crisis. Stress can make you feel run down. It can also cause your mind to race and make it hard to focus on the things you need to do. If you have a mental illness, lots of stress can make you feel worse and make it harder to function. If you are feeling stressed, there are steps you can take to feel better:

  • Slow down and take one thing at a time. If you feel like you have too much to do, make a list and work on it one task at a time.
  • Know your limits. Let others know them too. If you’re overwhelmed at home or work, or with friends, learn how to say “no.” It may be hard at first, so practice saying “no” with the people you trust most.
  • Practice stress reduction techniques. There are a lot of things you can do to make your life more peaceful and calm. Do something you enjoy, exercise, connect with others or meditate.
  • Know your triggers. What causes stress in your life? If you know where stress is coming from, you will be able to manage it better.
  • Talk to someone. You don’t have to deal with stress on your own. Talking to a trusted friend, family member, support group or counselor can make you feel better. They also may help you figure out how to better manage stress in your life.


Along with a healthy diet, exercise can improve your health and well-being. Exercising regularly can increase your self-esteem and confidence; reduce your feelings of stress, anxiety and depression; improve your sleep; and help you maintain a healthy weight. You don’t have to go to a gym or spend money to exercise. Here are some things you can start doing now to get active:

  • Check out your local community center for free, fun activities.
  • Take a short walk around the block with family, friends or coworkers.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Make sure the stairs are well lit.
  • Turn on some music and dance.

Do something you enjoy

During the week, find time—30 minutes, a couple of hours or whatever you can fit in—to do something you enjoy. Read a book or magazine, go for a walk or spend time with friends. Taking time for yourself to have fun and laugh can help you relax, ease stress and improve the way you feel.