Although it can be tempting to attribute ill humor to bad days, it’s important to recognize that a loved one could be suffering from something more severe. Sometimes mood problems may be due not to an unyielding personality, but rather to a mood disorder.
Mental Health America defines mood disorders as the following:
Mood disorders are a category of illnesses that describe a serious change in mood. Illness under mood disorders include: major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, persistent depressive disorder, cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar disorder) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Mood disorders can be hard to pinpoint—particularly in people with bipolar disorder.
“We are all irritable or moody sometimes,” says Dr. Carrie Bearden, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and psychology at UCLA. “But in people with bipolar disorder, it often becomes so severe that it interferes with their relationships—especially if the person is saying, ‘I don’t know why I’m so irritable…I can’t control it.’”
The National Institute of Mental Health states that bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is “a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” The disposition of an individual suffering from bipolar disorder will range from periods of extremely happy, “up,” moods (manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” behavior (depressive episodes).
Bipolar disorder is not all that rare. According to Harvard Medical School, an estimated 4.4 percent of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives (as of 2017).
Since the disorder is comprised of contrasting episodes, both highs and lows, it can be difficult to assess how your loved one is doing. But if you sense something unusual in their mood or behavior, consider the following symptoms of bipolar disorder.
People having a manic episode may:
- Feel very “up” or happy
- Have a lot of energy and become more active than usual
- Have trouble sleeping
- Experience fast thoughts and run quickly through many different topics in conversation
- Be agitated or irritable
- Think they can do a lot of things at once
- Exhibit risky behavior, like spend a lot of money or have reckless sex
People having a depressive episode may:
- Feel very sad, down, empty or hopeless
- Have very little energy
- Have trouble sleeping (either sleeping too little or too much)
- Have trouble concentrating and experience increased forgetfulness
- Change eating patterns (either eating too much or too little)
- Think about death or suicide
If you recognize a combination of multiple symptoms in your partner, perhaps it is time for an honest conversation. Be aware that there is a fine line in situations like these: you do not want to ignore your loved one’s pain, but you do not want to feign a psychiatric degree.
The International Bipolar Foundation suggests the following conversation starters if you suspect that someone you love might have bipolar disorder:
- How have you been feeling lately?
- Is there something on your mind?
- I will be here for you if you want to talk.
- You’re not alone.
- We will get through this together.
- I am here for you.
- I support you.
- You and your life are important to me.
- You can tell me if something is wrong, I will help you get through it.
It can be painful to watch someone you care about in a state of suffering. More often than not, it is difficult to know how to help without offending them or damaging your relationship. If you have concerns, seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
For further information on bipolar disorder or other mood disorders, click here to read more.