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Mood Disorders

Understanding Mental Health

What is Mental Illness

Mood Disorders

What are Mood Disorders?
We all have encountered feelings of sadness at one point or another in life. Sometimes, we face challenges in life that overwhelm our emotions and mood. But these feelings are usually fleeting and fade within hours or days.

A mood disorder is different and a lot more than the blues or weathering a rough patch. It is a severe and persistent deterioration of a person’s emotional state, impairing his ability to function in daily life.

There is no single known cause of mood disorders. Researchers believe that biological, psychological and social factors all have a role to play.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder are the most commonly encountered mood disorders.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterised by a persistent state of sadness and a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable . As a severe form of depression, it is also called major depression or clinical depression.

MDD is disabling and interferes with the person’s ability to function in daily life. Some experience a single MDD episode within a lifetime; others have multiple episodes. While severe, MDD is highly treatable.

According to the Singapore Mental Health Survey (2010), MDD was found to be the most common mental illness in Singapore. 1 in 16 Singapore residents (aged 18 and above) had MDD at some point in their life. The average time taken for persons with MDD to seek help from the onset of the illness is 4 years.

Symptoms of MDD

Persons with MDD do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary among individuals:

  • Persistent sad or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains that do not ease even with treatment
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterised by alternating episodes of mania and depression. The person’s ability to carry out daily tasks is thus severely impaired. It is also known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression.

During a manic episode, a person might quit his job on impulse, rack up credit card bills, or feel energised even with little sleep. During a depressive episode, he might be too tired to get out of bed or struggle with self-loathing from the reckless decisions made.

About 1.2% of adult Singaporeans have bipolar disorders. The average time taken for persons with bipolar disorder to seek help is 9 years.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

More than fleeting good or bad moods, cycles of bipolar disorder can last for days, weeks or months. Episodes of mania and depression are also unpredictable, varying in duration and intensity:


  • Emotional highs and unusual optimism
  • Irritability
  • Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers
  • Needing very little sleep, but feeling very energetic
  • Racing thoughts, where one jumps quickly from one idea to the next
  • Rapid speech
  • Acting recklessly without thinking about the consequences


See Symptoms of MDD above.

Treatment for MDD

Depression, even the most severe cases (i.e. MDD), can be effectively treated. The earlier the treatment begins, the more effective it will be.

  • Medication
    The use of antidepressants to treat and manage symptoms
  • Psychotherapy
    Includes counselling or talk therapy
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can be effectively treated through several ways. Symptoms also generally react well to medication.

  • Medication
    The use of mood-stabilising medications to balance the fluctuating emotions
  • Psychotherapy
    To help the person develop strategies to better manage the condition
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
    • Where tiny amounts of electrical currents are sent through the brain to alter brain chemistry and reverse symptoms
    • For cases where medication or psychotherapy do not alleviate symptoms
How You Can Help a Person with a Mood Disorder
  • Learn about mood disorders and their recovery process
  • Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement
  • Talk to the person and listen attentively
  • Engage the person in positive distractions, such as walks, outings or other activities
  • Never ignore comments about suicide
  • Work together with the helping professionals in reducing the risk of suicide

Encourage the person to join a self-help or support group, such as Sunshine Path.

Sunshine Path is a support group for persons with mood and anxiety disorders. The group meets once a month to share problems, experiences and support for one another. Persons-in-recovery benefit greatly from being in a supportive environment.

Contact the SAMH Insight Centre at 1800–283 7019 for more information on the support group.


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