“Mood” is a pervasive and sustained emotional state that underlies our perceptions and reactions to the world around us. It is a primary factor in defining our emotional well-being and is the foundation for social interactions. Everyone experiences mood changes, but they may indicate a mood disorder when they become extreme and prolonged.
Mood disorders are mental illnesses characterized by extremes in mood. These can include conditions like depression, characterized by hopelessness and despair, and bipolar disorder, characterized by extreme shifts in mood between depression and mania (episodes of intense excitement and high energy levels).
A Brief History of Mood Disorders
One of the earliest known references to mood disorder can be found in the writings of Hippocrates and Galen during ancient Greek. These ancient medical professionals referred to extreme changes in mood as “mania” and “melancholia.” These early physicians believed these conditions were caused by an imbalance of the four humors (bodily fluids) and treated them with bloodletting, leeching, and other horrendous practices.
Later in history, during the Middle Ages, people turned instead toward religious enlightenment or spiritual inwardness to treat mood disorder, which was believed to be caused by the devil. This belief led to exorcisms and often harsh “treatments” like self-flagellation.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that a more modern understanding of mood disorders emerged, as physicians like Emil Kraepelin, Jean-Pierre Falret, and Karl Leonhard developed a framework for describing mental illnesses and postulated scientific research theories as to their causes.
In the late 19th century, Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud’s theories about psychoanalysis and the unconscious mind gained popularity. Although not without controversy, the advent of psychoanalysis in the early 20th century allowed for a more nuanced understanding of mood disorders and laid the foundation for the modern-day field of psychology.
The publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (First Edition) in 1952 provided the first standardized diagnostic criteria for mood disorders and other mental illnesses. It established a groundwork for future research into their causes and potential treatments.
While our understanding of mood disorders has come a long way, we still have much to learn as researchers continue to canvas the depths of the human mind in search of better ways to diagnose and treat these conditions. Although there is no cure for these debilitating mental illnesses, modern medicine provides patients with various proven treatment options to manage the symptoms and improve their quality of life, including psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle modalities.
The Bottom Line
Although mood disorders and other mental illnesses have existed since the dawn of civilization, ancient physicians did not clearly understand mental illness. As such, mood disorders were often attributed to supernatural forces and evil spirits.
Although it’s safe to say that our understanding of mood disorders has changed tremendously over time, there is still much more to learn. Through ongoing research, we gain valuable insights into the causes and treatments for these conditions. With each discovery, we move one step closer to eradicating the stigma and despair that have plagued those with mood disorders for centuries.