Mood disorders


What is a Mood Disorder?

A mood disorder is a disorder that develops as a result of an abnormal mood. Most people with a mood disorder experience depression at some stage, but some also experience mood swings ("up and down" feeling).

Did you know?
The term EMOTION refers to a person's emotional state, ie how he or she FEELS.


General information on the treatment of mood disorders

  1. Why is treatment necessary for mood disorders?
    Professional treatment is extremely important for anyone who has been diagnosed with a mood disorder because there is a strong chemical underpinning of symptoms and it is difficult to keep the symptoms under control (this may escalate) without medication and / or psychotherapy.
  2. Who can diagnose and treat you or a loved one?
    As with most psychological problems, it is usually necessary to seek professional help for mood disorders. The following professionals can help:
    1. Family doctor
      A thorough evaluation by a medical doctor can be a valuable first step in making sure that there are no medical triggers for the mood disorder. If not, the next step is to examine the psychological nature of the mental problem.
    2. Psychologist
      A registered psychologist with experience in the field can draw up a treatment plan with you in which you discuss the psychological approach that can be followed, as well as recommending the other professionals who can be involved. Psychotherapy is usually very valuable in understanding and treating a mood disorder.
    3. Psychiatrist
      Often medication is needed and for this the psychologist can refer the person to a psychiatrist, who can then do a full assessment and recommend and prescribe appropriate medication (if needed). If someone is at all sensitive to addiction (ie easily addicted to something), it is of cardinal importance to inform the psychiatrist, medical practitioner, psychologist and everyone involved with the person.
  3. What role does a psychologist play in my treatment?
    A registered psychologist can diagnose and treat psychological conditions. This means he or she can help you understand what your diagnosis is, how to live with it, and how to apply a strategy that can lead to behavioral change. A psychologist in South Africa may not prescribe medication and usually works in a team with a psychiatrist.
  4. What is the difference between a family doctor, a registered psychologist and a psychiatrist?
    1. Family doctor:A GP completes seven years of study in medicine. Because they do not specialize in psychiatry (such as a psychiatrist), they have only limited exposure to the training necessary to diagnose and treat people with psychological / psychiatric conditions. Your family doctor may prescribe medication, but is also ethically obliged to refer a patient to the appropriate professional if needed.
    2. A registered psychologist: A registered psychologist studies (broadly) human behavior and psychotherapy. In South Africa, all registered psychologists must have a master's degree (study period of at least six years) to be able to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and be allowed to practice. A psychologist works with you in therapy to understand and deal with yourself and your diagnosis. There are different categories of psychologists, focusing on different areas (see below).
    3. Psychiatrist:A psychiatrist also completes seven years of study in medicine, but specializes in psychiatry, namely the chemical treatment of disorders related to human behavior. So a psychiatrist is the doctor who can diagnose you and, if necessary, prescribe the right medication for your psychological condition.

    References to “psychological states” or “psychiatric states” mean exactly the same.

  5. Is there a specific category of registered psychologists that I should consult?
    In South Africa, there are currently five different categories or focus areas within which all psychologists must register. There is an interesting debate about the focus areas (scope of practice) of the various psychologists. Training agencies, the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and those in practice differ on how these areas should be defined.

  6. Here is a simple description of each professional category:
    1. Clinical psychologist
      A clinical psychologist studies human behavior and psychotherapy. In South Africa, they must complete at least a master's degree (six years +'s), which includes academic work, research and an internship, in order to register. A clinical psychologist is the person who can help you understand and live with your psychological diagnosis (such as post-traumatic stress disorder).
    2. Counseling Psychologist
      Study a Counseling Psychologist, just like a clinical psychologist, human behavior and psychotherapy. Like all registered psychologists, a counseling psychologist must have a master's degree in psychology, which includes an academic, research and practical component. Then comes an internship that, unlike a clinical psychologist, is usually not done in a psychiatric hospital, but rather in “ordinary” hospitals or counseling units. A Counseling Psychologist works with you in therapy to get to know yourself, understand your vulnerabilities (and diagnosis) and learn to handle life in a healthy way.
    3. Educational psychologist
      An educational psychologist has undergraduate education in education. Studying for the master's degree in educational psychology requires a person to have at least two years of teaching experience. The master's degree consists of theory, practical modules, as well as research. Then a 12-month internship is supervised. An educational psychologist is a person who often works with children, teens and students on issues that affect their (ability to) learn and develop. Such a person can also make diagnoses of conditions such as anxiety, depression, trauma, barriers to learning and developmental delays. Parents are also often used to equip them to support their child / teen / student.
    4. Industrial Psychologist
      An industrial psychologist focuses on organizations and the work environment and can make a valuable contribution in the human resources department of a company.
    5. Research psychologist
      Research psychologists focus on academic progress in the field of psychology and do research on psychological themes and phenomena.

The different categories determine the focus areas within which psychologists must adhere to regulations and the ethical and legal requirements that they must adhere to. According to the HPCSA, only a clinical psychologist can make a clinical diagnosis.


What can I do to manage my mood disorders?

  1. Limit / avoid caffeine, alcohol and drugs which can negatively affect one's mood.
  2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle
    While treating depression, it is always necessary to make healthy lifestyle choices that promote mental health, e.g. regular exercise, healthy sleeping habits, balanced eating, and time to think and relax. Rest and routine promote mental health.
  3. Join a support group
    A support group can be invaluable to someone suffering from a mental disorder. Within the group, people share their “stories” and challenges and learn from each other's skills and experiences. However, it is not always easy to find a support group in one's area. Online searches sometimes yield good results. More information can be found on the SADAG website found.


Advice for loved ones and family members who live with or work with someone who has been diagnosed with a mood disorder

If a loved one is diagnosed with a mood disorder, your support and motivation can play a very important role in accepting and managing their diagnosis. Here are guidelines on how to assist an individual:

  1. Be patient. People who are faced with the diagnosis of a mood disorder do not always have the ability to say how they feel or what they are experiencing. Give them a chance to get used to the diagnosis first and gradually work out a real plan on how to manage their lives going forward.
  2. Be informed about the disorder. The more you and your loved one, family member or colleague know about the disease, the better you can work on a plan to support the person and manage the disease.
  3. Ask what your loved one expects of you. One can easily think you know what is best for another person, but the easiest is to ask how he or she wants you to act.
  4. Listen to him or her and do not constantly advise or try to reason logically. It is important that the person takes responsibility for the illness and the effect it will have on his / her life. Making choices on behalf of someone else may cause people to become dependent on you and then not want to fight the disease themselves. It is not your illness, but your loved one's. Listening is a wonderful way to support your loved one.
  5. Get to know the signs and symptoms so you can act early. Everyone's symptoms of mood disorders do not manifest in the same way, so it is very important to understand what symptoms the person is experiencing in your life. For example, when your loved one suddenly experiences significantly more anxiety than other times, you can start acting proactively for example by making the person aware of what you see happening.
  6. Take part physical activities together with the individual. It is not a cliché that regular exercise is of great benefit to the mental health of people with psychological diagnoses. Exercise relieves tension and anxiety and aids in the production of low-mood transmitters. Regular exercise is therefore a successful antidepressant.
  7. Encourage a healthy eating and sleeping pattern. An established routine not only helps the person manage their illness, but also helps to see the signs / symptoms early.
  8. Take a good look at yourself! Remember, a person with a diagnosed mood disorder can also negatively affect you by involving you in their disorder. Living with a person who has been diagnosed with a mental disorder can feel frustrating, exhausting and sometimes chaotic. Make time for yourself too.


The “Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)” was originally developed by Zigmond and Snaith (1983) and is commonly used by physicians to determine the levels of anxiety and depression that a person experiences. Complete the questionnaire by clicking on the link below. The results will be available at the end of the 14-item questionnaire.

According to the World Health Organization more than 300 million people worldwide affected by depression; and about 60 million people worldwide through bipolar disorder.
See: Fact sheets: Mental Disorders
If a person suspects that he or she or a loved one is suffering from a mood disorder, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and to seek the help of a professional as soon as possible.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?