“She is a very good person and friend,” said 15-year-old Karabo. “We laugh a lot and she has a very good sense of humour. She always makes every one laugh but…”
Karabo then looks way above my head and exhales loudly, her face now reflecting puzzlement and obvious despair.
“It just makes me sad and confuses me. One minute Kediemetse is very social and is the center of attraction with everybody laughing and hugging her.” she continues. “Then, just a little while later, she is icy and snaps at everyone. She becomes incommunicative and just changes and becomes unfriendly.”
It’s not fiction; it’s called ‘mood swings’ or, as some call it, ‘manic depression’.
Science and Nature says girls will continue to experience fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels with their periods, adding that Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, or PMS, is an acknowledged cause of irritability and mild depression in adult women.
“It also affects teenage girls and they might struggle to accept or control this emotional change because they are experiencing it for the first time,” it says. “Any rapid fluctuation in hormones is usually accompanied by irritability, recklessness, aggression and depression. In early puberty, teenagers are experiencing very rapid rises in the level of sex hormones. So mood swings at this early stage could be caused by hormones, although there is very little evidence to prove it.”
In my family, it is mostly the women. My daughters and sisters continue to torment us, the closest ones, with these ‘mood swings’ ÔÇô happy, laughing and social one moment then absolutely irritable, sulky, bothered and resisting communication the next.
It is rather distabilizing but we learned to accept it and try to ignore it. In about 30 or so minutes the gloom lifts.
But in some extreme cases, it may last for a couple of days.
“Mood swings are characterized by periods, commonly referred to as episodes, of mania and depression,” MoodSwings.net. “During an episode of mania, one may experience an abnormally elevated mood, irritability, decreased need for sleep, increased talking and racing thoughts.” It adds that during episodes of depression, one may experience persistent sad and empty moods, loss of interest in activities, feelings of guilt, feelings of worthlessness and physical ailments such as headaches, chronic pain or digestive disorders.
“Have you ever felt as though you weren’t sure how you felt? That your emotions were cloudy and you were oscillating between happiness and sadness, anger or contempt?,” asks Vatche Bartekian, Stress Management Specialist, “Have you ever had to apologize to someone for blurting out profanities and unintentionally hurting them? Welcome to the world of emotional ups and downs.”
Bartekian goes on to say that there is a certain unfounded myth circulating that women are the only ones who are allowed to have mood swings. Many doctors, scientists and sociologists, he says, will disagree, because it has been scientifically proven that “changes in men’s hormonal balance can also result in physiological changes, which eventually result in psychological changes.”
Mood swings undermine family and social relations. And they do worse to the person whose mood swings just swing into action at any time.
Mood swings at the work place, parties and other social gatherings are a disaster.
“Mood swings and irritability are closely related. We use “mood swing” to describe a reaction that isn’t appropriate to what triggered it,” says Woman to Woman. “To most of us, “irritability” means an angry or impatient reaction to something that happens. Mood swings and irritability have an emotional aspect.”
Wikipedia chimes in and also says that mood swings “are an extreme or rapid change in mood…that is commonly associated with mood disorders, of which the classic example is bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression.”
It, however, points out that the two should not be confused with these disorders, “for they are not the same.”
Bartekian concurs and says that we should not confuse long-term depression with mood swings. “These are two completely different things. Depression can come about by many external factors such as physical trauma, the death of a loved one, losing a job, etc…. whereas mood swings are brought on solely by the inner workings of our bodies and the intricate chemical reactions happening in our brains.”
So what causes mood swings and irritability? In both cases, the physiology is based on hormonal imbalance. The underlying cause may be fatigue – and if you’re having hot flashes or insomnia, you are very fatigued!
But there is more to mood swings than that.
MoodSwings.Net says that individuals with mood disorders experience episodes of mania and depression with some, or all, of the following symptoms: persistently sad, anxious, or “empty” moods; loss of interest or pleasure in common activities; loss of sexual pleasure or function; irritability, restlessness or excessive crying; feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism; sleeping too much or too little; insomnia and loss of appetite and/weight loss.
Most disturbing, however, is the inclusion of ‘suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts’.
People with mood disorder and mood swings can lead healthy and productive lives when the disorder is effectively treated. Without treatment, however, the natural course of mood disorder tends to worsen. Previous experiences may build on the next cycle. Over time a person may suffer more frequent (more rapid-cycling) and more severe manic and depressive episodes than those experienced when the mood swings first appeared. But in most cases, proper treatment can help reduce the frequency and severity of episodes and can help people with mood disorder maintain good quality of life.
“On top of the world in the morning, depressed over lunch time and angry in the evening – teenagers have a reputation for mood swings,” says BBC’s Science and Nature. “Other changes in teenagers’ lives are thought to contribute to their moodiness. Their rapidly changing physical appearance can cause them to become much more self-conscious. Teenagers often start to hide themselves away, locking their bedroom doors or spending hours holed-up in the bathroom working on their appearance.”
It goes on to say that stuck in the middle of being a child and an adult, many teenagers get frustrated. “Their bodies have developed adult capabilities, but the adult world is not ready to welcome them yet. Moodiness in the vast majority of teenagers might be difficult to live with at the time, but it passes with increasing age and confidence. However low moods persist in some teenagers and they are diagnosed with depression.
“Whereas it is highly unusual for a child to become depressed, in teenage years the frequency of depression does begin to rise. The causes of teenage depression could be anything from a genetic predisposition, to stress and difficulties in family relationships.”
Prevention and treatment
Sex. Sex. Sex. It all comes down to this.
“Well, not exactly,” says Bartekian. “But wouldn’t that just be a wonderful world for all of us? Actually, any form of general and regular exercise will help keep those testosterone levels balanced, and can help reduce aggressive and unpredictable mood swings.”
He says that another way to control your mood swings is by constantly asking yourself “why” before acting on your emotions. “By posing this question in your mind, it forces your brain to start reasoning the problem out, rather than getting angry or resentful for something that might not even be the other person’s fault. This might be extremely hard to do at first, but with constant practice, patience and restraint, you will eventually be a master at it.”
With greater understanding about the brain mechanisms involved in memory, decision making, and emotional responses to traumatic events, researchers are revisiting and redesigning many of the treatments currently in use for mental disorders. Translation of basic science findings into innovative behavioral and pharmacological treatments that can either correct or compensate for brain dysfunctions will yield more effective treatments.
Though genetic factors may play some role in predisposing individuals to developing depression, it is clear that the triggers for depression are largely environmental. As a result, studies aimed at identifying and understanding the environmental risk factors for depression should provide insights for developing novel behavioral, educational, and pharmacological methods for preventing depressive symptoms from occurring or reducing their duration and severity when they do recur.
SOURCES: Women To Women, BBC Science and Nature, TheSite.org, AskMen.com, Midlife Passages