Affective Symptoms in Mental Health

In psychology and mental health, the term "affect" (or "affective symptoms") refers to the mood, emotions or feelings displayed by the person experiencing the mental health disturbance. Variations in affect may range from intense displays of mood to restricted and lacking emotional capacity. Mental health conditions commonly associated with affective symptoms include borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia 12. These disorders have specific affective patterns that indicate criteria for diagnostics and treatment of symptoms. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes that each year 44 million Americans experience a mental disorder with a majority of disorders related to affective symptoms such as those associated with bipolar disorder 2.

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Intensity and Frequency of Mood

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) notes that people with bipolar disorder often endure the same mood for weeks 2. This can range from low and depressed mood to hyperactive or manic mood. People with borderline personality disorder (BPD), however, experience intense and fleeting mood changes, shorter in duration, that often include:

  • anger
  • aggression
  • depression

In borderline personality disorder, the extremes in affect make it difficult to discern how to approach the person.This is often an underlying issue in the person with BPD making genuine social connections. Manic episodes characteristic of bipolar disorder differ from BPD mood symptoms in duration and display. Manic symptoms are associated with grandiose self-importance, racing thoughts and extremely irritable mood.

Restrictions in Expression

Symptoms characteristic of schizophrenia include those categorized as negative, which often refers to a reduced or lack of emotional expression. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill explains that the term "negative" is used to indicate the lack of traits rather than an attribution of attitude. The descriptors "blunted," "labile" and "flat affect" explain the expressions or lack of as they relate to the person's mood. Blunted affect refers to a reduction in the display of emotions seen in the face, voice tone or non-verbal gestures. Labile refers to dramatic mood swings and is commonly associated with borderline personality or bipolar disorder. Flat affect is the absence of any emotions on the face, in the voice and mobility of the body.

Euphoria or Dysphoria

Depending on the mental health disorder, affect can be seen as expansive in the case of euphoria or restricted in the sense of dysphoria. Euphoria is commonly associated with manic episodes in bipolar disorder and appears as a form of exaggerated happiness. On the other hand, dysphoria, also associated with the depressive side of bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder or borderline personality disorder may present. Dysphoric mood refers to displays of sadness, mild irritability and despair.