Handbook of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry

9. Depression, Mania, and Mood Syndromes

Hoyle Leigh


9.1 Vignette

9.2 Affect, Mood, and Emotions

9.2.1 Definitions

9.2.2 The Functions of Mood and Affect

9.2.3 Dysregulation of Mood

9.3 Diagnosis of Mood Syndromes

9.3.1 Secondary Mood Syndromes

9.3.2 Primary Mood Syndromes

9.3.3 Demoralization Syndrome

9.4 Management and Treatment of Mood Syndromes

9.4.1 Depression

9.4.2 Hypomania, Mania, Mixed Depression/Mania, Schizoaffective Syndrome

9.4.3 Psychotherapy for Depression and Mood Syndromes

9.1 Vignette

A 34-year-old Hispanic woman was admitted to the hospital with altered mental status and fever. The patient had been suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus for a number of years, with several small strokes that left her partially paralyzed on the left side. A urinary tract infection was diagnosed, and she was treated with antibiotics and steroids with good results until she aspirated, developed pneumonia, and became comatose. After an intensive care unit stay of several weeks, she emerged from her coma. She was noted to have frequent crying spells. A psychiatric consultation was requested.

The consultant diagnosed a depressive syndrome based on her mood, hopelessness, and a wish to die. She had some equivocal family history of depression, but no previous episodes of depression. The consultant concluded that her depression was a result of several factors her prolonged hospitalization, the illness and its complications, and the steroids that she was taking. She was prescribed citalopram 10 mg per day. She was able to be transferred from the intensive care unit to the general medical service, and she showed some improvement over the next 2 weeks.

But after 2 weeks she refused to take any of her medications, she refused to participate in physical therapy, and she expressed a desire to die. The consultant was called urgently to assess whether she had the capacity to refuse treatment. The patient told the consultant that she was very discouraged, felt abandoned by her family, and felt defeated, as she did not have the energy to cooperate with physical therapy. She just wanted to go home and die. The consultant asked her if she would cooperate with therapy and take medications if she had a bit more energy, so that she could successfully complete a course of physical therapy that will make her strong enough to go home, to which she replied in the affirmative, provided she could sign an advance directive. The consultant decided that the patient did have the capacity to sign an advance directive, and that she should be given a trial of stimulants, which she agreed. She was given methylphenidate 10 mg in the a.m. The next day, she showed remarkable improvement in mood and energy level and was eager to participate in physical therapy. In fact, she was smiling for the first time, and wanted to use the wheelchair. She was discharged in 2 weeks, still on citalopram and methylphenidate, to be followed by an outpatient psychiatrist.

9.2 Affect, Mood, and Emotions

9.2.1 Definitions

The emotional feeling tone of an individual, such as sadness, joy, depression, or elation, is called an affect. When the affect is prolonged and colors the whole emotional life of the person, it is called a mood. Thus, a person may be in a blue mood, an elated mood, or a depressed mood. These terms are somewhat confusing, as the term affect is also used for the emotional expression observed, especially in the context of a mental status examination, while the term mood may be used to denote the subjective emotion that the patient experiences. In this sense, affect is usually described in terms of the form of expression, for example, full, obtunded, flat, stable vs. labile, or appropriate vs. inappropriate. Mood is a continuum, with one end representing feeling down, blue, sad, miserable, depressed, or down in the dumps; the middle representing euthymia; and the other end representing feeling happy, high, joyous, euphoric, elated, exulted, ecstatic, or manic. The term emotion usually denotes both the subjective and physiological aspects of affect.

9.2.2 The Functions of Mood and Affect

All of us experience varying gradations of moods, and they are necessary and adaptive experiences for survival and emotional maturation. Sadness is usually experienced after suffering a failure, or the loss of a loved one, a prized possession, or prestige. The loss may be purely imaginary, and even the anticipation of a loss may cause sadness. Experiencing sadness motivates the individual to anticipate and prevent it by protecting one's bonds both with loved ones and with one's possessions. It also allows for empathy, which is critical in social bonding, and the likelihood for procreation.

Pleasure is clearly the motivating force behind all endeavors and achievements, both at the individual and social levels. Affective or emotional expression is important in communication and social interaction.

9.2.3 Dysregulation of Mood

The extremes of moods, the depressive syndrome and the manic syndrome, are final common pathway brain dysfunctions (see Chapter 6).

Unlike sadness or normal grief, the final common pathway pathological state of the depressive syndrome is characterized by a period of depressive mood and/ or a pervasive loss of interest or pleasure. The patients often feel sad, hopeless, helpless, and empty. Guilt feelings are prominent, and there is a loss of selfesteem. Feeling discouraged and "down in the dumps" is common. The patients typically withdraw from family and friends, and activities and hobbies that used to give them pleasure no longer interest them. There is usually some sleep disturbance, usually early-morning awakening, but middle-of-the-night awakening and difficulty in falling asleep are not uncommon, especially if anxiety is also prominent. In bipolar patients, there may be hypersomnia. Loss of appetite is quite common, with concomitant weight loss, although in some patients, particularly those with bipolar illness, there may be an increase in eating, resulting in a weight gain. The patients often show psychomotor agitation or retardation. In agitation, pulling out hair, pacing, wringing hands, inability to sit still, incessant talking, and shaking of hands and feet often occur. Psychomotor retardation is characterized by slowing of speech, slowed body movements, or even muteness.

In the depressive syndrome, patients often manifest cognitive disturbances, including the inability to concentrate, indecisiveness, and generally slowed thinking processes. Often, patients feel they do not have enough energy to think about a simple problem. They feel tired, fatigued, and exhausted in the absence of physical exhaustion. They may experience vague pains, aches, and discomfort, without any physical basis; headaches, toothaches, backaches, and muscle aches are especially common.

Patients often suffer from feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, and sometimes completely unrealistic low self-esteem. The smallest task may appear impossible or monumental. There may be excessive guilt feelings concerning current or past failings, most of them minor, or even delusional conviction of sinfulness or responsibility for some untoward tragic event.

Suicidal ideas are frequent and may take the form of fears of dying, the belief that the person him- or herself or others would be better off if the person were dead, or suicidal desires or plans. (See Chapter 5 for further discussion of suicide and suicide attempt.) Often, there is a diurnal variation in that the symptoms are worse on waking in the morning and improve slightly as the day progresses.

When the symptoms are mild, temporary improvement often occurs in the presence of positive environmental stimuli. In several cases, the syndrome is not affected by environmental change to any extent.

At the opposite pole of the depressive syndrome in mood is the manic syndrome. Just as sadness and grief are experienced by most people from time to time, so do pleasurable moods of euphoria and elation, short of mania or hypomania, fall within the normal range of mood. In euphoria, there is a positive feeling of emotional and physical well-being. In elation, there is a definite feeling of joy with increase in self-confidence, motor activity, and energy level. These states can be induced by drugs such as alcohol, narcotics, and amphetamines.

Mania and hypomania, like the depressive syndrome, form a syndrome with definite features and signs. The characteristic feature of the manic syndrome is a distinct period when the predominant mood is elevated, expansive, or irritable and is associated with other symptoms of the manic syndrome. They include hyperactivity, excessive involvement in indiscreet and foolish activities without recognition of the high potential for painful consequences, pressure of speech, flight of ideas, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, and distractibility. The patient may describe the elevated mood as being euphoric, unusually good, or high. The good mood may have an infectious quality, so that the physician and others in contact with the patient may find themselves feeling expansive and elated. The patient may show indiscriminate enthusiasm in relating to people or in planning things, so that he or she may start a dozen projects at once, call up distant relatives and acquaintances all over the globe, and go on a buying spree.

On the other hand, the mood may be characterized by irritability rather than joyfulness, especially when the patient's expansiveness is thwarted. The patient then becomes touchy and domineering. The hyperactivity is often generalized, including participation in multiple activities that may be sexual, occupational, political, or religious. The patients often have poor judgment, and the activities are disorganized, flamboyant, and bizarre. Manic speech is usually loud, rapid, and difficult to understand. It is often full of jokes and puns and is theatrical, with singing and rhetorical mannerisms. In the irritable mood, there may be hostile comments and angry outbursts. Abrupt changes from topic to topic based on understandable associations and distracting stimuli often occur (flight of ideas). When severe, the speech may be incoherent. Distractibility is usually present.

Self-esteem is usually inflated, with unrealistic and uncritical self-confidence and grandiosity. For example, the patient may give advice on matters about which he or she has no knowledge whatsoever, such as how to perform a surgical procedure or how to run the federal government. Grandiose delusions may occur, such as, "I have a special hot line to God."

Hypomania refers to elevated mood with many of the symptoms of the manic syndrome but not severe enough to interfere with function significantly.

9.3 Diagnosis of Mood Syndromes

Evaluation of depression is probably the most common reason for requesting psychiatric consultation (the second most common reason is likely to be delirium).

The depressive syndrome and manic syndrome are final common pathway syndromes with varying degrees of contribution by genetics, early experiences, developmental factors, prescription and recreational drugs, physical illness, and recent and current stresses including hospitalization (see Chapter 6). Once a phenomenological diagnosis of depression or mania/hypomania is made, a differential diagnostic process should be undertaken to determine whether there is prominent contribution by an identifiable physical illness or prescription and recreational drugs, that is, a secondary mood syndrome (see Chapter 5; also see Psychiatric Syndromes and Table 6.1 in Chapter 6).

9.3.1 Secondary Mood Syndromes

Mood syndromes are quite commonly the result of physical illness or prescription and recreational drugs. Depression is commonly associated with hypothyroidism, hypopituitarism, Cushing's disease, viral infections, pancreatic cancer (for which it may be the presenting symptom), parkinsonism, and many other medical conditions (see Chapter 6). Various drugs may cause depression as a side effect or a withdrawal effect (e.g., cocaine crash). See Table 6.1 in Chapter 6 for a comprehensive listing of medical causes of psychiatric syndromes.

9.3.2 Primary Mood Syndromes

Once physical illness or prescription and recreational drugs have been ruled out as the cause of a mood syndrome or are considered to be contributing to a preexisting primary mood disorder, a primary mood disorder may be diagnosed. Major Mood Disorders

Major depression (unipolar depression) may be diagnosed in the presence of the depressive syndrome discussed above (see Dysregulation of Mood). When a person has episodes of both depressive syndrome and mania, bipolar disorder type I is diagnosed. If a person has the depressive syndrome and hypomanic episodes without the extreme of the manic syndrome, bipolar disorder type II is diagnosed. If the patient with a mood disorder also has psychotic symptoms (see Chapter 5 and 10) that are mood congruent, then a mood disorder with psychotic features is diagnosed.

If episodic prominent mood symptoms are superimposed on psychotic symptoms that persist even when the mood symptoms are not present, schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed.

The lifetime prevalence rate of major depression in the United States is 9% to 13% for males and 17% for females (Haskin et al., 2005), and for bipolar illness it is 3%. Subthreshold Mood Syndromes

Many persons suffer from mild to moderate depression that does not quite meet the threshold for the depressive syndrome. Such depression may have prominent affective (feeling sad, crying spells) or cognitive (feeling hopeless and helpless) components without the neurovegetative component (insomnia, hypersomnia, anorexia, anhedonia), or vice versa. Subthreshold depressive symptoms are particularly common in the medical setting, and may be caused by any of the factors for secondary depression, or may be an adjustment disorder with depressed mood, associated with the stress of hospitalization or of the medical illness.

Dysthymia refers to chronic or neurotic depression, low-grade depression of long, perhaps lifelong, duration. Such patients are at higher risk of developing major depression (double depression), and even when the major depression is successfully treated, are likely to revert back to dysthymia. Cyclothymia is a trait characterized by ups and downs in mood but not quite reaching the degree seen in bipolar illness.

9.3.3 Demoralization Syndrome

Although not a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMIV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) diagnosis, demoralization syndrome is a useful concept in consultation-liaison (CL) settings. Seen mostly in patients with chronic illness, especially in palliative care settings, this syndrome is characterized by helplessness, hopelessness, fatigue, and anhedonia (Clarke et al., 2003; Kissane et al., 2001).

9.4 Management and Treatment of Mood Syndromes

9.4.1 Depression

The management and treatment of depression in the CL setting depends on several factors including the nature of the medical condition for which the patient is being treated, the severity and cause of the depression, and the comorbid conditions such as delirium. Treatment of delirium takes precedence over the treatment of depression. If the depressive syndrome is severe, pharmacotherapy or electroconvulsive therapy should be considered regardless of whether the depression is secondary or primary. For mild to moderate depression, supportive psychotherapy, providing reassurances and explanations, and encouraging supportive visitors may be most helpful. If the patient is actively suicidal, he or she should be placed on constant observation and promptly transferred to a psychiatric inpatient service when medically stabilized.

Pharmacotherapy of depression should be reserved for the depressive syndrome rather than for subthreshold adjustment syndromes, for which psychotherapy and social support may be more effective. If drug therapy is indicated, it usually involves selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) or third-generation antidepressants such as mirtazapine (a serotonergic and noradrenergic agonist through adrenergic a,-agonism and (x 2-antagonism on serotonergic and adrenergic neurons) and venlafaxine [a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI)]. In the medically ill population, antidepressants should be used cautiously and doses modified, as many medically prescribed drugs interact with them. In general, however, drugs used for medical purposes do not need dose adjustment because of the antidepressant. Serotonin syndrome is a rare but serious potential adverse reaction of antidepressants, especially when used in combination (see Neurotransmitters in Chapter 6).

The choice of antidepressants depends on which side effect might be beneficial or detrimental for a patient. For example, a patient with insomnia may benefit from mirtazapine, which in small doses tends to induce sleep, while fluoxetine might be the drug of choice for an obese patient for its appetitesuppressing effect. In the future, however, pharmacogenomics may play an important role in the choice of an antidepressant. For example, patients who have the short-allele polymorphism of the serotonin transporter gene linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR), a drug that has both noradrenergic and serotonergic action, such as mirtazapine, may be preferable to a pure SSRI (Murphy, 2004). When the depressive syndrome is accompanied with psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia, the addition of an antipsychotic medication is indicated. If the patient is acutely agitated, the agitation should be managed immediately, before antidepressant therapy can begin (see Immediate Management of Agitation in Chapter 5).

For demoralization syndrome, a stimulant such as methylphenidate (5 to 10 mg in the a.m.) or dextroamphetamine (2.5 to 5 mg in the a.m.) may be particularly effective.

When antidepressant therapy is instituted, it is critical that outpatient followup is provided.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most effective treatment for severe depressive syndrome, and, if available, is particularly useful in the CL setting.

9.4.2 Hypomania, Mania, Mixed DepressionlMania, Schizoaffective Syndrome

Isolated hypomania may not need treatment. A bipolar patient who is already on mood stabilizers should be continued on them in the general hospital. If the symptoms increase due to the stress of hospitalization, one or more of the following may be done: the mood stabilizer could be increased, another mood stabilizer added, or an antipsychotic medication added. If a patient who is not currently on a mood stabilizer develops a manic syndrome, with or without psychotic features, or if schizoaffective syndrome is suspected or diagnosed, an antipsychotic/mood stabilizer drug such as olanzapine or quetiapine should be used. Haloperidol IV or IM, chlorpromazine IM, olanzapine IM, and/or lorazepam IV or IM may be used for immediate sedation if indicated (see Immediate Management of Agitation in Chapter 5)

9.4.3 Psychotherapy for Depression and Mood Syndromes Supportive Psychotherapy and Psychoeducation

In the CL setting, supportive psychotherapy is essential in helping patients with depression and demoralization. Supportive psychotherapy includes listening to the patient, showing empathy for the patient, responding to questions, and offering help in problem solving. It also involves allowing patients to express feelings of hopelessness and helplessness about their medical illness and the procedures they are undergoing, and providing explanations and reassurances when indicated. It may also involve facilitating communication between the patient and the responsible physician or nursing staff. Psychoeducation and supportive psychotherapy are also the major psychotherapeutic tools for major depression, bipolar syndrome, and schizoaffective disorder. Psychoeducation involves educating the patient and family about the nature, symptoms, course, and the indications and potential side effects of medications. Recognizing the first symptoms of depression and seeking help may be lifesaving for patients with major and bipolar depression. Formal Psychotherapies

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) have been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. Both are brief psychotherapies for which manuals are available.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy postulates that the cognitive distortions in depression such as pessimism, low self-esteem, and consequent behaviors such as self-criticism and social isolation are fundamental to depression. Thus, CBT attempts to correct such cognitive distortions through careful examinations of such faulty beliefs and overcome them through behavioral exercises and homework (Beck, 1995). Cognitive-behavioral therapy seems effective for mild to moderate depression.

Interpersonal psychotherapy recognizes that depression has biological roots but is often triggered by interpersonal factors. Such factors may include grief from the loss of a loved one or grief from having a chronic illness; interpersonal disputes with family, friends, or coworkers; role transitions, such as changing jobs or disability; and interpersonal deficits, such as social isolation and substance abuse. Interpersonal psychotherapy examines such triggers and attempts to work through and potentially prevent recurrence of triggers through problem-solving techniques. Interpersonal psychotherapy is often used in combination with antidepressant drugs and thus is effective even in severe depressions (Klerman et al., 1994).


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