Reconsidering the affective dimension of depression and mania: towards a phenomenological dissolution of the paradox of mixed states

Journal of Psychopathology 20 (4):414-422 (2014)
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Abstract
In this paper, I examine recent phenomenological research on both depressive and manic episodes, with the intention of showing how phenomenologically oriented studies can help us overcome the apparently paradoxical nature of mixed states. First, I argue that some of the symptoms included in the diagnostic criteria for depressive and manic episodes in the DSM-5 are not actually essential features of these episodes. Second, I reconsider the category of major depressive disorder (MDD) from the perspective of phenomenological psychopathology, arguing that severe depressive episodes should not be characterized by any particular moods (such as sadness, hopelessness, or guilt), and should instead be characterized by a diminished capacity for finding ourselves situated in and attuned to the world at all. In other words, the affective dimension of depression should be characterized as a change in the way we have moods, not as a change from one kind of mood to another. Third, I turn to mania, arguing that manic episodes, taken as the opposite of depressive episodes, should be characterized not by any particular moods (such as euphoria, grandiosity, or even irritability), but should instead be characterized by an enhanced or heightened capacity for finding ourselves situated in and attuned to the world. In other words, the affective dimension of mania, like the affective dimension of depression, should be understood as a change in the way we have moods, not as a change from one kind of mood to another. Fourth, I return to the phenomenon of mixed states and argue that the affective dimension of depression and mania, when conceived along the phenomenological lines I set forth in the previous sections, dissolves the paradox of mixed states by showing that the essential characteristics of depression and mania cannot and do not coincide. Many cases of mixed states are diagnosed because moods that we take to be essential features of either depression or mania arise within the context of what is considered to be the opposite kind of episode (e.g. dysphoria, typically associated with depression, often arises in what is otherwise considered a manic state). However, if we conceive of the affective dimension of depression as a decrease in the degree to which one is situated in and attune to the world through moods, and the affective dimension of mania as an increase in the degree to which one is situated in and attuned to the world through moods, then the particular mood one finds oneself in is simply irrelevant to the diagnosis of either depression or mania. As a result, the manifestation of any particular moods in what otherwise seems to be a pure manic or depressive episode does not constitute a mixed state.
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