Can I "Catch" a Mood Disorder?

Chris Ballas, M.D. Health Guide
  • My husband suffers from bipolar disorder, and I have recently found myself becoming increasingly depressed.  It almost feels as though his condition is contagious.  Is it possible that my husband’s mental illness has influenced the emergence of my depression?


    The way you phrased your question exactly explains why the answer is no.


    If you had asked, "can someone being bipolar make me sad or depressed?" the answer would be obviously yes.  Mood is reactive to events around it--you get sad when bad things happen, and depressed when really bad things happen.


    But here, "depression" is used as a specific disease that has nothing to do with sadness.  This can be compared to phantom limb pain, which has nothing to do with actual painful stimuli being applied to your (missing) limb.  Depression is a chemical imbalance that is outside of your control.  The possibility of your husband's symptoms inducing similar symptoms in you would be impossible; in the same way that one person's diabetes cannot induce another's.

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    The reason I make this distinction is not just about semantics, but because it determines what you should do about it.  On one hand, it is important that your husband gets treatment, and you should consider talking to a professional about how to cope with the effects his condition has on you.  At the same time, under the assumption that another stressor exists that unmasks your latent mood symptoms, you should seek treatment for your depression.  Be sure to talk to your doctor about the best way to go about seeking treatment.

Published On: April 02, 2007