Dysphoric Affect: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
Is it possible for an individual to be sad, but not really depressed? This lesson looks at the concept of dysphoria, provides a definition of both dysphoria and affect, looks at what dysphoric affect is and provides examples of the condition.

Disappointed With Life

People looked up to Tucker. He was athletic, one of the standouts on a state champion tennis team, and he was smart. Tucker had also always been one of those people who can just lift the moods of those around him. He may not always be outwardly happy, but he acknowledged people and treated them like equals.

Unfortunately, he seemed to have sunk within himself. He started to walk past people, even old friends without even looking at them. He seemed forgetful and lost in his own thoughts. His grades started to suffer.

Worried about him, his parents took him to see a friend who was also a therapist. When questioned, Tucker said that he felt unsure of himself, he just didn't know where he fit in with the world anymore. The counselor recognized Tucker's dysphoric affect.

What is Dysphoric Affect?

When you try and understand a new concept, it is often best to break it down into individual components.. To that end, let's define dysphoria and affect separately.

Dysphoria is having feelings of emotional discomfort, or having an all-encompassing discontent with one's life. Sometimes circumstances are such that, although an individual does not experience depression or anxiety, they do have the impression that things are just going wrong. The individual has not reached the point where hopelessness and helplessness enter the picture, but they often follow dysphoria.

Affect can be defined as how an individual experiences a specific emotional state demonstrated to others by recognizable expressions. In other words, when a person is happy they will smile and their eyes often open wider; when an individual is sad they will frown and look away from other people or down at the ground. Affect is the complete display of facial features rather than a single characteristic. For example, people may cry when they are either happy or sad, so affect cannot be determined by that single feature.

When the two words are put together, they equal the outward expression of the dysphoria. This may be a continuous look of confusion, sadness, or crying, but the person's affect is also contingent on the type of dysphoria the individual is experiencing.

Dysphoric affect is not actually a disorder, but a state. It can be brought on or made worse from other mental imbalances, or happen on its own. But keep in mind that it's more than just 'having the blues'.

Dysphoric Affect in Bipolar Disorder

In bipolar disorder, one in which issues in the brain causes dramatic shifts in mood and energy, there are two very specific types of dysphoria:

  • Dysphoric mania: even though a person is manic does not mean that they cannot also be dysphoric. This individual will be more outwardly expressive in their dysphoric state, and may be known for crying, grandiosity, restlessness, confusion, and suicidal ideation.
  • Dysphoric depression: this individual is more inwardly dysphoric, but their affect is a clue as to their emotional state. They will likely show irritability, fatigue, insomnia, anxiousness, and sadness.

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