Overview of Mood Disorders
What are mood disorders?
A mood disorder is a mental health class that health professionals use to broadly
describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders.
Children, teens, and adults can have mood disorders. However, children and teens don’t
always have the same symptoms as adults. It’s harder to diagnose mood disorders in
children because they aren’t always able to express how they feel.
Therapy, antidepressants, and support and self-care can help treat mood disorders.
What are the different types of mood disorders?
These are the most common types of mood disorders:
- Major depression. Having less interest in usual activities, feeling sad or hopeless, and other symptoms
for at least 2 weeks may indicate depression.
- Dysthymia. This is a chronic, low-grade, depressed, or irritable mood that lasts for at least
- Bipolar disorder. This is a condition in which a person has periods of depression alternating with periods
of mania or elevated mood.
- Mood disorder related to another health condition. Many medical illnesses (including cancer, injuries, infections, and chronic illnesses)
can trigger symptoms of depression.
- Substance-induced mood disorder. Symptoms of depression that are due to the effects of medicine, drug abuse, alcoholism,
exposure to toxins, or other forms of treatment.
What causes mood disorders?
Many factors contribute to mood disorders. They are likely caused by an imbalance
of brain chemicals. Life events (such as stressful life changes) may also contribute
to a depressed mood. Mood disorders also tend to run in families.
Who is at risk for mood disorders?
Anyone can feel sad or depressed at times. However, mood disorders are more intense
and harder to manage than normal feelings of sadness. Children, teens, or adults who
have a parent with a mood disorder have a greater chance of also having a mood disorder.
However, life events and stress can expose or worsen feelings of sadness or depression.
This makes the feelings harder to manage.
Sometimes, life's problems can trigger depression. Being fired from a job, getting
divorced, losing a loved one, death in the family, and financial trouble, to name
a few, all can be difficult and coping with the pressure may be troublesome. These
life events and stress can bring on feelings of sadness or depression or make a mood
disorder harder to manage.
The risk of depression in women is nearly twice as high as it is for men. Once a person
in the family has this diagnosis, their brothers, sisters, or children have a higher
chance of the same diagnosis. In addition, relatives of people with depression are
also at increased risk for bipolar disorder .
Once a person in the family has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the chance for their
brothers, sisters, or children to have the same diagnosis is increased. Relatives
of people with bipolar are also at increased risk for depression.
What are the symptoms of mood disorders?
Depending on age and the type of mood disorder, a person may have different symptoms
of depression. The following are the most common symptoms of a mood disorder:
- Ongoing sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Having low self-esteem
- Feeling inadequate or worthless
- Excessive guilt
- Repeating thoughts of death or suicide, wishing to die, or attempting suicide (Note: People with this symptom should get treatment right away!)
- Loss of interest in usual activities or activities that were once enjoyed, including
- Relationship problems
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Decreased energy
- Trouble concentrating
- A decrease in the ability to make decisions
- Frequent physical complaints (for example, headache, stomachache, or tiredness) that
don’t get better with treatment
- Running away or threats of running away from home
- Very sensitive to failure or rejection
- Irritability, hostility, or aggression
In mood disorders, these feelings are more intense than what a person may normally
feel from time to time. It’s also of concern if these feelings continue over time,
or interfere with one's interest in family, friends, community, or work. Any person
who expresses thoughts of suicide should get medical help right away.
The symptoms of mood disorders may look like other conditions or mental health problems.
Always talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How are mood disorders diagnosed?
Mood disorders are a real medical disorder. A psychiatrist or other mental health
professional usually diagnoses mood disorders through a complete medical history and
How are mood disorders treated?
Mood disorders can often be treated with success. Treatment may include:
- Antidepressant and mood stabilizing medicines—especially when combined with psychotherapy have shown to work very well in the treatment
- Psychotherapy—most often cognitive-behavioral and/or interpersonal therapy. This therapy is focused
on changing the person’s distorted views of himself or herself and the environment
around him or her. It also helps to improve interpersonal relationship skills, and
identifying stressors in the environment and how to avoid them
- Family therapy
- Other therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial stimulation
Families play a vital supportive role in any treatment process.
When correctly diagnosed and treated, people with mood disorders can live, stable,
productive, healthy lives.
Can mood disorders be prevented?
At this time, there are no ways to prevent or reduce the incidence of mood disorders.
However, early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance
the person’s normal growth and development, and improve the quality of life of people
with mood disorders.
Key points about mood disorders
- A mood disorder is a mental health class that health professionals use to broadly
describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders.
- The most common types of mood disorders are major depression, dysthymia (dysthymic
disorder), bipolar disorder, mood disorder due to a general medical condition, and
substance-induced mood disorder.
- There is no clear cause of mood disorders. Healthcare providers think they are a result
of chemical imbalances in the brain. Some types of mood disorders seem to run in families,
but no genes have yet been linked to them.
- In general, nearly everyone with a mood disorder has ongoing feelings of sadness,
and may feel helpless, hopeless, and irritable. Without treatment, symptoms can last
for weeks, months, or years, and can impact quality of life.
- Depression is most often treated with medicine, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral
therapy, family therapy, or a combination of medicine and therapy. In some cases,
other therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial stimulation may
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.