Overview of Mood Disorders
What are mood disorders?
A mood disorder is a type of mental health condition where there is a disconnect between
actual life circumstances and the person's state of mind or feeling. A mood disorder
can negatively affect your ability to function normally. It can have serious consequences
in all aspects of life, from personal to professional.
Children, teens, and adults can all have mood disorders. But children and teens don’t
always have the same symptoms as adults. It’s harder to diagnose mood disorders in
children. That's because they can't always express how they feel, and symptoms may
look different in children from how they look in adults.
Therapy, medicines, 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 normal activities, feeling sad or hopeless, and other symptoms
for at least 2 weeks may mean depression.
Dysthymia. This is an ongoing (chronic), low-grade, depressed, or irritable mood that lasts for
at least 2 years.
Bipolar disorder. With this condition, a person has times of depression alternating with times of mania
or a higher mood.
Mood disorder linked to another health condition. Many health conditions (including cancer, injuries, infections, and chronic illnesses)
can trigger symptoms of depression.
Substance-induced mood disorder. Symptoms of depression may be caused by drug abuse, alcohol use disorder, exposure
to toxins, or side effects of medicines.
What causes mood disorders?
Many factors help lead to mood disorders. They are likely caused by an imbalance of
brain chemicals. Life events (such as stressful life changes) may also help lead 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. But mood disorders are more intense and
last longer. They are also 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. But 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. Things such as being fired from
a job, getting divorced, losing a loved one, having a death in the family, and financial
trouble can be difficult. Coping with the pressure may be troublesome. These life
events and stress can bring on feelings of sadness or depression. Or they can make
a mood disorder harder to manage.
The risk for depression in women is nearly twice as high as it is for men. Once a
person in the family has this diagnosis, their siblings and their children have a
higher chance of the same diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of mood disorders?
Depending on age and the type of mood disorder, a person may have different symptoms
when they become depressed. 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
Not interested in normal activities or activities that were once enjoyed, including
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Changes in appetite or weight
Less able 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
Repeated thoughts of death or suicide, planning for death, or wishing to die
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 if they interfere with someone's interest in family, friends, community, or work.
Any person who has thoughts of suicide should get medical help right away. If you
can't get in immediately to your primary care provider, go to a reputable mental health
facility in your community. Don't put it off.
The symptoms of mood disorders may seem like other conditions or mental health problems.
Always talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
When suicide is a risk
Mood disorders can cause repeated thoughts of death or suicide, planning for death,
or wishing to die. People with these symptoms should get treatment right away. Call
or text 988 if a person has suicidal thoughts, a suicide plan, and the means to carry out the
plan. You will be connected to trained crisis counselors at the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
An online chat option is also available. Lifeline is free and available 24/7. Don't
leave the person alone, even for a moment. The Lifeline is also available at 800-273-8255
or online at 988lifeline.org/.
How are mood disorders diagnosed?
Mood disorders are serious illnesses. A psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, advanced
practice registered nurse, or licensed clinical social worker can diagnose mood disorders
after completing a complete health history and psychiatric evaluation.
How are mood disorders treated?
Mood disorders can often be treated with success. Treatment may include:
Antidepressant and mood-stabilizing medicines. These medicines work very well in treating mood disorders, especially when combined
Psychotherapy (most often cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal therapy). This kind of therapy is focused on changing the person’s distorted view of themselves
and their environment. It also helps to improve relationship skills. And it can help
the person identify stressors in the environment and learn how to avoid or manage
Family therapy. A mood disorder can affect all aspects of a family (emotional, physical, occupational,
and financial). Professional support can help both the person with the diagnosis and
Other therapies. These may include transcranial stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy for refractory
depression (treatment-resistant depression).
Families play a vital supportive role in any treatment process.
Someone with a mood disorder may have times of stability and times when symptoms return.
Long-term, continuous treatment can help the person stay healthy and control symptoms.
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 mood disorders. But early diagnosis
and treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms. It can also enhance the person’s
normal growth and development, and improve their quality of life. If you or someone
you care about has symptoms of a mood disorder, talk to your healthcare provider.
Key points about mood disorders
A mood disorder is a class of serious mental illnesses. The term broadly describes
all types of depression and bipolar disorders.
Children, teens, and adults can all have mood disorders.
Many factors help lead to mood disorders. They are likely caused by an imbalance of
Most people with a mood disorder have ongoing feelings of sadness. They may feel helpless
Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. They can affect
quality of life.
Mood disorders are most often treated with medicine, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral
therapy, family therapy, or a combination of medicine and therapy.
Long-term, comprehensive follow-up care will help ensure the support needed for a
full, productive life.
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 healthcare 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 healthcare provider if you have questions, especially
after office hours and on weekends and holidays.