Mood Disorders Guides & Articles

Elizabeth Michael
Last updated:
Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical Editor

What Is a Mood Disorder?

Mood disorder is a medical term that covers several mental health conditions that affect mood. Some common mood disorders include depression and bipolar disorder. Physical illnesses and drug/alcohol overuse can also trigger mood disorders.

Mood disorders differ from normal, occasional feelings of sadness, depression, or anger that an individual may experience in response to a stressful situation. When someone has a mood disorder, emotions tend to be more intense and interfere with day-to-day life. Individuals with bipolar mood disorders typically struggle with managing the ups and downs of mood swings.

Life events, such as divorce or separation, the loss of a family member, and financial stress, can be hard on anyone, but these situations may have an even stronger emotional effect on those with mood disorders. Experts believe that children and teens are at higher risk of developing a mood disorder, as well as individuals with family histories of depression and bipolar disorder. 1

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How Many Mood Disorders Are There?

Mental health professionals recognize nine mood disorders. It's important to note that anxiety and other mental health conditions can also affect mood and are classified separately per DSM 5, the standard classification of mental health disorders. In some cases, individuals with depression or bipolar disorder struggle with co-occurring mental health disorders.

The nine types of mood disorders are:

  • Major Depressive Disorder: Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder in which severe depression is the primary concern.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Individuals with bipolar disorder experience alternating symptoms of severe depression and maniac episodes.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): People with SAD experience depression symptoms during the winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: Cyclothymic disorder causes fluctuating mood swings.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD):PMDD causes emotional symptoms, such as moodiness and irritability, that typically start right before the onset of menstrual bleeding and diminish as the cycle starts.
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD): DMDD is a common mental health condition in children, with symptoms such as temper tantrums and mood changes.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia): Persistent depressive disorder is a form of depression with chronic symptoms of sadness and despair.
  • Depression Due to Medical Illness: Individuals with certain medical conditions sometimes develop persistent depression and feel hopeless due to the physical challenges caused by their illness.
  • Depression Caused by Medication or Substance Use: Depression caused by medication or substance use occurs when an individual starts or stops taking prescription medication or controlled substances. 2

What Is Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder?

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, or DMDD, is a condition that causes severe mood swings in children and adolescents. While it's totally normal for growing children to experience some mood changes as they navigate life, the symptoms of DMDD tend to be severe and long-lasting and interfere with day-to-day life. The exact cause of DMDD isn't completely understood, but studies of potential brain mechanisms and risk factors are ongoing.

Children and adolescents with DMDD typically experience symptoms that last 12 months or longer. Symptoms of DMDD include chronic moodiness or irritability, angry outbursts, and relationship problems with family members and peers. Treatment for DMDD may include a combination of medications and psychotherapy. 3

What Causes Mood Disorders?

While a single, specific cause of mood disorders isn't known, experts believe that genetics, chemical imbalances in the brain caused by physical illness, medication use, or biological factors may play a role. Past trauma and upsetting life events may also trigger the onset of mood disorders.

When diagnosing mood disorders, health professionals conduct physical exams and review patients' mental health histories. They may order blood work and lab tests to check for underlying medical issues. They also follow the guidance provided by the American Psychiatric Association to aid in their diagnosis of specific behavioral and mental health conditions. 4

Mood Disorder Symptoms

Mood disorder symptoms can vary, depending on the specifics of each condition. For example, symptoms of bipolar disorder include drastic mood swings of depression and mania, while severe depression is the main feature of major depressive disorder. Females with PMDD might only experience symptoms around their menstrual cycles, while other mood disorders are known to cause chronic symptoms. 5

Some additional symptoms associated with mood disorders include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Chronic feelings of sadness and despair
  • Trouble staying focused
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Hostility and aggression
  • Physical aches, pains, and ailments that don't improve with treatment
  • Insomnia or sleep difficulties
  • Changes in appetite (either increased or decreased)
  • Low energy levels
  • Chronic anxiety

Best Treatment for Mood Disorders

Mood disorder treatment options vary depending on the individual's specific condition. Treatments for depression include antidepressant medications and psychotherapy in which the individual works one-on-one with a licensed therapist.

Bipolar disorder treatments may combine psychotherapy and medications to help balance mood swings. Individuals with symptoms of anxiety and panic may be treated with anti anxiety medications, or they might choose to work with a therapist and forgo medication. 6

If traditional depression treatments are unsuccessful, health professionals may recommend transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This treatment uses electromagnetic frequencies to stimulate the brain cells responsible for emotions such as sadness and depression. 7

How to Cope With a Mood Disorder Diagnosis

Receiving a mood disorder diagnosis is the first step in moving toward a healthier, happier future. Individuals diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, and other disorders can strengthen their coping skills by taking prescribed medication and following the advice of their physicians and/or therapists.

Attending regularly scheduled therapy sessions and engaging in healthy self-care practices, such as getting enough rest and eating balanced diets, are also helpful ways to cope and successfully navigate the road to recovery. Those diagnosed with mood disorders must be patient with themselves and understand that setbacks are common during treatment. By making a commitment to their recovery, happiness and a peaceful existence are possible.

How to Help Someone With a Mood Disorder

Taking some time to learn about mood disorders and the specific conditions of friends or loved ones can provide people with a better understanding of what the individual may be going through. Encouraging the individual with a mood disorder to participate in group outings and other activities and being readily available by phone or text can help them feel supported.

It's important for loved ones to understand that the emotions and behaviors exhibited by those with mood disorders are sometimes difficult for them to control. However, it's just as important to hold the person accountable if their actions are unacceptable. This can help the individual with the mood disorder discover healthier ways to express and manage their emotions and behaviors. Learn more about finding help treating a mood disorder.