What Are Mood Disorders? Symptoms, Treatment, and Coping Tips

There are many kinds of mood disorders, all characterized by symptoms that occur in varying severity and frequency. Here we discuss some of the most common mood disorders, symptoms, and treatment options available. 

therapist sean abraham By Sean Abraham, LCSW

Updated on May 13, 2024

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A mood disorder is a mental health condition that affects a person’s mental state to an extent that it can affect their ability to function. Not only do mood disorders distort someone’s general emotional state, but they can also cause long periods of extreme happiness (mania), depression, or both. 

Two of the most common mood disorders are depression and bipolar disorder. In fact, about 7% of adults in America have depression, and about 2.8% have bipolar disorder. Mood disorders are commonly seen in children and adolescents, with 15% experiencing any mood disorder. 

Left untreated, mood disorders can severely impact every area of a person’s life, so it’s important to learn about these mental health conditions, whether you’re currently dealing with a mood disorder or know someone who is. Here, we share the different kinds of mood disorders, their symptoms, how they can be treated, and how to support a loved one who may be dealing with one. 

Types of Mood Disorders 

There are many kinds of mood disorders, all characterized by symptoms that occur in varying severity and frequency. Here are some of the most common mood disorders

Bipolar Disorder

Periods of depression alternating with periods of mania or elevated mood characterize bipolar disorder; these rapid changes in temperament can be called mood swings. 

There’s also bipolar II disorder, which is a different diagnosis from bipolar I disorder, and involves having at least one major depressive episode and one hypomania episode but never any manic episodes. 

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is diagnosed when a person experiences a consistently low or depressed mood, decreased interest in pleasurable activities, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, lack of energy, poor concentration, appetite changes, psychomotor retardation or agitation, sleep disturbances, or suicidal thoughts. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

When seasons change, and there are fewer hours of sunlight, a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can emerge. SAD symptoms appear in late fall or early winter and disappear during the spring and summer. 

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia, is a mental health condition that comes with emotional ups and downs that appear similar to, but are less severe than, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Because cyclothymia doesn’t meet the criteria for either of those disorders, but instead shares diagnostic features with many other disorders, it can be complex for mental health professionals to identify. 

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is attributed to extremely severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms that appear before a woman’s period, affecting how a woman functions and her perceived quality of life. 

Women dealing with PMDD may experience feelings of sadness or despair, irritable mood, mood swings, and a loss of interest in daily activities and relationships, among many other symptoms. 

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), which is also called dysthymia, dysthymic disorder, or chronic major depression, is a condition that’s still not entirely understood. The DSM-III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has defined it as a mild chronic depression that lasts longer than two years. 

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) is a condition that sees children and adolescents experience continuing anger accompanied by recurrent, severe temper outbursts that go beyond just a bad mood. Young people who deal with DMDD are more likely to experience problems at home, school, and with their peers, and they tend to develop other mood disorders.  

Mood Disorder Related to Another Health Condition

Symptoms of depression due to physical illnesses such as cancer, injuries, infections, and chronic illnesses characterize this mood disorder.

Substance-Induced Mood Disorder

The effects of medicine, drug abuse, alcoholism, exposure to toxins, or other forms of treatment can bring on symptoms of depression, causing a substance-induced mood disorder

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Symptoms of Mood Disorders

The symptoms someone experiences will depend on their age and the type of mood disorder, but John Hopkins Medicine has outlined some common ones that you can look out for in yourself and others:

Everyone tends to experience some of these from time to time, especially when dealing with life’s stressors, but for people with mood disorders, they can be more intense.

If you know someone who is experiencing the above symptoms often and to a severe degree, it is worth speaking to them about seeking help from a healthcare provider.

Causes of Mood Disorders 

Because of the varying nature of different mood disorders, there are several possible causes, including the following: 

Biological Factors

The neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine play an important role in mood disorders, and both decrease during periods of depression. Regarding mania, an increase in the amount of dopamine, another neurotransmitter, is a possible reason for such episodes. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, there may also be a number of medical conditions that lead to mood disorders, including, but not limited to:

Finally, certain drugs and medications can lead to the onset of a mood disorder, such as amphetamines, cocaine, procarbazine, and steroids. 

Genetic Factors

There are certain genes that cause mood disorders, and there’s indication that people with a strong family history of mood disorders are more likely to develop one themselves. 

Hormonal Factors

Increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity is associated with stress and depression, and increased thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is also associated with the onset of depression. 

Psychosocial Factors

Stressful life events such as family deaths, traumatic situations, childhood abuse, early childhood adversity, and attachment problems are all found to be major risk factors for developing a mood disorder later in life. 

Diagnosis of Mood Disorders 

To diagnose a mood disorder, a clinician will assess the individual, taking a detailed family history and mental examination.

There are also a few rating scales that help in evaluating mood disorders, such as the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D), the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS), and the Young Mania Rating Scale (YMRS). 

As well as those factors, a mood disorder is diagnosed when sadness or elation is overly intense, accompanied by other typical symptoms, and impairs the person’s ability to function physically, socially, and at work.

Treatment Options for Mood Disorders 

There are treatments for people with mood disorders to help them manage and control their symptoms. If you have a loved one who is dealing with a mood disorder, it might be a good idea to know their treatment plan, so you can support them in their healing journey.  

Psychotherapy for Mood Disorders

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy, can be helpful in managing thoughts and behaviors.

Melissa Galica, a Grow Therapy Licensed Professional Counselor, says: “One of the most effective forms of treatment is therapy, which provides emotional support in a non-judgmental manner. Therapy can help individuals manage their medication regimen if there is one. Therapy can also assist in identifying and challenging negative thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to the mood disorder. Finally, therapy can help patients build resilience, self-esteem, and coping skills, which can be crucial in achieving long-term recovery.”

Medications for Mood Disorders

Antidepressants and mood stabilizers (such as lithium), when used in conjunction with therapy, are very effective in treating depression, one of the common characteristics of many mood disorders. 

Alternative Treatments for Mood Disorders

When no other treatments have worked, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)—a medical procedure that involves passing a mild electric current through a person’s brain, causing a short seizure—is commonly used on people with severe cases of major depression or bipolar disorder. 

ECT has proven to be very helpful when treating those with major depression, but it can trigger side effects in some, such as temporary memory loss. 

For conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), bright light treatment is successful in decreasing symptoms. It requires a patient to be exposed to a bright, white fluorescent light daily to improve their SAD symptoms. 

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, MBSR, is incredibly effective in treating mood disorders, as well. We can practice this by doing different grounding exercises, breathing exercises, meditations, etc.

Coping with Mood Disorders 

Living with a mood disorder can be tough, so it’s paramount that those dealing with one take as best care of themselves as possible. Here’s some expert advice from our Grow Therapy professionals. 

“In addition to treatment, establishing a holistic perspective can be helpful. Proper sleep hygiene, eating nutrient-dense food, getting physical movement in, and soaking in some natural vitamin D (aka the sun) are a few evidence-based practices one can implement in addition to therapy,” says La Tisha San Pedro-Lintag, a Grow Therapy Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. 

Galica advises that walking down to the end of the street and back can help. So can “getting enough sleep, eating as healthy as you can, and limiting the amount of caffeine and alcohol you use. Brush up on your breathing technique, meditation, or yoga. Find your people to hang out with who get you for you—that can be friends, family members, or even a support group.”

One thing to not do, advises JohnNeiska Williams, a Grow Therapy Licensed Professional Counselor, is avoid your feelings. “I believe the more you try to distract yourself, mask, avoid, or prevent it, it either never goes away, or it comes back more intensely. Meet yourself where you are and allow yourself to feel these feelings. Get familiar and comfortable with the uncomfortable so that you can positively and appropriately manage the symptoms to alleviate them more or eliminate them for good.”

Supporting Loved Ones with Mood Disorders 

Williams believes active listening is key when supporting a loved one with a mood disorder. “Many people don’t like to share or be vulnerable because others don’t listen, or immediately try to tell them what they need to do rather than being an active listener and support. Being an active listener, even if you don’t know what to say or do, can help more than anyone knows.”

Unconditional support, according to Galica, is also essential. “When supporting someone with a mood disorder, it’s crucial to love them unconditionally and listen to them attentively, even if you cannot fully comprehend their struggles. Patience and grace are also essential as these individuals may struggle to extend these qualities to themselves.” 

Prevention of Mood Disorders 

There aren’t any ways to prevent mood disorders, but early diagnosis and treatment can help minimize the severity of symptoms. 

There are steps you can take to control stress, increase your resilience, and boost self-esteem—which may help to keep symptoms under control. These include paying attention to warning signs, receiving routine medical care, and reaching out for help when needed. 

Living with Mood Disorders: Tips and Strategies

Whether you’re dealing with a mood disorder or know someone who is, it’s important to know that there’ll be good and bad days, and that’s OK. Galica leaves her final thoughts on how to live with a mood disorder.

Grow Therapy is home to excellent, qualified therapists who specialize in mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and many types of depression. Simply filter by the specialty you’re looking for and the insurance type, and find the right therapist for you or your loved ones. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist sean abraham Sean Abraham, LCSW

Sean Abraham is a licensed clinical social worker who works with those who have struggled with substance use, depression, anxiety, loss, communication problems, student life, as well as other mental health concerns.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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