What is a Mood Disorder?

A mood disorder is a mental health condition with symptoms that affect, and reduce an individual’s mood. These changes in mood are often extreme and will disrupt many aspects of an individual’s life. Understanding the cause and type of mood disorder is important when determining the best treatment plan to effectively reduce symptoms.

Mood disorders affect approximately 20% of the population. While studies show that depressive symptoms tend to be more common, some experts question the accuracy of these numbers and wonder if even more people deal with mood disorders and do not seek help. Bipolar Disorders affect about 1% of the population, but this number may also be underrepresented, as recognizing symptoms of depression tends to be easier than manic symptoms. Individuals who experience rapid influxes of depression and mania could attribute the manic symptoms to a period of feeling improvement from depressive symptoms.

What Are the Types of Mood Disorders?

The DSM-5 divides mood disorders into two distinct categories, Bipolar Disorders and Depressive Disorders. Both types of disorders can negatively impact an individual’s mood, but are marked with specific symptoms, either depressive or manic in nature.

Bipolar Mood Disorders

  • Bipolar I disorder: Bipolar I disorder includes severe mood fluctuations between mania and depression.
  • Bipolar II disorder: Bipolar II disorder includes milder mood fluctuations between hypomania and depression.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Cyclothymic disorder includes the same mood fluctuations, but they tend to be less extreme. 

Another bipolar category is bipolar disorder due to medications, drugs, or a medical condition, which is newly recognized in the DSM-5. This diagnosis covers individuals who experience rapid mood changes due to substance use.

Depressive Mood Disorders

  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder: Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is used to describe children who display extreme mood changes.
  • Dysthymia disorder (persistent depressive disorder): Dysthymia disorder is a period of time in which an individual experiences low mood for a minimum of two years.
  • Major depressive disorder: Major depressive disorder describes an extended period of depressive symptoms, which can also negatively impact daily functioning.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a type of depression that describes depressive symptoms that occur right before menstruation.
  • Postpartum depression: Postpartum depression describes depressive symptoms that occur for a minimum of two weeks, either during or immediately following pregnancy.
  • Seasonal affective disorder: Seasonal affective disorder describes depressive symptoms that are brought on with seasonal changes.
  • Psychotic depression: Psychotic depression is a severe type of depression that can lead to psychotic delusions.

Another depressive category is depression related to a medical condition, medication, or substance abuse. This diagnosis covers individuals who experienced rapid mood changes due to substance use.

What Are the Symptoms of Mood Disorders?

Mood disorders are often characterized by either bipolar or depressive symptoms, or a combination of the two.

Depressive mood disorders will often include the following symptoms:

  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Reduced energy
  • Insomnia or other sleep changes
  • Weight changes
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Bodily aches or pains
  • Intense feelings of sadness

Bipolar mood disorders will often include the following symptoms:

  • High energy followed by feelings of depression
  • Feelings of euphoria or being invincible
  • Reduced sleep
  • Easily distracted
  • Reduced judgment
  • Impulsive decision-making

Fluctuating moods are normal, based on life events. However, a mood disorder negatively impacts an individuals’ life. It can impact career and academic success. It can also put a strain on relationships and overall emotional happiness.

What Causes Mood Disorders?

While a lot of the focus on mood disorders tends to be around how to best treat them, there is also some debate on what causes them. There are many factors that can contribute to the development of a mood disorder.

These include:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Co-occurring mood disorders
  • Medication use
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Traumatic events

It is not always easy to determine exactly what leads to mood disorders. Additionally, the majority of mood disorders are likely due to many factors. Genetics can predispose an individual to a mood disorder, while environmental stressors can encourage the symptoms to display. Drug and alcohol use, as well as traumatic events, can also worsen symptoms.

What Treatments Improve the Symptoms of Mood Disorders?

Fortunately, there are many effective treatments available for the debilitating symptoms that come with mood disorders. Psychoanalysis, or talk therapy, is a popular method for dealing with the rapidly changing moods present with a mood disorder.

A few common treatments used with mood disorders include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT encourages individuals to evaluate irrational thoughts that can lead to depressive symptoms.
  • Solution-focused therapy (SFBT): SFBT focuses on the problem, while looking for temporary and long-term solutions to alleviate symptoms.
  • Brain stimulation: Techniques like electroconvulsive therapy or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation are used to identify specific parts of the brain responsible for symptoms, while increasing impulses to change the brain’s response.
  • Light therapy: Other alternative treatments, like light therapy, can increase Vitamin D levels, which is important in the treatment of certain mood disorders, like seasonal affective disorder.

Medications are also often used in combination with talk therapy. This multi-variant approach to treatment can be effective because it addresses chemical imbalances, as well as the individual’s contributing history. Medications, including serotonin reuptake inhibitors and mood stabilizers, are the most common medications used.

Education is also important when treating mood disorders. Therapists can help their patients recognize behavioral patterns, while looking for techniques that improve the occurrence of the symptoms. Assessing and evaluating suicidal thoughts is also an important part of treatment with mood disorders. The fluctuation of moods can lead to suicidal ideation.

What Mental Health Disorders Often Co-Occur With Mood Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders describe individuals who meet the criteria for more than one mental health disorder. 

Other mental health disorders that can co-occur with mood disorders include:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse (substance use disorder): Drugs and alcohol used to self-medicate can lead to a dual diagnosis.
  • Generalized anxiety: Mood disorders with symptoms of anxiety can lead to generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Personality disorders: Not only can the symptoms of a personality and mood disorder be easily interchanged, but individuals with a borderline personality disorder are more likely to have a mood disorder.
  • Physical conditions: Some physical conditions, like high blood pressure and heart disease, often occur with mood disorders.

Suicide is also a concern when dealing with mood disorders. Many individuals who have suicidal thoughts will also meet the criteria for a mood disorder.

Fast Facts About Mood Disorders

  • Mood disorders also impact children and adolescents and can become a primary coping mechanism.
  • An estimated 9.7% of the U.S. population has had symptoms of a mood disorder in the last year.
  • Females tend to experience mood disorders at a higher rate, approximately 11.6% in females compared to 7.7% males. Women are also more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of depression, failing to take mania into account.
  • Men with a mood disorder often exhibit symptoms of anger or aggression, which might also be attributed to conditions other than a mood disorder.

Mood disorders are a common mental health condition. Fortunately, following the identification of a mood disorder, there are many effective treatments available.