What Are Mood Disorders?

Mood disorders are a category of mental health disorders that affect a person’s emotional state.

A depressed, middle-aged woman sits quietly in deep thought.It’s completely normal (and healthy) for a person to experience a range of emotions. However, someone with a mood disorder will experience extended periods of extreme emotions. They may feel extremely sad for weeks on end. In other cases, someone may experience mood swings – from extreme happiness to sadness.

Two of the most common disorders are major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. Both are mental health disorders that can impact your behavior, your ability to deal with everyday activities, and your personal relationships.

In this article, we’ll explain the types of mood disorders and their treatments. We’ll also answer some of the most common questions patients have about these disorders.


Types of Mood Disorders

Major depression and bipolar disorder are two of the most common and widely known mood disorders. However, there are other, less common disorders, as well.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depression, or simply “depression,” is a relatively common mood disorder. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the second most common mental health disorder in the U.S.

Someone with major depressive disorder will experience persistent and intense feelings of sadness for extended periods of time.

Additional symptoms of depression may include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite or eating
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Increased fatigue, loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating on specific tasks or making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts

To receive a diagnosis of major depression, a person must experience five or more symptoms during the same two-week period. In addition, at least one of the symptoms must be either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure.

> Learn more about Major Depressive Disorder

Dysthymic Disorder

Dysthymia, or Persistent Depressive Disorder, is a form of chronic depression. As a type of depression, people with dysthymia often feel a persistent sadness or gloominess. They may find it difficult to feel cheerful or excited, even during happy events.

Generally, dysthymia is less severe than major depression. It’s often a persistent sense of mild depressed mood that can last for years in some patients. However, dysthymia can come and go and even change in intensity over time.

The symptoms of dysthymia are similar to those of depression. The major difference is that dysthymia symptoms are chronic. Symptoms will occur on most days for at least two years.

Symptoms of dysthymia include:

  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Tiredness and lack of energy

Someone with dysthymia may have episodes of major depression, in which case symptoms will become more severe.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that causes changes in a person’s energy, mood, and their ability to function. A person with bipolar disorder experiences extremes in mood and intense emotional states. These states are known as mood episodes.

There are three categories of mood episodes:

  • Manic
  • Hypomanic
  • Depressive

Episodes can occur rarely or as frequently as multiple episodes in a month. However, someone with bipolar disorders will often have extended periods of normal mood, as well. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are broken into two categories: manic and depressive.

Manic symptoms include:

  • Excessive happiness, hopefulness, and excitement
  • Sudden changes from joyful to being irritable, angry, and hostile
  • Restlessness
  • Rapid speech and poor concentration
  • Increased energy and less need for sleep

Depressive symptoms include:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Not enjoying activities they once liked
  • Difficulty concentrating

While most people will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any symptoms at all.

> Learn More About Bipolar Disorder

How Common Are Mood Disorders?

Mood disorders are among the most common mental health conditions. In the United States, approximately 9.7% of adults had any mood disorder each year. Overall, an estimated 21.4% of U.S. adults will experience a mood disorder at some point during their lives.

Of all mood disorders, major depression is the most common. Depression affects more than 16 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the U.S. population. Second to depression is bipolar disorder, which affects around 5.7 million American adults, or around 2.6% of the U.S. population.

Who Is Most at Risk for Mood Disorders?

Anyone can be affected by a mood disorder; however certain factors can put an individual more at risk.

Individuals with a family history of mental health disorders, particularly depression or bipolar disorder, are at an increased risk of developing a mood disorder. Researchers believe genetics play a role in a person’s risk of experiencing mental health conditions, like depression.

Additional risk factors for developing a mood disorder include:

  • A history of trauma or abuse, particularly in developmental years
  • Experiencing a major loss or ongoing stressful life events
  • Alcohol or substance abuse

Mood Disorders in Children

Like adults, children can also be affected by mood disorders. However, children and teens may not always show the same symptoms as adults. For this reason, researchers believe mood disorders in children are routinely underdiagnosed.

It can be difficult for children to express their thoughts and feelings. This makes it challenging for parents or medical professionals to recognize mood disorders in a child or teen.

Aside from symptoms experienced by adults, signs of mood disorders in children can include:

  • Difficulty achieving in school
  • Severe recurrent temper outbursts
  • Sudden bursts of energy with racing thoughts or fast speech
  • Rebellious or high-risk behavior
  • Difficulty making or keeping friends
  • Low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness

It’s important to note that many of these symptoms, while signs of mood disorders, can also be a sign of other issues, including behavioral disorders like ADHD.

A young man sits speaking with a psychiatrist during a one-on-one therapy session.

How Are Mood Disorders Treated?

Decades of research have helped to make mood disorders treatable conditions. Treatment for mood disorders typically consists of therapy, medication, or in many cases a combination of both.


An individual with depression or other mood disorders often sees positive results from therapy. Therapy sessions are conducted by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional and can include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy

Therapists use a wide range of evidence-based techniques to help patients develop coping skills. This can include stress management, relaxation, and other techniques.


Medication, when coupled with therapy and healthy coping strategies, is often the most effective strategy for treating mood disorders. Commonly prescribed medications include:

Antidepressants: These medications can help treat the symptoms of both depression and anxiety. They can also help improve sleep problems and concentration resulting from a mental health condition. A commonly prescribed class of antidepressants is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications – these include drugs like sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil).

Mood stabilizers: As their name might imply, this class of medications is used to help regulate mood swings common with bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers work by reducing abnormal brain activity which results in changes in mood. In some cases, mood stabilizers are prescribed alongside antidepressants. Common mood stabilizers include carbamazepine (Tegretol), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), and valproic acid (Valproic).

Antipsychotics: Medications like aripiprazole (Abilify) are known as antipsychotic drugs. Antipsychotic drugs are used to help control extreme mood fluctuations in patients with generally more severe mood disorder symptoms. They are commonly prescribed to patients with bipolar disorder who more frequently experience manic or mixed episodes.

Mood Disorder Treatment at Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare

Mood disorders affect millions of people each year. If you or someone you love is suffering from depression or another mood disorder, Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare is here to help.

With two locations in the Atlanta, GA area, our team of mental health professionals can help diagnosis and treat mood disorders. Let us create a personalized treatment program to help you begin your path to recovery. Contact Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare today.