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Mood Disorders

Mood disorders cause noticeable differences in your emotions, thinking, and other symptoms. They include several types of depression and bipolar disorder.
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Last updated August 23, 2023

Mood disorders quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your mood disorders.

Mood disorders quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your mood disorders.

Take mood disorders quiz

What are mood disorders?

If you have depression or manic moods (very elevated mood and energy), it’s considered a mood disorder. There are several types of mood disorders, but the most common ones are major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and persistent depressive disorder. Mood disorders can also cause physical symptoms and changes in thinking.

If you are noticing changes in your emotions, thinking, sleep, and appetite, and it is lasting for about 2 weeks, you may have a mood disorder. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. Time does not usually heal mood disorders. There are many different treatments available, including talk therapy, medications, and mind-body techniques.

What mood disorders feel like

No two people experience mood disorders in the same way, but there are common symptoms. And while most types of depression have similar symptoms, there are differences in the timing and intensity of the symptoms. Symptoms of depressive disorders include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Intense sadness
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feeling more irritable
  • Insomnia or other sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating and with making a decision
  • Changes in appetite
  • In severe cases, thoughts of death or suicide

Dr. Rx

What I expect to hear from a patient with a mood disorder: “I just feel like I’m faking it through life, I have smile on my face but I’m not actually happy;” “I feel like crying and I have no idea why;” “I’m just numb;” “It’s like my skin is crawling;” “My thoughts are going a mile a minute, I can’t slow down;” “Something is wrong with me, I don’t know what.” —Dr. Lauren Parker

People with bipolar disorder have the above symptoms during depressive episodes and also have manic episodes, which often include the following symptoms:

  • Euphoric mood
  • Increased energy
  • Rapid talking
  • Inflated sense of self

In severe cases of mood disorders, people may experience psychotic symptoms. These are most often delusions (significantly distorted beliefs) or hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or sensing something that actually isn’t there).

Is anxiety a mood disorder?

Anxiety is not considered a mood disorder but people with mood disorders may also have anxiety. General symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Increased feelings of worry
  • Persistent ruminating (repetitive negative thoughts)
  • Increased sense of fear or impending danger
  • Feeling tense
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Panic

Mood disorders quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your mood disorders.

Take mood disorders quiz

Types of mood disorders

1. Major depressive disorder

Major depressive disorder is when someone feels deeply sad and hopeless, and has little interest in activities they used to enjoy. It affects your everyday functioning, sleep, energy, eating habits, and negatively affects the way you feel, think, and behave.

Common: About 7-8% of U.S. adults have at least one major depressive episode in a given year and many in this group experience recurring episodes. [Source: National Institute of Mental Health]

Treatment and urgency: Many people with depression don’t try to get treated, believing that whatever is going on with them will pass. But not treating depression often leads to more severe symptoms.

Primary care doctors are often the best first option. They can prescribe medication or give you the name of a mental health professional. A psychiatrist can also prescribe medication. If you or a loved one have suicidal planning or intent, call 988 (the new Suicide and Crisis Lifeline) or 911, or go to the emergency room right away.

Treatment usually includes a combination of antidepressants and talk therapy. You may have to try different antidepressants before finding one that works for you and has few side effects.

Pro Tip

You have just one life to live, and you do not have to live feeling like your emotions control you. Treatment may take some time, but it will be a proactive step to ending the struggle. Seek help. —Dr. Parker

2. Persistent depressive disorder

Persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia) is similar to major depressive disorder but the depression lasts for at least 2 years. It can also cause changes in appetite, sleep problems, low energy, lower self-esteem, poor concentration, or feelings of hopelessness.

Uncommon: An estimated .5–1.5% of U.S. adults are diagnosed with dysthymia each year, but it is likely underdiagnosed because people may be diagnosed with major depressive disorder instead. [Source: National Institute of Mental Health]

Treatment and urgency: A combination of medication and talk therapy is most effective. Therapy may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

Mood disorders quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your mood disorders.

Take mood disorders quiz

3. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is when you have symptoms of depression during the week leading up to your period. You may also have physical symptoms that occur around your period like breast swelling, bloating, and digestive tract issues. Symptoms usually go away within a week after your period has ended.

Common: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder affects 2–6% of women in a given year.

Treatment and urgency: Talk to your gynecologist or primary care doctor. They may recommend taking a birth control pill that can help withl premenstrual symptoms, including depression. Antidepressants and talk therapy may also be helpful.

4. Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is when someone alternates between having an elevated mood (mania) and depression. Manic episodes are when people have a high level of energy and feel excessively happy. In depressive episodes, people are very sad, don’t feel any joy, and lack energy.

  • Bipolar disorder I: Periods of intense mania with some periods of depression, or having mania and depression at the same time.
  • Bipolar disorder II: Periods of depression and periods of less intense mania (called hypomania). This is less disruptive to a person’s life.

Pro Tip

There are so many different types of therapies available. Explore to find what fits best with your beliefs and values. Teletherapy has broadened options and accessibility. Most of us are bound to what insurance will pay for. If insurance isn’t accepted, ask about discounted self-pay options. —Dr. Parker

Uncommon: An estimated 2.8% of U.S. adults have bipolar disorder in a given year. [Source: National Institute of Mental Health]

Treatment and urgency: See a doctor or mental health provider right away if you have symptoms of depression or mania. Often people see a doctor for depression, not realizing that they also have episodes of mania, and are mistakenly given antidepressants. These drugs can actually set off manic episodes, which is why they are not recommended for people with bipolar disorder.

Instead, mood stabilizers, such as Lamictal, lithium, and Depakote, are often recommended. Occasionally, an antipsychotic medication, such as Seroquel and Abilify, may be prescribed to help with more severe anxiety or delusional thinking that can occur with mania or hypomania. Medication combined with talk therapy is usually the most effective treatment.

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Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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