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Mood Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

March 25, 2022 (Originally Published)

April 4, 2023 (Last Updated)

Table of Contents

A mood disorder is an umbrella term mental healthcare professionals use to describe all types of depression, including bipolar disorders.

Mood disorders occur among children, teenagers, and adults. Children and teens often present with different symptoms of mood disorders. Additionally, it can be challenging to diagnose mood disorders in children as they are not always capable of accurately expressing their feelings.

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Fortunately, most mood disorders will respond favorably to a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and proper self-care.

Therapy, antidepressants, and support and self-care can help treat mood disorders.

What Are Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are also known as affective disorders. This broad term encompasses all depressive disorders, as well as bipolar disorder. Both of these conditions impact your mood and functioning.

Among those with mood disorders, moods may range from low (depressed) to high or irritable (manic), characterized by dramatic swings between these extremes in the case of bipolar disorder.

What is an Example of a Mood Disorder?

If you have a clinical mood disorder, you will find your emotional state (mood) is either distorted or perhaps not consistent with your circumstances – being promoted at work and yet feeling deeply depressed, for instance.

For those with mood disorders, these shifts in emotional state can cause serious disruption in day-to-day activities.

Example of common mood disorders include:

  • Major depressive disorder: Major depressive disorder impacts up to 6% of the US population, according to NIH (the National Institute of Mental Health) and is characterized by prolonged, persistent spells of extreme sadness.
  • Dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder): This is a chronic form of depression affecting 1.5% of the US population, according to the same data.
  • Substance-induced depression: Substance-induced depression involves depression symptoms developing during or shortly after using substances, withdrawing from substances, or after being exposed to a medication.
  • Depression associated with physical illness: This form of depression occurs in direct response to the physical symptoms of an underlying medical condition.
  • Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, involves alternating periods of mania and depression. Bipolar is surprisingly common, affecting almost 1% of the US population.
  • Cyclothymia: Cyclothymia is a disorder with emotional ups and downs, although less intense than those experienced in bipolar disorders.
  • Seasonal affective disorder: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression associated with fewer daylight hours from fall to spring.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder: Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder triggers a chronic irritability in children often manifesting in temper outbursts inconsistent with the age of the child.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: Mood changes associated with a woman’s premenstrual cycle.
An image of a person suffering from a Mood disorder

Types of Mood Disorder

Mental health disorders and substance use disorders are diagnosed using the criteria set out in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

When DSM-5 replaced the outgoing fourth edition of this diagnostic tool (DSM-IV), one of the changes involved the classification of mood disorders. Per DSM-5, mood disorders are now separated into two distinct groups:

  1. Depressive disorders
  2. Bipolar disorder/related disorders

As such, the main subtypes of mood disorders include:

  • Major depressive disorder: Major depressive disorder is the clinical descriptor for depression.
  • Bipolar I disorder: The more severe form of bipolar, bipolar I disorder, many people experiencing manic episodes engage in harmful or damaging behaviors.
  • Bipolar II disorder: For a bipolar II diagnosis, you must experience at least one episode of hypomania – a less intense form of mania – in addition to an episode of major depression.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

In the newest fifth edition of DSM, there are three new depressive disorders, including disruptive mood dysregulation disorder:

  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder: This disorder was added to DSM-5 for under-18s exhibiting persistent anger and irritability, often accompanied by extreme outbursts of temper with no significant provocation.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: This diagnosis incorporates chronic major depressive disorder as well as depression lasting for two years or more (previously known as dysthymia).
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: Symptoms of this disorder present in the week before menstruation begins and resolve at the end of the menstrual cycle.

Is Anxiety a Mood Disorder?

As outlined above, mood disorders include all types of depression as well as bipolar disorder, but not anxiety.

Many people diagnosed with depression also suffer from anxiety, but anxiety is not considered a mood disorder.

Is Depression a Mood Disorder?

Depression in all its forms is considered a mood disorder, per DSM-5.

Mood Disorder Questionnaire

A team of researchers and psychiatrists developed the MDQ (mood disorder questionnaire) as a diagnostic tool for bipolar disorder.

The screening instrument contains 13 yes/no questions concerning the symptoms of bipolar, and additional questions concerning the co-occurrence of symptoms and the impairment of functioning. The questionnaire takes no more than five minutes to complete.

Any positive screening using the mood disorder questionnaire should always be followed up with a complete clinical assessment.

Treatment for Mood Disorders

Mood disorders often respond favorably to treatment, typically a combination of antidepressants and mood-stabilizing medications.

Most treatment for mood disorders will involve both medications and psychotherapy – forms of talk therapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy).

The following medications are often used to treat depression and bipolar disorders:

  • Antidepressants: SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)  and SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) have similar mechanisms of action. Both can be effective for the treatment of depression. Some older types of antidepressants can also be effective, although these typically trigger more adverse side effects. Most antidepressants will take a few weeks before taking effect. You may need to try more than one type of antidepressant before your symptoms are alleviated.
  • Antipsychotics: The manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar disorder respond favorably to atypical antipsychotic medications. These medications can also soothe some symptoms of depression in some people.
  • Mood stabilizers: Mood stabilizers help to regulate the mood swings prevalent among those with bipolar disorder.

Many forms of psychotherapy can effectively treat the symptoms of depression and bipolar. These include: 

  • CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy)
  • DBT (dialectical behavior therapy)
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Problem-solving therapy
  • Family therapy

In some treatment-resistant individuals, alternative therapies such as ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and transcranial magnetic stimulation can be effective.

With an accurate diagnosis, most mood disorders are treatable.

An image of a beach near a Mood disorder treatment center

Get Help at Renaissance Recovery

One of the key issues faced by those with mood disorders, especially when undiagnosed, is the tendency to self-medicate symptoms with alcohol or drugs. While this may provide fleeting relief, self-medication will inflame symptoms over time, possibly leading to a co-occurring disorder. If you have a mood disorder co-occurring with addiction, our dual diagnosis treatment program will help you unpack both conditions simultaneously.

If you need help with a mood disorder in isolation, we have specialist treatment programs for both depression and bipolar disorder.

All of our outpatient programs offer you access to the following therapies:

If a traditional outpatient program doesn’t provide enough structure and support, we also offer IOPs (intensive outpatient programs) and PHPs (partial hospitalization programs), ideal for those with more severe mood disorders and co-occurring disorders.

Here at Renaissance, your treatment team will guide you through the process of reclaiming your life from the constraints of mood disorders and addiction. Call admissions today at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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