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Mood Disorders

A mood disorder is a mental health class that health professionals use to broadly describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders.

Children, teens, and adults can have mood disorders. Therapy, antidepressants, and support and self-care can help treat mood disorders.


These are the most common types of mood disorders:

  • Major depression. Having less interest in usual activities, feeling sad or hopeless, and other symptoms for at least 2 weeks may indicate depression.

  • Dysthymia. This is a chronic, low-grade, depressed, or irritable mood that lasts for at least 2 years.

  • Bipolar disorder. This is a condition in which a person has periods of depression alternating with periods of mania or elevated mood.

  • Mood disorder related to another health condition. Many medical illnesses (including cancer, injuries, infections, and chronic illnesses) can trigger symptoms of depression.

  • Substance-induced mood disorder. Symptoms of depression that are due to the effects of medicine, drug abuse, alcoholism, exposure to toxins, or other forms of treatment.


Many factors contribute to mood disorders. They are likely caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. Life events (such as stressful life changes) may also contribute to a depressed mood. Mood disorders also tend to run in families.


Sometimes, life's problems can trigger depression. Being fired from a job, getting divorced, losing a loved one, death in the family, and financial trouble, to name a few, all can be difficult and coping with the pressure may be troublesome. These life events and stress can bring on feelings of sadness or depression or make a mood disorder harder to manage.

The risk of depression in women is nearly twice as high as it is for men. Once a person in the family has this diagnosis, their brothers, sisters, or children have a higher chance of the same diagnosis. In addition, relatives of people with depression are also at increased risk for bipolar disorder .

Once a person in the family has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the chance for their brothers, sisters, or children to have the same diagnosis is increased. Relatives of people with bipolar are also at increased risk for depression.


Depending on age and the type of mood disorder, a person may have different symptoms of depression. The following are the most common symptoms of a mood disorder:

  • Ongoing sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

  • Feeling hopeless or helpless

  • Having low self-esteem

  • Feeling inadequate or worthless

  • Excessive guilt

  • Repeating thoughts of death or suicide, wishing to die, or attempting suicide (Note: People with this symptom should get treatment right away!)

  • Loss of interest in usual activities or activities that were once enjoyed, including sex

  • Relationship problems

  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Changes in appetite and/or weight

  • Decreased energy

  • Trouble concentrating

  • A decrease in the ability to make decisions

  • Frequent physical complaints (for example, headache, stomachache, or tiredness) that don’t get better with treatment

  • Running away or threats of running away from home

  • Very sensitive to failure or rejection

  • Irritability, hostility, or aggression

In mood disorders, these feelings are more intense than what a person may normally feel from time to time. It’s also of concern if these feelings continue over time, or interfere with one's interest in family, friends, community, or work. Any person who expresses thoughts of suicide should get medical help right away.

The symptoms of mood disorders may look like other conditions or mental health problems. Always talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.


Mood disorders can often be treated with success. Treatment may include:

  • Antidepressant and mood stabilizing medicines—especially when combined with psychotherapy have shown to work very well in the treatment of depression

  • Psychotherapy—most often cognitive-behavioral and/or interpersonal therapy. This therapy is focused on changing the person’s distorted views of himself or herself and the environment around him or her. It also helps to improve interpersonal relationship skills, and identifying stressors in the environment and how to avoid them

  • Family therapy

  • Other therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial stimulation

Families play a vital supportive role in any treatment process.

When correctly diagnosed and treated, people with mood disorders can live, stable, productive, healthy lives.


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