Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Mood Disorders: What They Are, Symptoms and Treatment

Mood Disorders: What They Are, Symptoms and Treatment

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Mood disorders are a term used to describe a category of mental health conditions that affect millions of people worldwide and influence their emotional state in a way that typically disrupts daily functioning, often severely. Such disorders can cause significant distress, impacting relationships, work, and overall quality of life. Understanding what mood disorders are, being able to recognise their symptoms, and being aware of the treatments available can empower individuals to seek help, taking charge of improving their own mental health.

What are mood disorders?

Mood disorders, also sometimes known as affective disorders, are a group of mental health conditions characterised by a significant disturbance in a person’s mood – a disturbance that goes beyond the normal fluctuations that many people experience. Instead, it involves extreme emotions that are disproportionate to – and/or not directly caused by – events in a person’s life.

The most common types of mood disorders include major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorder (previously known as manic-depressive illness), and dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder). Each of these disorders affects mood in distinct ways, yet they all share the characteristic of causing significant impairment to the individual’s daily life and the quality of it.

“Stigma often prevents people from seeking help for mood disorders, but it’s crucial to remember that these conditions are medical, not moral, issues,” shares Sal Raichbach, PsyD, LCSW, Chief Clinical Officer at Haven Health Management. “Effective treatment exists, and recovery is not just a possibility but a probability with the right support and interventions.”

Major depressive disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder is characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in or pleasure in activities; these feelings are severe enough to interfere with daily tasks and can significantly impair a person’s ability to function.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is marked by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). These mood swings can affect sleep, energy levels, behaviour, judgement, and the ability to think clearly. Episodes of mood swings may occur rarely or multiple times a year.

Dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder)

Dysthymia is a chronic form of depression where a person’s mood is regularly low. However, the symptoms are not as severe as those of major depression but can be just as disabling in affecting someone’s daily life.

Symptoms of mood disorders

As highlighted by Mary Lawrence, LCSW, Clinical Director at Acera Health, “recognising the signs of mood disorders early on is pivotal, allowing for a more tailored and effective treatment plan that can significantly enhance an individual’s journey towards recovery; it’s not just about managing symptoms; it’s about rebuilding lives.”

The symptoms of mood disorders can vary significantly depending on the specific condition and the individual. However, there are common signs across most mood disorders:

  • Depression. Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness; loss of interest in activities; changes in appetite; sleep disturbances; fatigue; feelings of worthlessness or guilt; difficulty concentrating; and thoughts of death or suicide
  • Mania/hypomania. Periods of feeling unusually high, euphoric, or irritable; increased activity or energy; reduced need for sleep; grandiosity; talkativeness; racing thoughts; distractibility; and engaging in risky behaviour.

It’s important to note that mood disorders can present differently in children and adolescents, with irritability often being a prominent symptom.

Treatment of mood disorders

Treatment for mood disorders typically involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes; the specific treatment plan will depend on the type and severity of the disorder, as well as the individual’s personal preferences and response to treatment.

  • Medication. Antidepressants, mood stabilisers, and antipsychotic medications are commonly used to treat mood disorders. These medications can help balance chemicals in the brain that affect mood and emotions; nevertheless, it’s important to note that finding the right medication or combination of medications can take time and may require adjustments to achieve the best results.
  • Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is an effective treatment for mood disorders; cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) are among the most effective forms. Psychotherapy can also help individuals better understand and work through the emotions, thoughts, and behaviours that are contributing to their mood disorder.
  • Lifestyle changes. In addition to medications and therapies, lifestyle changes can significantly impact mood disorders. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and stress-reduction techniques can significantly improve symptoms; avoiding alcohol and drugs, which can exacerbate mood disorders, is also crucial. As Gary Tucker, chief clinical officer and a licensed psychotherapist at D’Amore Mental Health points out, a truly holistic approach is essential. “Mood disorders don’t just affect the mind; they impact every aspect of a person’s life. That’s why our approach to treatment must be holistic, incorporating both evidence-based therapies and supportive lifestyle changes to address the whole person,” says Tucker.
  • Support groups and education. Joining a support group can provide valuable support from others who understand what you’re going through, while educational programmes can also help individuals and their families better understand mood disorders, which can improve outcomes and support recovery.
  • Early intervention is optimal; ongoing support is crucial. Mood disorders are complex conditions that require a multifaceted approach to treatment, but with the right support and treatment plan, individuals with mood disorders can go on to lead fulfilling lives. It’s important for anyone experiencing symptoms of a mood disorder to seek professional help; early intervention can significantly improve the effectiveness of treatment, helping individuals navigate their condition and improve their quality of life.



Tim Williamson, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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