It’s normal to feel sad after a stressful life event, like the loss of a job or a bad test grade. But when mood changes are intense or persistent, they can affect a person’s ability to function daily.
People with mood disorders experience a distorted or inconsistent emotional state that interferes with their ability to function. They may feel extremely sad, irritable, or experience periods of depression alternating with periods of mania.
If you or a loved one has a mood disorder, it’s essential to seek help. With psychotherapy and medication, people with mood disorders can successfully regulate their emotional states and live fulfilling lives.
How common are mood disorders?
In the United States, approximately 21.4% of adults experience mood disorders at some point during their lives.
Within the category of mood disorders, some mental health conditions are more common than others. A major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental health diagnoses in the United States, with nearly 17% of U.S. adults experiencing major depression at some point during their lives. Meanwhile, bipolar disorders are less common, with approximately 4.4% of U.S. adults experiencing the disorder.
Depression is nearly twice as common in women as it is in men. After a family member has received a diagnosis, their siblings and children face an increased likelihood of receiving the same diagnosis. Family members of people with depression also face increased risk factors for bipolar disorder.
Types of Mood Disorders
The most common types of mood disorders include:
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a condition in which a person experiences periods of depression alternating with periods of mania. Because they look similar to depression when someone is in a low phase, bipolar disorders can be challenging to diagnose. The category of bipolar disorders includes the following mental health conditions:
- Bipolar I disorder: Bipolar I involves intense mood changes between major depression and mania. During manic episodes, people have elevated energy and a high mood.
- Bipolar II disorder: Bipolar II involves changes in moods between episodes of major depression and hypomania. Hypomania is characterized by periods of high mood and energy but is less severe than manic episodes.
- Cyclothymic disorder: Cyclothymic disorder is considered a milder form of bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymic disorder experience depressive and manic symptoms that do not meet the DSM-IV criteria for a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Several different types of depression fall under the category of depressive disorders, including:
- Major depressive disorder: People with a major depressive disorder—also known as unipolar depression, major depression, and clinical depression—experience episodes of low mood that affect a person’s ability to function in daily life. Major depression involves feelings of sadness or hopelessness, low energy or appetite, sleep problems, feelings of worthlessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure. The symptoms must be present for at least two weeks and affect how an individual thinks and behaves.
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymic disorder): Dysthymic disorder is a chronic form of depression. Many of the same depressive symptoms affect people with persistent depressive disorder, but symptoms must persist for at least two years.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): People with PMDD experience the symptoms of depression in connection with their menstrual cycle.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): Seasonal affective disorder is related to the change in seasons, and typically begins and ends at the same time each year. For people with SAD, symptoms start in the fall and continue through the winter.
- Postpartum depression: Many new moms experience “baby blues” after childbirth, which typically includes crying spells, anxiety, and a depressed mood. While baby blues begin within the first two to three days after birth, postpartum depression is characterized by a more long-lasting and severe depression.
Symptoms of Mood Disorders
Some of the common symptoms of depressive and manic episodes include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or depressed mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Irritability or restlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal thoughts
- Heightened energy and mood
- Feelings of elation
- Reduced sleep
- Irritability or restlessness
- Rapid speech or having too many thoughts or ideas
- Increased risky behaviors, such as substance abuse, sexual behavior, or spending
The symptoms of mood disorders vary from person to person. While mood disorders affect people of all ages, adolescents and young adults don’t always have the same symptoms as older adults.
Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the diagnosis of a mood disorder also requires an assessment of the length and persistence of symptoms.
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What should you do if you’re struggling with a mood disorder?
If mental health problems affect your daily life, there’s good news—depression and bipolar disorder are highly treatable with medication and psychotherapy. It’s essential to seek help as early as possible to receive an accurate diagnosis and pursue potential treatment options. The most effective treatment plans for mood disorders include:
- Therapy: Psychotherapy is an important component of mood disorder treatment. Working with a licensed therapist, social worker, or mental health counselor can help you understand your mental health challenges and effectively manage your mood. You could consider therapy in individual or group contexts, or search for an online therapy service for remote mental health support.
- Medication: Health professionals may prescribe antidepressants or mood-stabilizing medicines in the treatment of depression and bipolar disorders. When psychotic symptoms accompany bipolar disorders, health professionals may prescribe antipsychotic drugs to manage symptoms. Medications can also help manage the symptoms of co-occurring mental disorders, such as anxiety disorder and traumatic stress disorder.
- Check-ups: It’s important to schedule regular check-ups with your health care provider to ensure that no underlying medical conditions contribute to your symptoms.
- Self-care: Eating a balanced diet, maintaining regular sleep patterns, and regularly exercising can help you manage your symptoms. Finding activities that you enjoy—whether that’s playing with a pet, connecting with friends, or journaling—can also help improve mood.
- Hotlines: If you’re having suicidal thoughts or need immediate mental health support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI.
What should you look for in a therapist for mood disorders?
If you’re struggling with a mood disorder, it’s essential to work with a psychologist experienced in treating depression and bipolar disorders. Some common therapeutic approaches to mood disorders include:
- Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: The oldest form of talk therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, has an established record of assisting people with mood disorders. It focuses on understanding how the past impacts present struggles with mood, and how growing up experiences influences one’s sense of self and emotions.
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): CBT, a form of psychotherapy, helps people develop problem-solving skills and change unhelpful thinking patterns. Multiple clinical trials and research studies support the efficacy of CBT in treating mood disorders. For individuals diagnosed with unipolar depression, CBT encourages goal setting and positive behaviors.
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT is a focused, evidence-based therapeutic approach that aims to improve the quality of interpersonal relationships and social functioning to reduce emotional pain and distress.
- Family therapy: Mood disorders are complex. Family therapy can help family members understand and learn how to support loved ones experiencing depression or mania.
Choosing a psychologist you trust with can help you form a beneficial therapeutic relationship and boost your treatment’s success. If you’re seeking professional help for a mood disorder, consider reaching out to a therapist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you with a qualified mental health professional you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the experienced psychologists on the WithTherapy platform will help you regulate your mood, manage your symptoms, and improve your quality of life.