Mood is defined as the way a person experiences his own emotions; his state of mind; his overall feeling about life and, in particular, his life. A Mood Disorder is simply a disturbance in mood: not a transient emotional state as in feeling “blue” when a loved one leaves or exuberant over selling one’s house for a large profit, but a disturbance that changes the individual’s mood for a significant amount of time. Mood disorders usually have their origin when the person is in his mid-20s, on average, and may appear to be initiated by an event or to develop for no obvious reason.




The most common mood disorder diagnosed and treated by psychiatrists is depression, but general depression can be a part of many other disorders. Following, besides general depression, are the subtypes of Mood Disorders, each type having its own set of criteria for diagnosis.

  • major depressive disorder – low/sad almost all the time
  • depressive disorder not otherwise specified (NOS)
  • dysthymic disorder – milder form of depression; previously called depressive neurosis
  • bipolar 1 disorder – extreme highs and lows, but primary presentation is mania
  • bipolar 2 disorder – extreme highs and lows, but primary presentation is depression
  • bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (NOS)
  • cyclothymic disorder – milder form of bipolar disorder
  • mood disorder due to a general medical condition
  • substance-induced mood disorder
  • mood disorder not otherwise specified (NOS)

Criteria for diagnosing Major Depressive Disorder, for example, include the following:

  • a major depressive episode (experiencing certain symptoms, which must be present almost daily for at least a two-week period),
  • having no history of manic, mixed, or hypomanic episodes, and
  • the depression symptoms not being due to another disorder

While depression and other mood disorders make up the chief cause of suicide, most suicides are preventable, with proper diagnosis and treatment.


Bipolar Disorder is a more severe condition than major depression, causing some people to display what others might perceive as a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality. Substance abuse often complicates all of the mood disorders. In fact, sometimes a mood disorder is substance-induced. In other cases, substance use follows the mood disorder by way of the individual’s self-medicating and soon becomes a substance use disorder. The third scenario is that other factors in the individual’s life lead to or cause both the substance use disorder and the mood disorder at about the same time. This is not a simple call to make, however, especially if screening for mood disorders was not done prior to starting a drug.




Most treatments for mood disorders fall into one or more of the following categories: 1) suicide prevention, 2) biotherapies (medication), 3) psychotherapies, and 4) family involvement.

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