1 in 4 people will experience mental illness.

Mood Disorders

Mental illness is as unique as the people who live with it. To better understand your own diagnosis, or the diagnosis of someone that you love, it is important to know the different types of mental illnesses and conditions. The more you know, the better you can be an advocate for, and a better friend to, the millions of people who live with mental illness.

Mood disorders are a category that mental health professionals use to describe different types of depression and bipolar disorders. While it might be easy to think that depression and bipolar disorder are two distinct conditions, there is more than one type of each that feature different symptoms and challenges.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, there are five major types of mood disorders, each unique.

  • Major depression

    Feelings of sadness and helplessness, as well as living with sleeping and eating disturbances or loss of interest in activities that were once important

  • Dysthymia

    A chronic condition that can cause restlessness, sadness, or irritability for an extended period of time

  • Bipolar disorder

A condition that typically features alternating cycles of depression and mania

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder

Depression or other mood disruption that is related to shorter days and decreased sunlight in the winter months.

  • Mood disorder related to another condition

    These mood disorders are typically associated with other chronic conditions such as cancer, Parkinson’s, injuries, or other lifestyle changes that are medically intertwined

  • Substance-induced mood disorder

Over the counter, prescription, or other illegal drugs can cause mood disorders and other symptoms that can negatively affect mood


If you believe that you may be experiencing a mood disorder, or if you want to learn more about mood disorders, check out our list of resources to find a physician or support system.

A mood disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person feels about him or herself and even the way they eat, sleep, and think.

Common mood disorders include:

  • Clinical Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses. People who are depressed feel sad, worthless, and empty to the extent that they cannot function effectively. They lose interest in their usual activities, experience a shift in appetite, disturbed sleep and decreased energy. A major depressive disorder is characterized by one or more major depressive episodes (feeling depressed for two weeks or more).
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, also known as winter depression)The majority of people who suffer from SAD experience normal mental health throughout most of the year, but experience depressive symptoms during the shorter days of winter. SAD is virtually non-existent in the tropics, as it is related to light, not temperature
    • Symptoms (of clinical depression, post-partum depression, dysthymia, and seasonal depression or SAD) can include:
      • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood;
      • Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism;
      • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness;
      • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex;
      • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”;
      • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions;
      • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping;
      • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain;
      • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts;
      • Restlessness, irritability;
      • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
  • Bipolar Disorder (formerly called Manic-Depressive Illness)

    This is marked by dramatic mood swings, with or without a history of major depression. With bipolar 1 disorder, these episodes may or may not be followed by a depressive episode. Bipolar 2 is characterized by major depressive episodes and less severe forms of mania.

    • Symptoms:
      • When in the depressed cycle, an individual can have any or all of the symptoms of a depressive disorder (listed above);
      • When in the manic cycle, the individual may be overactive, over-talkative, and have a great deal of energy. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment. For example, the individual in a manic phase may feel elated, full of grand schemes that range from unwise business decisions to sexual sprees. These episodes may last for weeks or months, interfering with relationships and work.

It’s important to remember that people with a mood disorder, like others with a mental illness, cannot “pull themselves together” and get better. Appropriate treatment to reduce or manage symptoms can help those experiencing a mood disorder to function at a level where they can enjoy and participate fully in their lives.

The stigma directed at people with mood disorders has a major influence in determining whether a person seeks treatment, takes their medication, or continues with counseling. An attitude of support and encouragement from those around them can help people with mood disorders feel more confident in finding the help they need.

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