Symptoms & Signs of Mood DisordersA mood disorder is a type of mental illness that impacts a person’s state of mind, emotions and outlook on life. It causes changes and distortions in mood that are not consistent with one’s circumstances. For instance, a person may have a family, a great job and be healthy physically, but cannot shake a depressed and hopeless mood.

There are a few different types of mood disorder, but the most common is major depression, also known as clinical depression, major depressive disorder or simply depression. There are also subtypes of depression, such as postpartum depression and bipolar disorder, the latter being a mood disorder characterized by shifts between depression and an elevated mood called mania.

Mood disorders have a significant impact on people’s lives, often making it impossible to engage in normal activities or to maintain relationships. However, with a diagnosis and commitment to a treatment plan, these disorders can be effectively managed. It is important to know the signs of mood disorders and to reach out for help if needed.

Symptoms of Major Depression

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 10 percent of American adults have a mood disorder during a given year.1 Nearly seven percent of the population struggles with major depression,2 which is characterized by a sad and hopeless feeling that persists day after day, for two weeks or more. There are nine main symptoms or signs of depression that are used to diagnose the condition:

  • Persistent, daily, feelings of deep sadness or hopelessness
  • A decline or total loss of interest in normal activities
  • Changes in appetite and weight, either eating more or less than normal and gaining or losing weight
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Behavior changes, either more agitated or restless than normal or slowed down in movements
  • Deep fatigue
  • Guilt, shame and feeling worthless
  • Inability to think, to focus or make decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression may also cause other symptoms, such as irritation, anger and outbursts. It can trigger physical pains and aches that seem to have no explainable cause. Someone with depression may also engage in self-harm, including cutting.

Other Types of Depression

Some people struggle with specific types of depression. These conditions are seasonal or take place at a certain time in a person’s life, such as after childbirth or in the wake of a tragic event. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), for instance, is a depression that occurs in the fall and winter and is associated with fewer daylight hours.

Women may struggle with gender-specific depressions, like premenstrual dysphoric disorder. This occurs before menstruation and includes symptoms like sadness and hopelessness, mood swings, tension, anxiety, irritability and physical pains. Perinatal and postpartum depressions occur during and after pregnancy, respectively. The symptoms are similar to depression but can be severe and may also include a failure to bond with the baby or feelings of failure as a mother.

Some people struggling with depression may have a severe form of the condition called psychotic depression. This is characterized by all the typical signs of depression but also includes symptoms of psychosis: hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. These symptoms are often related to guilt and shame.

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Symptoms of Dysthymia

Dysthymia is also called persistent depressive disorder and is a mood disorder that is similar to major depression. It lasts much longer—at least two years—but causes symptoms that are milder. For this reason, it can be difficult to tell that someone is struggling with depression symptoms, and the condition is sometimes called high-functioning depression. The possible symptoms are the same as major depression but may also include low self-esteem, social avoidance and irritability.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that is characterized by cycling between two different moods: depression and mania. All the symptoms of bipolar depression are the same as those seen in major depression. Mania can be considered the opposite of depression: an elevated mood with a feeling of euphoria instead of sadness and hopelessness. The symptoms of mania include:

  • An unusually upbeat mood, feeling wired
  • Euphoria and an exaggerated sense of self-confidence and ability
  • Sleeping less
  • Increased energy, activity level and agitation
  • Racing thoughts
  • Talking a lot and talking fast
  • Making bad decisions and engaging in risky behaviors
  • Being easily distracted

Manic periods usually last about a week and may or may not be followed immediately by a period of depression. Mania can be severe and can lead to serious complications, including physical harm or injury or hospitalization. When mania symptoms are less severe, the episode is called hypomania.

There are a few different types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I is characterized by a cycle of depression and mania in which the mania is severe, sometimes requiring hospitalization. Bipolar II includes the same cycle but with hypomania. Cyclothymia causes periods of depression and hypomania but not severely enough to warrant a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Mood Disorders Caused by Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and mood disorders often go hand in hand. More than 20 percent of people abusing any drug will also experience a mental health issue.3 It is not always obvious which comes first—whether the substance abuse triggers depression or the person with a mood disorder is more likely to abuse drugs as a form of self-medication.

It is known, however, that depression and other mood disorders can be triggered by substance abuse. Any illicit drug, but also alcohol or prescription drugs, can cause depression or trigger the onset of a depressive episode either during the abuse or after, as a person is going through withdrawal. The symptoms of substance-induced mood disorders are the same as the conditions that are not triggered by a substance.

  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Any Mood Disorder Among Adults. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mood-disorder-among-adults.shtml
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Major Depression Among Adults. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Illnesses. https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rrcomorbidity.pdf
  4. Pearson Clinical. Major Depressive Disorder. https://images.pearsonclinical.com/images/assets/basc-3/basc3resources/DSM5_DiagnosticCriteria_MajorDepressiveDisorder.pdf
  5. Mayo Clinic. Persistent Depressive Disorder. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/persistent-depressive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20350929
  6. National Institute of Mental Health. Depression. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml
  7. National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml
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