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The Various Types of Mood Disorders

By Olivia Guy-Evans, published March 08, 2022

by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Moods are long-term emotional states, compared to emotions alone which can be fleeting and short-term. Whilst it is normal to experience periods of different moods, mood disorders are characterised by emotional extremes and difficulties in regulating mood.

Although moods can be temporary, when these moods persist to extremities and cause significant dysfunction, these can cause long-term disturbances. 

Mood disorders are a broad umbrella term used to include all different types of depressive and bipolar disorders. Conditions which affect mood can range from feeling extremely low to extremely high.

Mood disorders are found to affect about 20% of the general population at any given time. Specifically, in the US for instance, 17% of the population is thought to suffer from depression over the course of their lifetime, with bipolar disorders affecting 1% of the general population.

Whilst the rate for bipolar disorders is significantly lower, many researchers agree that many instances of manic moods (describing the emotional ‘highs’ of bipolar disorder) often go unnoticed or are deemed unproblematic, meaning that many people may go undiagnosed. 

Types of mood disorders

Major depressive disorder

Major depressive disorder is characterised by prolonged and persistent periods of extreme sadness.

Whilst it is normal to experience sadness or grief in times of traumatic life events, if this depression continues even when the events are over or if there is no apparent cause to the sadness, this may classify as clinical or major depression.

This is a very common mental disorder which is accompanied by a variety of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms. 

Bipolar I disorder

This disorder was formerly known as ‘manic depression’, characterised by extreme emotional highs and extreme emotional lows.

The extreme highs are called mania and involve euphoric and/or irritable moods and increased energy or activity. The extreme lows are symptomatic of depression symptoms.

Bipolar I disorder is thought to be the most severe form of bipolar disorder as the manic episodes can cause disruption to everyday life.

Bipolar II disorder

This disorder causes cycles of depression which is similar to those who have bipolar I disorder.

Individuals with bipolar II disorder also experience hypomania, which is a less severe form of mania.

Hypomanic periods are not as intense or as disruptive as manic episodes and people are usually able to handle daily tasks despite these episodes. 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

SAD is a type of depression which only occurs during certain seasons. Typically, depressed symptoms start in late autumn or early winter for many people, less commonly starting in spring or summer for others.

The symptoms of SAD resemble those of major depression although SAD differs as the individual will usually start to feel better once the season is over. 

Cyclothymic disorder

This is a disorder which is sometimes defined as a milder form of bipolar disorder. It causes emotional highs and lows which are believed to be less extreme than those experiencing bipolar I or II disorder.

Individuals with cyclothymic disorder experience continuous irregular mood swings for extended periods of time. The changes in mood can occur suddenly, at any time, with only short periods of baseline mood. 

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

This is a newer type of depressive disorder which was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

This is usually diagnosed in children who exhibit persistent irritability and anger with frequent episodes of extreme temper outbursts without any observable cause.

This is often diagnosed when the symptoms are inconsistent with the child’s developmental age. 

Persistent depressive disorder

This disorder was previously known as dysthymic disorder, a less severe form of major depression.

This type of depressive disorder is long-term, occurring for at least 2 years for individuals and the symptoms of depression occasionally lessen during this time. 

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

This is characterised by mood changes and irritability which occurs during the premenstrual stage of a female’s cycle.

They will often experience extreme mood swings, hopelessness, anger, anxiety, or tension. Once the individual begins their menstruation, the symptoms usually cease. 

Symptoms

Below are some of the common symptoms that may be experienced by someone who is experiencing a mood disorder:

  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed

  • An increase or decrease in appetite

  • Difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more than usual

  • Feeling fatigued

  • Being easily upset or crying a lot

  • Feeling isolated

  • Feeling hopeless and worthless

  • Feeling guilty

  • Feeling irritable

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches

  • Low self-esteem

  • Withdrawing from social events, friends, or family

  • Suicidal ideation

  • Difficulty in keeping up with daily tasks and demands of life

Below are some of the common symptoms of manic or hypomanic episodes:

  • Feeling extremely energised or elated

  • Rapid speech

  • Rapid movement

  • Agitation, restlessness, or irritability 

  • Risk-taking behaviours

  • Trying to take on many activities at once

  • Racing thoughts

  • Feeling on edge

  • Grandiosity

Often with depressed feelings, this is usually preceded by a number of unhelpful self-statements and thoughts. Usually there is a pattern to these thoughts, and these are called unhelpful thinking styles.

People tend to use these thinking styles as an automatic habit that they may not be aware of.

If someone consistently uses some of the styles of thinking, they can often cause themselves a great deal of emotional distress. 

  • Mental filter – this includes focusing on only one part of a situation, usually the negative part, ignoring the rest which may be more positive. 

  • Catastrophizing – people may blow something that happens out of proportion. Situations are viewed as more terrible and disastrous than they actually are. 

  • Black and white thinking – seeing only one extreme or the other. Someone with this thinking style may only view things as right or wrong, good or bad, with no grey areas in-between. 

  • Overgeneralization – a person may take one instance in the past or present and impose it on all current or future situations. For instance, they may say ‘I never…’ or ‘Everyone…’. 

  • Jumping to conclusions – people who jump to conclusions tend to assume they known what someone else is thinking (mind reading) and they tend to make predictions about what is going to happen in the future (predictive thinking).

  • Personalisation -with this thinking style, individuals tend to blame themselves for everything that goes wrong or could go wrong. They may take 100% responsibility for the occurrence of external events which they realistically would not have control over. 

  • Shoulding and musting – although not always unhelpful depending on the situation, saying ‘I should…’ or ‘I must…’ sentences can put unreasonable pressure on the individual. 

  • Labelling – this is where the individual makes global statements about themselves, and others based on their behaviour in specific situations. They may use this label even though there are many more examples that aren’t consistent with that label.

  • Emotional reasoning – this is where people base their view of situations or themselves on the way they are feeling. For example, the only evidence that something bad is going to happen if they feel like something bad will happen. 

  • Magnification and minimisation – individuals may often magnify the positive attributes of others and minimise their own positive attributes. They may explain away their own positive characteristics or success as though they are not important.

Causes and risk factors

Whilst there is not a known direct cause for someone to develop a mood disorder, there are some possible contributing factors which may play a part.

Often, the cause of mood disorders is thought to be a combination of biological, genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. 

Mood disorders have been found to run in families and so may have a genetic component. If someone has a close family member such as a parent with a mood disorder, this can make it more likely that they will also develop a mood disorder.

However, this could in part be an environmental factor because if someone grows up in a household with someone that has a mood disorder, it may make it more likely that these traits are picked up. 

Likewise, environmental factors such as significant life stress could contribute to someone developing a mood disorder, specifically a depressive disorder.

Whilst a stressful life event is not likely to give someone a bipolar disorder, it could trigger a manic or depressive episode in someone with a pre-existing condition.

Also, if an individual has a history of a previous diagnosis of a mood disorder, it is likely that they are at risk of developing another mood disorder. 

Brain chemistry could also play a significant role in someone developing mood disorders. The neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which usually increases arousal and focus appears to be a key chemical.

Norepinephrine is thought to be severely lacking in depressed individuals but significantly high during manic episodes. Also, serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness is believed to be significantly low in those with depression.

Medications which affect norepinephrine and serotonin levels in the brain are known to have a positive effect on improving the symptoms of mood disorders, providing evidence that brain chemistry plays a big role in theses disorders. 

Another possible factor involved in the development of mood disorder is differences in brain structure in those with mood disorders. There is considerable evidence that the amygdala and medial prefrontal cortical areas are involved in response to emotions and mood disorders (Price & Drevets, 2010).

Closely related to these areas is a network of areas in the central orbital cortex which has connections with several sensory-related cortical areas and appears to be critical for assessing objecting and anticipating reward.

Depressed individuals show abnormalities in this network during functional MRI studies involving reward and emotional processing tasks (Murray et al., 2010). 

Also, amygdala volume appears abnormally smaller in individuals with bipolar disorder who are not taking medication, but larger in those with bipolar disorder who are receiving mood stabilising treatments.

Moreover, depressed individuals tend to show exaggerated response of the amygdala when presented with sad words, sad faces, and fearful faces, but a blunted response to happy faces (Victor et al., 2010). This suggests the amygdala may play a big role in mood disorders.

Other possible risk factors can include substance abuse and some medications in increasing the likelihood of developing a mood disorder.

Depression is often more diagnosed in women than men, which may imply it is more common in women. However, many believe it may be more diagnosed in women because they tend to seek help more than men. 

In a 2020 study, it was found that depression was becoming increasingly common among U.S. adolescents between 2011 and 2018. It was suggested that an increased in social media and technology use could be a risk factor to explain this significant rise in depression.

It was found that heavy users of technology were twice as likely to be depressed or have low well-being compared to light users of technology.

Although technology Is not the cause of most depression, an increased time spent on technology may be a contributing factor to the sudden increase in depression (Twenge, 2020). 

The vicious cycle of depression

For those with depressive disorders, the symptoms can change a person’s life, daily routines, and their behaviours. Often, it is these changes that make the depression worse and prevents the individual from getting better. 

The vicious cycle of depression

For instance, having a lack of motivation or energy as a result of depression can result in the person disengaging in their usual activities, neglect their daily tasks and leave decision-making to others.

They may find that if they engage less in their usually activities, they may be seeing their friends and family less often. Because of a reduction in activities and not seeing loved ones, they may be locked in a vicious cycle of depression. 

Decreased activity and neglecting responsibilities and daily tasks can induce feelings of guilt, hopelessness and ineffectiveness which ultimately can lead to stronger depressed feelings, which will then mean lower energy, lower engagement in activities, and so on.

Therefore, depression will only get worse if people are stuck in this cycle.

When to seek help

It is important to seek help for a possible mood disorder because it is unlikely to go away on its own. The disorder is likely to get worse over time so seeking help before the disorder becomes more severe can make it easier to treat. 

Often, people with bipolar disorder are more likely to seek help when they are experiencing a depressed episode than when they are experiencing mania or hypomania.

Many people may find that they enjoy the extreme elated moods that come with bipolar disorder and thus may be less likely to seek help for this, or even recognise that their feelings are a part of a disorder.

If someone suspects that they may have bipolar disorder, it may be useful to keep a mood diary so they can keep track of how they are feeling and see if they notice any unusual patterns in their mood, emotions, and behaviour. 

If any of the symptoms being experienced seem out of proportion or they have been interfering with life, particularly if having suicidal thought, help should be sought as soon as possible.

It is important to talk to a health professional if an individual is feeling like their emotions are interfering with their work, relationships, social activities, or any other areas of their life.

It is also important to seek help if the individual is having trouble with alcohol or drugs, as it is common for many people to rely on substances to cope with their symptoms. 

Diagnosis

When going for a diagnosis of a mood disorder, doctors will usually perform physical examinations and lab tests to rule out any physical reasons for the symptoms being experienced.

Doctors will often ask about the medical history of the individual and any medications they may be taking, and whether any family members have been diagnosed with a mood disorder in the past.

A mental health professional such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist will usually conduct an interview, asking questions about the person’s symptoms, sleeping, eating habits, and other behaviours.

They will usually use the diagnostic criteria laid out in the DSM-5 to see if the individual meets the characteristics of one of the mood disorders. 

The DSM-4 section on mood disorders was replaced in the DSM-5 with separate sections for bipolar disorders and depressive disorders. Three new depressive disorders were included in the DSM-5: disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

The number of bipolar disorders remains unchanged in the DSM-5 – they consist of bipolar I, II, and cyclothymic disorders.

There are specific criteria for each depressive and bipolar disorder. Below will establish the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

Diagnostic criteria for depression

For a diagnosis of depression, the individual must be experiencing five or more of the following symptoms during the same two-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure. 

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.

  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, every day.

  3. Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain, or a decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day. 

  4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down). 

  5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.

  6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.

  7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.

  8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide. 

To receive a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms must cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupation, or other important areas of functioning.

The symptoms must also not be the result of substance abuse, or another medical condition.

Diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder

To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must have experienced at least one episode of mania or hypomania.

To be considered mania, the elevated, expansive, or irritable mood must have lasted for at least one week and be present for most of the day, nearly every day.

To be considered hypomania, the mood must last at least four consecutive days and be present most of the day, almost every day. 

During these periods, three or more of the following symptoms must be present and represent a significant change from usual behaviour:

  1. Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity

  2. Decreased need for sleep

  3. Increased talkativeness

  4. Racing thoughts

  5. Distracted easily

  6. Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation

  7. Engaging in activities that hold the potential for painful consequences, e.g., unrestrained spending sprees and gambling. 

The depressive episode of bipolar disorder is characterised by a major depressive episode resulting in depressed mood or loss of intertest or pleasure.

The DSM-5 states that a person must experience five or more of the symptoms of depressive disorder in two weeks to be diagnosed with major depressive episodes.

Treatment 

Medications 

Most medications for mood disorders work on raising serotonin or norepinephrine levels. For depressive disorders, antidepressants are commonly prescribed to increase these neurotransmitter levels.

Often, antidepressants can help change energy levels, improve sleep, and have proved to be effective in improving mood. Although different types of antidepressants are found to work equally well, some may be more effective depending on the individual.

If prescribed antidepressants, it is important to take them as prescribed and continue taking them even when starting to feel better. People usually report a significant improvement after taking the medication for 4-6 weeks. 

Those who experience mania in bipolar disorder are often prescribed lithium, a type of mood stabiliser, in the first instance. Mood stabilisers are medications used to help regulate the mood swings that occur with bipolar disorder, through reducing abnormal brain activity.

They usually help to protect someone from the extreme highs of a manic episode and the severe lows of a depressive episode. Antipsychotics, previously known as tranquilisers, are generally known to treat psychosis but can also be used to treat bipolar disorder and depression.

They can be especially useful for people with bipolar disorder who experience mania or mixed episodes. They can also sometimes be used to treat depression if symptoms are not controlled with an antidepressant alone. 

Psychotherapy

Whilst medications on their own can help alleviate some of the symptoms of mood disorders, health providers often recommend a combination of medication and psychotherapy for more effective treatment.

A popular type of psychotherapy which has proved effective for many is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT involves working with a therapist to identify negative thoughts and behaviours, then working to challenge these thoughts and behaviours into more helpful, healthy ones.

This can involve challenging some of the unhelpful thinking patterns and recognising when these patterns come up in everyday situations. This therapy has shown to be especially effective for those with depression. 

Brain stimulation therapies

A brain stimulation therapy called electroconvulsive therapy has been used to treat severe depression or bipolar disorder in cases when medication or psychotherapy have been unsuccessful.

During this treatment, an electric current is passed through the brain via electrodes attached to the scalp or forehead. The treatment is usually given over 2 or 3 sessions per week, with generally 6 to 12 sessions required for most effectiveness. 

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is another type of treatment which uses non-invasive magnetic coils to apply short electromagnetic pulses to specific nerve cells in the brain.

The procedure is used to treat major depression for those who do not respond to at least one antidepressant drug and has proven to be useful in improving symptoms. 

Light therapy

For seasonal affective disorder, light therapy is common and has proved to be useful for reducing some of the depressive feelings being experienced.

Light therapy involves using a light, such as a light box, which supplements natural sunlight with a bright artificial light. It is usually recommended to use the light in the mornings for about 20-60 minutes consistently, for most effectiveness. 

Lifestyle 

Aside from medications and therapeutic treatments for mood disorders, there are some lifestyle changes individuals can make to help reduce their symptoms or as a preventative for mood disorders to begin. Some of these lifestyle changes include:

  • Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and ensuring getting enough sleep.

  • Where possible, reducing stress at home or work.

  • Keeping a mood diary to note when one is heading towards a manic or depressive episode.

  • Avoiding alcohol and illicit drugs.

  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet.

  • Engaging in regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise. 

  • Engaging in yoga, mindfulness, meditation, or other relaxation methods. 

  • Maintaining a support network with trusted friends, family, or support groups.

Do you need mental health help?

USA

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

1-800-273-8255

UK

Contact the Samaritans for support and assistance from a trained counselor: https://www.samaritans.org/; email [email protected].

Availiale 24 hours day, 365 days a year (this number is FREE to call):

116-123

Rethink Mental Illness: rethink.org

0300 5000 927

Fact Checking
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About the Author

Olivia Guy-Evans obtained her undergraduate degree in Educational Psychology at Edge Hill University in 2015. She then received her master’s degree in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol in 2019. Olivia has been working as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities in Bristol for the last four years.

How to reference this article:

Guy-Evans, O. (2022, March 08). The Various Types of Mood Disorders. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/mood-disorder.html

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