Health Library
Mood Disorders

What are Mood Disorders ?

Mood disorders is a term used to describe mental health problems in a person’s emotional state and includes both bipolar and depressive disorders. Some mood disorders are chronic and will need to be managed throughout life.

Types of Mood Disorders

Mood disorders include:

  • Major depression. A two-week period of a depressed or irritable mood or a noticeable decrease in interest or pleasure in usual activities along with other signs of a mood disorder.
  • Dysthymic disorder (dysthymia). A chronic, low-grade, depressed or irritable mood for at least one year.
  • Bipolar disorder. At least one episode of a depressed or irritable mood and at least one period of a manic (persistently elevated) mood.
  • Mood disorder due to a general medical condition. Many medical illnesses (including cancer, injuries, infections and chronic medical illnesses) can trigger symptoms of depression.
  • Substance-induced mood disorder. Symptoms of depression that are due to the effects of medication, drug abuse, exposure to toxins or other forms of treatment.

What Causes Mood Disorders?

Most likely, mood disorders are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Family history and genetics are involved, as adolescents who have a parent with a mood disorder have a greater than 50% chance of having a mood disorder themselves. A history of trauma or abuse can also be a factor in the development of a mood disorder.

Who Is Affected by Mood Disorders?

Mood disorders are more intense and difficult to manage than normal feelings of sadness, anxiety or excitement. When parents get divorced, a loved one dies, a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend happens, or grades are not what the adolescent wants them to be, coping with the pressure may be difficult. These life events and stress can bring on feelings of sadness, depression, mood disorders, or make the mood harder to manage.

What Are the Signs of Mood Disorders?

The following are the most common signs of mood disorders. Each adolescent may experience signs differently.

  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Decreased energy
  • Feeling sad
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Feeling inadequate or worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A decrease in the ability to make decisions
  • Feelings of wanting to die
  • Suicidal thought or attempts

In mood disorders, these feelings appear more intense than the natural fluctuations in an adolescent's mood. It is also of concern if these feelings continue over a period of time, or interfere with an adolescent's interest in being with friends or taking part in daily activities at home or school. Any adolescent who expresses thoughts of suicide should be evaluated immediately.

Other signs of possible mood disorders include:

  • Difficulty achieving in school
  • Constant anger
  • Rebellious acts
  • Trouble with family
  • Difficulty with friends and peers
  • Impulsive, potentially dangerous behavior

Signs of mood disorders may resemble other medical conditions or mental health disorders. Symptoms may differ in younger children and may be seen as irritable. Young children may change how they interact, withdraw or start to act out behaviorally. Some can have severe hyperactivity and impulsivity. Always consult your child's physician or mental health professional for a diagnosis.

How Are Mood Disorders Diagnosed?

A psychiatrist trained in child and adolescent psychiatry or another mental health professional may diagnose a mood disorder following a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. It is important to remember that a mood disorder is a real illness and getting medical help as soon as symptoms are observed is key to recovery and management of the disorder.

Treatment for Mood Disorders

Specific treatment will be recommended to you by your child's physician or qualified mental health professional based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health and medical history
  • The severity of your child's symptoms
  • The type of mood disorder
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the mood disorder

Mood disorders can be effectively treated. Treatment should always be based on a comprehensive evaluation of the adolescent and family. Treatment recommendations may include individual therapy for the adolescent, family therapy, and sometimes consultation with the adolescent's school. Some adolescents may also benefit from treatment with an antidepressant medication and/or mood stabilizers. Parents play an important supportive role in any treatment process.

Prevention of Mood Disorders

Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of mood disorders in adolescents are not known at this time. However, early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance the child's or adolescent's normal growth and development and improve quality of life.

Last Updated 10/2023

Reviewed By Sara Hughes, RN

Who Treats This

Who treats this?

Experts in psychiatry and psychology are here to help. For more information or to request an appointment, contact us.

Learn More About Psychiatry

Learn More About Psychology