Mood Disorders

Millions of Americans suffer from some form of mental illness, making it one of the most common health conditions in the United States.

Mental illnesses can come on quickly or be chronic and long-lasting. They can affect people in different ways, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

One common type of mental health condition is a mood disorder. Although it is common for people’s moods to fluctuate, mood disorders can affect your ability to function in daily activities and sustain meaningful relationships. Mood disorders often run in families as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 10 American adults suffers from a mood disorder.

Although it can be difficult to live with a mood disorder, it can be managed with treatment.

Common Mood Disorders

There are many different types of mood disorders, with depression and bipolar disorder the most common.

  • Depression: While many people experience appropriate levels of sadness or grief in their lives, depression is a more severe version. People suffering from depression experience long-lasting low mood — for a period of two weeks or longer. While depression can have a trigger, often there is not. People suffering from depression often feel an overwhelming sense of guilt or feel that they are a burden on others, and they often no longer find enjoyment or pleasure in things that they used to. Depression can also affect your sleep, your appetite, and your ability to perform everyday tasks.
  • Bipolar disorder: Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder can cause extreme mood swings that last days or even weeks, from high energy (euphoria or irritability) to low (depression). Hallmarks of a manic episode are the need for little or no sleep, increased amount of energy, talking fast, feeling like you are “on top of the world”, taking on multiple tasks that would normally seem impossible, and engaging in risky behaviors that you would otherwise avoid (e.g. increased spending, substance use, unprotected sex).
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): People who have seasonal affective disorder feel symptoms of depression during certain times of the year that resolve when the seasons change. For instance, some people may experience depression during the fall and winter months that dissipates in the spring and summer.
  • Cyclothymia: A form of bipolar disorder characterized by mood swings that still last days or weeks but are less severe in intensity.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: A condition in which the symptoms of depression are less severe, but last longer.

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Complications of Mood Disorders

Mood disorders affect people differently. Some people experience mild symptoms, while others can have symptoms so severe that they affect their everyday lives.

If left untreated, mood disorders can lead to both physical and psychological problems. Some of those complications include:

  • Substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, smoking, etc.)
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Non-suicidal self-harm (cutting, head-banging)
  • Other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or psychosis
  • Physical conditions (pain)
  • Health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or digestive disorders

If you are diagnosed with a mood disorder, it’s important for you to seek treatment for your symptoms.

How Are Mood Disorders Treated?

Treatment for mood disorders typically consists of medication, therapy, or a combination of the two.

Medication for mood disorders

Medications are a common treatment for a variety of different mood disorders. The type doctors prescribe will depend on your specific condition, your symptoms, and the severity.

  • Antidepressants: These are most commonly used with depression, although they can be used with many other mood disorders. There are several different types of antidepressants, with the most common being selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). People respond differently to antidepressants, and it is important to work with your doctor to find the right one. It’s important to take antidepressants at the same time every day for maximum benefit. Also, while you may feel benefits early in treatment, they can take several (4-6) weeks for full effect.
  • Mood stabilizers: Primarily used to treat bipolar disorder, mood stabilizers can be prescribed for other mood disorders, too. Mood stabilizers can cut down on unusual activity in the brain, helping to control mood swings. These medications are taken every day, although their effects can be more apparent more quickly.
  • Antipsychotics: A symptom of some mood disorders is psychosis, which can cause hallucinations, delusions, and agitated behavior. Antipsychotics can help manage the symptoms of psychosis and typically are used in combination with other medications. These medications are also taken every day, although their effects can be more apparent more quickly.

Therapy for mood disorders

Psychotherapy is often used in combination with medication to help treat mood disorders.

Also known as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy most often involves meeting with a licensed mental health professional to talk about your problems. It can be done individually or in a group. Psychotherapy is focused on developing coping skills for managing stress, providing insight into how childhood, upbringing, or traumatic events have impacted mood and behavior, along with establishing a trusted, objective relationship to process one’s feelings.

The most common talk therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing thoughts and behavior patterns to help manage symptoms.

Because you’ll be discussing personal issues, it’s important to find someone you trust and someone who helps relieve your symptoms through therapy.

Help for Mood Disorders at UPMC

At UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, we provide diagnosis and treatment for many mental health conditions, including mood disorders.

Our Mood Disorders Treatment and Research program specializes in depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders. We provide cutting-edge medications and therapies to treat your condition. For more information, call 1-888-427-1532.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Learn About Mental Health.

Harvard Health Publishing, Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia).

Mental Health America, Mood Disorders.

Merck Manuals, Overview of Mood Disorders.

National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health Medications.

National Institute of Mental Health, Psychotherapies.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Self-Harm.

U.S. National Library of Medicine, Cyclothymic Disorder.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.