A mood disorder is a mental health condition that has serious disruptions in mood. The changes are severe enough to cause problems in daily life with work, school, and personal relationships.

The most common mood disorders are depression and bipolar disorder. Others may include dysthymia or adjustment disorder.


The exact cause of mood disorders is not known but it is probably a combination of factors.

An imbalance of chemicals in the brain or structural changes can lead to mood disorders. These changes may be present at birth or a genetic defect that runs in families. Stressful life changes or illness may also be associated with the development of mental illness.

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Risk Factors

Mood disorders are more common in women but can occur in men as well.

Factors that may increase your risk of mood disorders include:

  • A family history of mood disorder
  • Previous episode of depression
  • Stressful life changes
  • Chronic illness
  • Certain drugs or medicines


Symptoms can vary but may include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • Feeling tired
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Trouble sleeping, waking up too early, or oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Thoughts of death or suicide with or without suicide attempts

There may also be physical symptoms that cannot be medically explained and do not respond well to treatments.


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. The doctor will ask questions about family and personal history of depression and current behaviors.

Specific mental health questionnaires may be done. This will help the doctor get detailed information about your speech, thoughts, memory, and mood.

The symptoms can be caused by a number of conditions or lifestyle changes. Your doctor may rule out other conditions before making a mood disorder diagnosis. It may take some time to make a diagnosis.


Treatment may involve the use of medicine and/or psychotherapy. Severe mood disorder may require hospital care, especially if someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others.


The medicine used to treat mood disorder depends on the specific mood disorder being treated. Medicines may include antidepressants or mood stabilizers and may be used in combinations. It may take some time to find the best combination and dosage for each individual.


There are various types of psychotherapy for mood disorders. Options include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or a combination of these. Therapy is designed to help cope with difficulties in relationships, change negative thinking and behavior patterns, and resolve difficult feelings.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can not cure mood disorders but can help overall health and wellness. Steps include:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Regular exercise program—to relieve some symptoms of mood disorder and overall stress level.
  • Limiting habits that can make symptoms worse such as alcohol or drug use.

Treatments for Severe Symptoms

Some symptoms may not respond to traditional treatment. If multiple attempts at medication therapy and psychotherapy do not work as expected the following may be options:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy—Use of an electric stimulus to the brain to help reset damaged processes. May be used for severe or life-threatening mood disorder.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)—Pacemaker-like device that stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck. It may help alter signals to the brain.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)—The application of low-frequency magnetic pulses to the brain. The change in electrical field stimulates nerves.


There are no current guidelines to prevent mood disorders.


Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Mental Health America


Canadian Mental Health Association

Canadian Psychiatric Association


About mood disorders. Depression and Bipolar Alliance website. Available at: Accessed October 3, 2017.

Mood disorders. Mental Health America website. Available at: Accessed October 3, 2017.

Overview of mood disorders. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at:,P00759. Accessed October 3, 2017.

Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 04/29/2020