Navigating one emotional state or experiencing significant changes in mood for an extended period of time may not always be a matter of choice — it could signal a mood disorder.

Life’s ups and downs can impact your mood and make it fluctuate from time to time.

When you experience a challenge, you may feel down. If you get good news, your mood could take a positive turn.

Emotional responses to the world around you are natural and valid. But some of them might cause you great distress.

When those emotional states persistently affect the way you function in the world, it may be a sign of a mood disorder.

The phrase “mood disorder” is used to describe mental health conditions that impact your emotional state.

Also known as affective disorders, they impact approximately 21.4% of adults in the United States at some point during their lives.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), a reference handbook by the American Psychiatric Association, mood disorders fall under one of two categories:

  • bipolar disorders
  • depressive disorders

There are a few diagnoses that fall under the umbrella of mood disorders. Each has its own diagnostic criteria and range of severity.

Bipolar disorders include:

Bipolar I disorder

Bipolar I disorder consists of at least one mood episode of mania, a heightened state of energy, and feelings of elation.

Everyone experiences mania differently, but typically, it leads to impulsivity and irrational behaviors.

If you’re living with bipolar I disorder, you may experience episodes of depression, as well.

Like manic episodes, depression episodes may feel intense.

Bipolar II disorder

Bipolar II disorder is considered to be a milder form of bipolar I disorder.

To get this diagnosis, you must experience at least one episode of depression and at least one episode of hypomania — a state of elevated mood that isn’t as intense as mania.

Cyclothymic disorder

If you experience symptoms of elevated or depressed mood that don’t last as long as episodes of bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder, you may be diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder.

This disorder consists of not-as-intense shifts in mood that occur more rapidly than those in other bipolar disorders.

On the other hand, mood disorders that are classified as depressive disorders include:

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

Considered to be a childhood mood disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder often presents with episodes of intense anger and outbursts.

Children living with this condition can act irritable and angry almost daily, to the point where daily functioning may be impaired.

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)

Feelings of emptiness and despair may occur with persistent depressive disorder, just as they do in major depressive disorder (MDD).

However, unlike MDD, this condition doesn’t present with marked depressive cycles. You may feel down and irritable, among other symptoms, but your functioning won’t be as impaired.

That’s why some people refer to this as high-functioning depression.

Living with persistent depressive disorder typically means you’ve experienced symptoms of depression for a period of at least 2 years.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is often described as a more intense form of premenstrual syndrome, better known as PMS.

With premenstrual dysphoric disorder, symptoms are often more severe and can include anxiety, depression, and irritability during the weeks prior to menstruation.

Major depressive disorder (MDD)

Also referred to as clinical depression, major depressive disorder involves feelings of loss, sadness, emptiness, and despair that can impair your daily life.

Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mood disorders, affecting an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States annually.

Other mood disorders

  • Mood disorder due to medication, drugs, or medical conditions. Sometimes substances and underlying medical conditions can create symptoms similar to bipolar disorder.
  • Mood disorder with a specifier. The DSM-5 includes conditions, known as specifiers, which indicate a specific condition the mood disorder presents with. “With seasonal pattern,” for example, is a specifier that may commonly be applied to depressive episodes in what’s known as seasonal affective disorder.
  • “Other” or “unspecified.” When mood episodes impact daily functioning but can’t fit under any other diagnosis, they may be listed as “other” or “unspecified” mood disorder.

While each mood disorder diagnosis has its own set of symptoms and criteria, some universal symptoms include:

  • poor self-image or low self-esteem
  • loss of interest in hobbies or entertainment
  • appetite changes
  • weight gain or loss
  • fatigue
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • anxiety
  • apathy or a sense of emptiness
  • feelings of hopelessness or despair
  • mood changes
  • indecisiveness or lack of concentration
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • suicidal or self-harm ideation
  • physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, or stomach pain

If you’re concerned about symptoms of mood disorders, your primary care doctor can be a good place to start for learning more.

An overall medical evaluation can help rule out other conditions that could explain your symptoms.

You may be referred to a licensed mental healthcare professional if you present specific symptoms that cannot be explained physiologically.

Common treatment plans for mood disorders may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): assessing and replacing current habits and behaviors to help improve mood
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and radically open DBT: creating a framework for coping with distress and developing emotional management
  • Mindfulness practice: learning to focus on what’s happening in the moment without assigning judgment
  • Medication: taking mood regulatory drugs such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications
  • Family therapy: learning how to manage mood disorders as a supportive family unit
  • Psychoeducation: educating those around you to encourage support and understanding
  • Support networks: discussing your experiences with others to create mental health community connection
  • Brain stimulation therapy: passing electricity through the brain, often used for treatment-resistant mood disorders
  • Healthy lifestyle: practicing healthy diet and fitness habits to promote natural well-being

Persistent mood episodes that impact how you function in the world can sometimes indicate a mood disorder.

Mood disorders include depressive and bipolar disorders.

Feeling emotional or responding to an emotionally charged situation doesn’t mean you have a mood disorder.

If mood episodes are interfering with your daily life, however, it may be time to speak with your healthcare team.

Support is available if you or someone you know experiences distressing mood changes.

These resources may be a good first step: