Types of mood disorders

Last published 12 December 2021

Mood disorders

Are you feeling unusually high or low, for no apparent reason? If your emotional state is impacting daily life, you may have a mood disorder.

This page explains what a mood disorder is and explores common types of mood disorder. Read on to learn about mood disorders and recognise if you may have one. 

What is a mood disorder?

A mood disorder is a mental health condition that distorts your emotional state.

If you have a mood disorder you may feel sad, hopeless, or irritable. Or you may alternate between feeling low and feeling unusually happy or invincible.

How you feel may not fit with what is happening in your life. Your emotional state may feel out of character for you. And it may make daily activities much harder than usual.

If you think you may have a mood disorder, speak to your doctor. Mood disorders can be well-managed with the right treatment.

Common types of mood disorder 

Below we explore how to recognise the different types of mood disorder.

Depression and low mood 

Low mood is different from depression. Everyone has periods of low mood. This is when you feel sad, empty, or anxious for a few days or weeks. Low mood is temporary.

Resolving problems, talking to friends, making lifestyle changes, or allowing ourselves time to process normally shifts low mood.

If your low mood last for more than two weeks, you may be experiencing depression. Symptoms of depression include feeling: 

  • sad, low, or tearful
  • like you don’t enjoy things that normally bring you pleasure
  • hopeless or empty
  • guilty or like you’re a burden
  • like you have no energy
  • unable to concentrate
  • unmotivated or unproductive
  • more or less hungry than normal
  • unable to sleep or unable to get up in the morning

If you are experiencing depression you may also have some dark, intrusive, or suicidal thoughts. These may include thinking about hurting yourself or ending your life.

If you feel unsafe call 999 or go to A&E for help. Or call the Samaritans on freephone 116 123. You could also contact your GP for an emergency appointment.

There are a number of different sorts of depression. The doctor can help diagnose which type you are experiencing. This will help you access the right treatment.

Different types of depression include:

  • Major depressive disorder: This is what is often referred to as depression or clinical depression. Clinical depression just means depression diagnosed by a doctor.
  • Depressive episode: If the doctor diagnoses you with depression for the first time. they may describe it as a “depressive episode”.
  • Recurrent depressive disorder: The doctor may use this term if you experience a number of depressive episodes.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: Also called dysthymia, this is a long-term form of depression that may be less severe than major depressive disorder.
  • Melancholia disease or melancholic depression: Most UK doctors do not use this term anymore. It used to refer to a type of major depressive disorder.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a type of mood disorder where a person shifts between high and low emotional states. Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression

If you have bipolar disorder you may experience:

  • Low periods: Where you feel sad, tearful, hopeless, irritable, tired, or may want to hurt yourself.
  • High periods: Where you feel excessively happy, euphoric, invincible, restless, or may have racing thoughts.
  • Psychotic symptoms: Where you feel anxious, suspicious, withdrawn, or may believe things that aren’t true.

The low periods in bipolar disorder are called depressive episodes. The high periods are called manic episodes.

Some people with bipolar disorder experience a less severe type of manic episode called a hypomanic episode. This is where manic symptoms are mild.

There are two types of bipolar disorder: bipolar 1 and bipolar 2.

Bipolar 1 is where you have at least one manic episode between your depressive episodes. Bipolar 2 is where you have at least one hypomanic episode between your depressive episodes.

Not everyone who has bipolar disorder experiences psychotic symptoms. But some people may.

Do the mood patterns described remind you of your own experiences? Discuss this with your doctor.

If you receive a bipolar diagnosis, there are many treatments available to help you manage your symptoms.

If the mood patterns described resonate with you, but your symptoms are mild, you may have cyclothymia. Cyclothymia is a different from bipolar.

If you have the mild mood disorder, cyclothymia, you may cycle between high and low periods. But your shifts in mood are less severe. If this sounds familiar, speak to your doctor. 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder that is triggered by seasonal changes.

People with SAD often feel low in mood in winter. But not everyone with SAD does. For some people with SAD, the summer months negatively impact mood.

The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but it may relate to changes in light levels in different seasons.

If you feel low at specific times of year, you may have SAD. Discuss this with your doctor. There are a number of treatments available for SAD, including lifestyle changes and light therapy.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a mood disorder where your emotional state is severely impacted a week or two before your period.

If you have PMDD, also called severe PMS, you may have mood swings and experience symptoms of depression in the run up to your period. You may feel rejection more intensely than usual and find conflict harder to avoid or resolve.

If you have PMDD, you may also experience exaggerated physical PMS symptoms like bloating, headaches, or breast tenderness.

Many people experience PMS but PMDD is more severe. Having PMDD may negatively impact your personal relationships.

Discussing your symptoms with your doctor is the best way to find out if you may have PMDD.

Suicidal thoughts

Experiencing suicidal thoughts is a symptom of numerous mood disorders. Many people have suicidal thoughts at some point, and overcome them.

If you feel unsafe call 999 or go to A&E for help. Or call the Samaritans on freephone 116 123. You could also contact your GP for an emergency appointment.

If you have suicidal thoughts, you may think:

  • people in your life would be happier if you weren’t there
  • about harming yourself
  • that you may want to end your life
  • ways you could end your life

You may be having trouble sleeping, eating, or looking after yourself. You may experience emotional pain or despair that feels never ending.

Every person who has suicidal thoughts, experiences them in a slightly different way. Despite how you may feel today, you can feel better in the future, with support.

Good Thinking recommends NHS-approved apps to help boost your mood (many of which are free if you live or work in London), including:

Feeling Good (Free)

Visualisation is the link between Olympic coaching and recovery from low mood, the athlete visualises ideal performance, the depressed person finds hope and resources to see their recovery

Be Mindful (free)

A clinically proven online mindfulness course approved by the NHS, Be Mindful helps you to improve your mood through mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

Happify (free)

The Happify app uses simple exercises and games help you get motivated, feel more positive, build self-confidence and cope better with stress.

MyCognitionPRO (free)

By using this NHS-approved programme for 15 minutes a day, you can optimise your cognitive health, mental wellbeing and resilience to stress.

My Possible Self (free)

This clinically proven app can help you to understand and identify the causes of your low mood so you can learn coping mechanisms and manage future situations better.

tomo (free)

tomo is expertly designed to support you with many of life's obstacles. The app combines digital peer support with the best of social media and proven therapeutic techniques.

You can also use our free clinically-validated self-assessment tool to assess your mood anonymously – it only takes 20 minutes to complete and will provide you with a guiding diagnosis, helpful resources and, if necessary, relevant treatment options.

Good Thinking depression self-assessment

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