What is a mood disorder?

Changes in mood that interfere with everyday life may indicate a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder. Mood disorders are treatable medical conditions. With appropriate diagnosis, treatment, and support, most people struggling with mood disorders will get better.

If you have concerns about mood or behavior changes in yourself or someone you know, it’s important that you gain an understanding of how to recognize mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, and how to get appropriate diagnosis and treatment for them.

Are you having a rough time or is it a mood disorder? Take the Depression and Bipolar Test.


Depression is medical condition that affects people of all genders, races, ages, and income levels. People who have clinical depression feel more than sadness or “the blues.” They can feel hopeless and suffer deep emotional pain for prolonged periods. Depression can cause dysfunction in every aspect of one’s life.

  • In a 12-month period, 15.7 million American adults (6.7%) had a major depressive episode
  • Women are 50% more likely to experience a mood disorder than men during their lifetime
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans will experience depression in their lifetime.

Major depression (also called unipolar depression) is the most commonly diagnosed depression. It tends to be episodic, but can persistently recur. For diagnosis, symptoms must persist for at least two weeks; however, if the symptoms are affecting the person’s ability to function or if self-injury or thoughts of suicide are involved, seek help immediately.

Many factors can cause depression, including biochemistry (problems with mood regulation by the brain), genetics, family history, substance abuse, and an illness or other difficult life events. Some people have mild depression, while in others depression is more severe.


Read Lyn's story about depression and motherhood

Lyn's Story

Read David Guterson's story about depression and treatment

David's story

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Listen to "Signs of Depressive Disorders" podcast (20 minutes)

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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (previously called manic depression) is a mood disorder in which a person experiences periods of depression, periods of elevated moods (whether elated or irritable) and increased energy, periods of no symptoms, and – for some – mixed states with symptoms of depression and symptoms of mania simultaneously. These mood cycles can last for as short as hours and as long as months. Bipolar disorder can be mild to severe. This mental health condition runs in families: more than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with a mood disorder. In all, approximately 5.7 million Americans (or 2.6% of the population) live with bipolar disorder, a condition that can be treated and managed.

Read Zack and Nancy's story of bipolar disorder

Their story

Read Renee's story of bipolar disorder and faith

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Watch our Webinar on Bipolar Disorder

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Dr. S. Nasssir Ghaemi's on bipolar disorder

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Dysthymia (sometimes referred to as persistent depression or dysthymic disorder) is a chronic, unremitting depression. A dysthymia diagnosis requires fewer depressive symptoms than major depression, but must be present for at least two years. Dysthymia affects approximately 1.5% of the adult U.S. population.

Read Dan's story of living with dysthymia

Dan's story

Read Gene and Patrice's story of living with dysthymia

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