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Overview of Mood Disorders


William Coryell

, MD, Carver College of Medicine at University of Iowa

Last full review/revision Mar 2020| Content last modified Mar 2020
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Mood disorders are emotional disturbances consisting of prolonged periods of excessive sadness, excessive joyousness, or both. Mood disorders can occur in children and adolescents (see Depressive Disorders in Children and Adolescents and Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adolescents).

Mood disorders are categorized as

Anxiety and related disorders, although not classified as mood disorders, also affect mood.

Sadness and joy (elation) are part of everyday life. Sadness is a universal response to defeat, disappointment, and other discouraging situations. Joy is a universal response to success, achievement, and other encouraging situations. Grief, a form of sadness, is considered a normal emotional response to a loss. Bereavement refers specifically to the emotional response to death of a loved one.

A mood disorder is diagnosed when sadness or elation is overly intense and persistent, is accompanied by a requisite number of other mood disorder symptoms, and significantly impairs the person's capacity to function. In such cases, intense sadness is termed depression, and intense elation is termed mania. Depressive disorders are characterized by depression; bipolar disorders are characterized by varying combinations of depression and mania.

Suicide in mood disorders

Lifetime risk of suicide for people with a depressive disorder is 2 to 15%, depending on severity of the disorder. Risk is further increased in the following cases:

  • At the start of treatment, when psychomotor activity is returning to normal but mood is still dark

  • During mixed bipolar states

  • At personally significant anniversaries

  • By severe anxiety

  • In the weeks to months after a suicide attempt, particularly one using a violent method

Other complications of mood disorders

Other complications of mood disorders include

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