Depression and Mood

Mood disorders is the general term for a group of mental illnesses characterized by a disturbance of mood. Included in this category are the following conditions:

Mood disorders affect nearly 10 percent of the U.S. adult population each year, with the average age at onset in the mid 20s. Symptoms of mood disorders also can affect children and adolescents, in whom diagnosis is more difficult. At any age, these emotional conditions place individuals at risk for other psychiatric problems that may continue long after the initial episodes of depression are resolved.
Increased Risk of Suicide
Suicide is a serious issue in individuals with depression. Any indications, plans or efforts that suggest an individual is contemplating suicide require intervention. Behaviors that may be alarming include:
  • Saying "I want to kill myself," or "I'm going to commit suicide" 
  • Giving verbal hints such as "I won't be a problem much longer," or "If anything happens to me, I want you to know...." 
  • Giving away favorite possessions or disposing of important belongings 
  • Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression 
  • Expressing odd or bizarre thoughts 
  • Writing a suicide note 

Threats of suicide communicate desperation and a cry for help. Always take statements of suicidal feelings, thoughts, behaviors or plans very seriously. If possible, do not leave the person alone. Contact a mental health professional and/or call 911 immediately.

Causes of depression and mood disorders
The causes of depression and mood disorders are not well known. Possible causes include a chemical imbalance in the brain, life events that contribute to a depressed mood (such as divorce, financial difficulty or job loss), stress, genetic predisposition and environmental factors.
Symptoms of depression and mood disorder
In the person with a mood disorder, negative feelings are more intense than those that a person may normally feel from time to time. Feelings that continue over a period of time, or interfere with an individual's interest in family, friends, community or work, are cause for concern. Any person who expresses thoughts of suicide should be evaluated immediately.
Depending on age and the type of mood disorder present, a person may exhibit different symptoms of depression as well as other changes in mood. Common symptoms include the following: 
  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Excessive guilt
  • Loss of interest in usual activities or activities once enjoyed
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Sleep disturbances, either sleeping too little (insomnia) or too much (hypersomnia)
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decrease in the ability to make decisions
  • Feelings of wanting to die
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Frequent physical complaints (headache, stomach ache, fatigue)
  • Hypersensitivity to failure or rejection
  • Irritability, hostility, aggression
  • Running away or threats of running away from home (in children)

The symptoms of mood disorders may resemble other conditions or psychiatric problems.
Diagnosing depression and mood disorder
Mood disorders are a real medical disorder. Your physician will perform a thorough physical exam and obtain a medical and social history. A psychiatrist or other mental health professional usually diagnoses mood disorders following a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. Early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of symptoms, enhance the individual's normal growth and development and improve the quality of life.
Several common types of mood disorders can be differentiated during the diagnostic evaluation, which is important because treatment may differ.
  • Major depression is diagnosed after a period of a depressed or irritable mood or a noticeable decrease in interest or pleasure in usual activities along with other signs of a mood disorder.
  • Dysthymia (dysthymic disorder) is a chronic, low-grade, depressed or irritable mood for at least one year.
  • Manic depression (bipolar disorder) is characterized by at least one episode of a depressed or irritable mood and at least one period of a manic (persistently elevated) mood.
  • Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression caused by changes in light and weather during winter.
  • Mood disorder with symptoms of depression may occur as the result of a medical illness including cancer, serious injury, infection and chronic medical illnesses.
  • Substance-induced mood disorder is characterized by symptoms of depression that are attributable to the effects of medication, drug abuse, exposure to toxins or other forms of treatment.

Treating depression and mood disorder
Specific treatment for your mood disorder will be determined by your individual circumstances but take into account:
  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • The severity and extent of your disease
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Your expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

Mood disorders can often be treated effectively. Treatment may include one or more of the following:
  • Antidepressant medication (especially when combined with psychotherapy) has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of depression).
  • Psychotherapy (most often cognitive-behavioral and/or interpersonal therapy that is focused on changing the individual's distorted views of themselves and the environment around them, working through difficult relationships and identifying stressors in the environment and how to avoid them) plays a key role alone or combined with medication.
  • Family therapy is important, because families play a vital supportive role in any individual’s treatment process.

For more information on depression and mood disorders, consult the following resources:


Our physicians at Houston Methodist specialize in managing depression and mood disorders at the following convenient locations: