What Is a Mood Disorder?

Question: What Is a Mood Disorder?

I've been reading about how Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. recently took a medical leave of absence due to a mood disorder. Just what is a mood disorder? Does this mean he has depression?


A mood disorder is exactly what it sounds like: a mental disorder that has mood disturbance as its primary component.

When we talk about mood, we are generally talking about a person's overall emotional state.

Is he in a good mood or a bad mood? Does he feel happy or sad? We all experience varying degrees of good or bad moods, but a person with a mood disorder may feel their moods to an extreme, which makes it difficult to function in their daily life.

Mood disorders, which are diagnosed according to criteria listed in a manual called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, may be lumped into two broad categories: depressive disorders and bipolar disorder.

Depressive Disorders

Depressive disorders are those involving bad feelings, such as depression, sadness, hopelessness, and wanting to die. These disorders fall into three main types: major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and depressive disorder not otherwise specified.

  • Major Depressive Disorder

    Major depressive disorder is diagnosed if a person has experienced at least one major depressive episode lasting at least two weeks during which the person experienced depression or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for most of the day, nearly every day.

    Major depressive disorder may fall into one of several subtypes, depending on whether a person meets certain criteria set by the DSM. These subtypes of depression include:

    • Atypical depression - Depression with "atypical" symptoms, such as temporarily feeling better when something positive occurs, increased appetite and sleep, heaviness of limbs and sensitivity to rejection.
    • Melancholic depression - What people often typically think of as depression, with symptoms such as loss of appetite and weight loss, a gloomy mood that doesn't improve with positive life events and a worsening of symptoms in the morning hours.
    • Psychotic depression - Depression that also includes symptoms of delusions or hallucinations.
    • Catatonic depression - A rare type of depression in which a person may have symptoms such as muteness or immobility. They may also exhibit hyperactive, purposeless activity, such as rocking back and forth.
    • Postpartum depression - A type of depression that follows childbirth and occurs due to the extreme, rapid shifts in hormones associated with this process.
    • Seasonal affective disorder - A type of depression that typically occurs only during the darker months of winter when a person's internal rhythms are thrown off balance by insufficient exposure to sunlight.
  • Dysthymic Disorder

    Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia, is a more chronic, but less severe form of depression than major depressive disorder. However, episodes of major depression may overlap periods of dysthymia. This phenomenon is referred to as double depression.

  • Depressive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

    This category is for depressive disorders that impair a person's ability to function, but do not fit the other designated categories.

    Bipolar Disorder

    Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder in which a person experiences fluctuations in mood, going between states of depression and mania. When a person is manic, they may feel euphoric with high energy and sex drive. In contrast to a normal happy mood, however, mania tends to be to a degree that disrupts a person's life.

    Bipolar disorder has several subtypes, including:

    • Bipolar I

      This diagnosis is given to people who have had one or more episodes of mania or mixed states (symptoms of mania and depression occurring at the same time). They may or may not have also experienced depressive episodes.

    • Bipolar II

      This subtype consists of recurrent, intermittent episodes of hypomania (less severe mania) and either depression or mixed states.

    • Cyclothymia

      A person with this subtype will alternate between periods of hypomania and dysthymia.

    • Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified

      People with this diagnosis experience symptoms that fall within the bipolar spectrum, but do not fit into one of the other diagnostic categories.

      But, to answer your original question, Rep. Jackson has admitted to being in treatment for "depression and gastrointestinal issues" related to previous weight-loss surgery.


      American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4th edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.

      Continue Reading