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What Are Mood Disorders and How Are They Treated?

Mood disorders are pervasive. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as one in five U.S. adults will experience a mood disorder at least once in their lifetime. It is anticipated that the pandemic may further increase the prevalence of mood disorders and increase the need for mental health services.  

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) identify and treat these conditions through accurate diagnosis and customized interventions that help patients reduce and manage symptoms. Nurses interested in this specialization and more independent practice can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner degree.

What Are the Most Common Mood Disorders?

According to Johns Hopkins University, a mood disorder is "a mental health class that health professionals use to broadly describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders." These disorders affect a person's emotional state and regularly interfere with daily activities. Some of the most common mood disorders include:

  • Major depression: Feelings of sadness or hopelessness lasting for two or more weeks
  • Persistent depressive disorder: Low-grade depression or irritability lasting for at least two years
  • Bipolar disorder: Condition causing alternating periods of depressed and elevated mood
  • Secondary mood disorder: The development of depression or one of the above conditions as the result of another illness, such as cancer, infection or chronic disease
  • Substance-induced mood disorder: Depression-like symptoms linked to medication use, toxin exposure and abuse of alcohol or drugs

How Are Mood Disorders Diagnosed?

Mood disorders can be challenging to diagnose. Given the difficulties of pinpointing fluctuating symptoms and the unfortunate stigma surrounding mental health, individuals may delay seeking care or be reluctant to voice their concerns. When patients see a provider, health professionals perform a detailed physical examination to rule out any physiological causes for the symptoms, such as a thyroid condition, vitamin deficiency or medication side effect. They also review a patient's medical and family history.

If a mood disorder is suspected, patients are typically referred to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), for a thorough evaluation of their symptoms, sleep and dietary patterns and other factors influencing daily functions. Patients are screened for self-injury or suicide risk, too.

What Treatments and Interventions Are Available?

From behavioral changes to pharmacological solutions, there are several treatment options available to manage mood disorders. Depending on the patient's needs, a combination of interventions may be recommended, including:

Psychotherapy: Perhaps the least invasive intervention, psychotherapy utilizes evidence-based therapeutic techniques to help patients work through their emotions and symptoms. Cognitive-based therapy is a popular and effective form of psychotherapy.

Pharmaceuticals: Many prescription medications are used to manage mood disorders. Often, there will be some trial and error before patients find the medications that work best to relieve their symptoms. There are three main pharmaceutical categories, though there are several medication options within each one: antidepressants, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics.

Light therapy: Usually reserved for treating depressed mood caused by a seasonal pattern, light therapy mimics the brightness of natural sunlight. A simple lightbox allows patients to implement this therapy at home as needed.

Inpatient treatment: For patients requiring more acute and intensive care, inpatient treatment is available. Psychiatric-mental health NPs work closely with patients in these settings to monitor for safety, teach coping strategies and stabilize a medication regimen.

Addressing Mental Health

The number of people affected by mood disorders is alarming, but there is hope. With more treatment options than ever before and dedicated healthcare providers, like psychiatric nurse practitioners capable of quickly diagnosing these conditions and developing targeted, holistic therapies, tools are available to combat the growing mental health crisis.

Learn more about the St. Thomas University Master of Science in Nursing – Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner online program.


American Association of Nurse Practitioners: Are You Considering a Career as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

Cleveland Clinic: Mood Disorders

Johns Hopkins Medicine: Mood Disorders Mood Disorders

National Institute of Mental Health: Any Mood Disorder

Nurseslabs: 6 Bipolar Disorders Nursing Care Plans

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