Affective (Mood) Disorders: Types and Symptoms

woman with different facial expressions

Do you feel moody? Do you swing between periods of low moods and highs marked by intense surges of energy? Or do you simply feel down most of the time? If so, you may have a mood disorder, also called an affective disorder.

Affective disorders manifest in numerous ways, each with its own symptoms. You’re likely familiar with some types, such as bipolar spectrum disorder (BSD) and major depressive disorder. Others remain lesser-known: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), for example, was only recognized by the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11) in 2022.

Mood disorders are common and potentially disruptive to everyday life, even increasing risks for illness and death. Here, we will explore 8 types of affective/mood disorders and their symptoms to help create a pathway toward more informed diagnosis and treatment.

Individuals with affective disorders may experience moods that are persistently low or that swing drastically—beyond the normal highs and lows that everyone experiences in life. Click To Tweet


Affective disorders are mental health conditions that affect a person’s mood. Mood is defined by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) as “a pervasive and sustained feeling tone that is endured internally, and that impacts nearly all aspects of a person’s behavior in the external world.”

Individuals with affective disorders may experience moods that are persistently low or that swing drastically—beyond the normal highs and lows that everyone experiences in life.

What are mood disorders in terms of brain activity? According to the functional brain-imaging work at Amen Clinics, which includes over 250,000 SPECT scans, mood disorders are associated with abnormal activity levels in various regions of the brain.

For example, major depressive disorder is associated with heightened activity in the deep limbic system, which is considered the brain’s emotional center. On SPECT scans, cyclic mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, can correlate with too much activity across the surface of the brain.

However, SPECT scans also show that brain activity changes throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle. Therefore, a woman with PMDD will experience changes in brain activity during the most difficult time of her menstrual cycle.

She may have increased deep limbic activity as well as decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Lower activity in the PFC is associated with trouble concentrating and impulsivity. Meanwhile, increased activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus can trigger “stuck” thoughts or behaviors.

Because many affective disorder symptoms can overlap, functional brain scans with SPECT can help determine the underlying patterns at work and enable a targeted treatment plan.


Now that you know some of the brain changes taking place in mood/affective disorders, here’s a brief overview of this category’s different types.

  1. Bipolar spectrum disorder (BSD), previously known as manic-depressive illness, affects nearly 6 million U.S. adults. Most people experience their first symptoms in young adulthood (late teens to mid-20s), but it can also begin in childhood, or as late as the 50s. BSD tends to run in families, affects men and women equally, and is divided into two types: bipolar I and bipolar II.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder change between different cycles. Manic episodes are characterized by a burst of energy, which can show up as racing thoughts, increased or pressurized talking, irritability, and grandiose ideas, among other symptoms.

Depressive episodes, on the other hand, are marked by an excessive slowdown in energy and mood. They may cause someone to sleep more, lose pleasure in typically enjoyable activities, or feel fatigued, helpless, or hopeless.

These sweeping shifts may make it difficult for the mood disordered person to create healthy relationships or perform at work or school. They can lead to increased risk for everything from hospitalizations and suicide attempts to substance abuse, anger outbursts, and reckless behavior.

  1. Cyclothymia, also called cyclothymic disorder, is a type of bipolar disorder that is considered less severe than bipolar I or II.

The American Psychiatric Association notes that those with cyclothymic disorder will experience hypomanic and depressive symptoms for at least 2 years, but these symptoms don’t meet the criteria for hypomanic or depressive episodes.

To be diagnosed with cyclothymia, the person’s symptoms must persist for at least half of a 2-year period, never stopping for more than 2 months.

  1. Hypomania is a form of bipolar II. The National Library of Medicine describes it as “a non-psychotic, milder, or sub-threshold manic state of short duration.”

It lasts for at least 4 consecutive days but does not create significant impairment in social or workplace settings. Requirements for meeting this diagnosis include elevated mood with 3 or more of the following symptoms, or irritable moods with at least 4 of these symptoms:

  • Increased goal-directed activity
  • Grandiosity
  • Diminished need for sleep
  • Distractibility
  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased/pressured speech
  • Reckless behavior
  1. Major depressive disorder is now well-known in the U.S., with about 17.3 million people (more than 7% of adults) affected. Women are twice as likely to have clinical depression, but rates are also growing in teens and young adults.

Symptoms include sad or depressed moods, suicidal thoughts, changes in sleeping or eating habits, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

  1. Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), also called dysthymia, involves depressed moods that are less severe than in major depression. A PDD diagnosis requires that a depressed mood has persisted for at least 2 years for adults, or 1 year for children and adolescents.

It’s important to note, however, that all depression is not identical. While SPECT scans often show overactivity in the deep limbic system of these clients, Amen Clinics has noted 7 types of depression and anxiety based on brain patterns.

Moreover, it’s estimated that nearly two-thirds of people struggling with depression don’t seek or receive treatment for their condition. Since depression can lead to life-altering—even deadly—consequences, it’s crucial to get help.

  1. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) affects children and adolescents. Symptoms include severe irritability and anger, with frequent and intense temper outbursts.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) warns that youth with DMDD are more likely to develop depression and anxiety later in life, and they often require mental health care. Additional consequences include problems at home or school. Children typically receive a diagnosis between ages 6 and 10, after showing symptoms for at least 1 year.

  1. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) occurs in conjunction with a woman’s menstrual cycle. Symptoms usually occur about a week before her period begins, then fade away a few days after it starts.

It’s estimated that 6% of reproductive-age women experience these moderate to severe symptoms, which can impact mood, behavior, and the physical body. Symptoms can include sadness, anger, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, panic attacks, and many more.

  1. Perinatal depression affects women when they are pregnant. When it takes place just after childbirth, it’s called postpartum depression.

The NIMH notes that most perinatal depression episodes start within 4-8 weeks after the birth process. Symptoms can include extreme sadness, anxiety, and fatigue, and these can be mild to severe.

Affected women may struggle to perform their usual tasks, including caring for the new baby. Therefore, treatment is crucial to ensure optimal health for both the mother and child.


While everyone deals with mood changes, affective disorders differ due to their potentially disruptive or even devastating effects. As with many mental health disorders, they often remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Learning the facts, pinpointing the disorder, and treating the root causes will help pave the way to improved emotional regulation for years to come.

Mood/affective disorders and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 844-254-3925 or visit our contact page here.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us