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Differences Between Mood Disorders and Personality Disorders

Jan 31, 2024 | Mood Disorders, OCD, Personality Disorders

As mental health becomes a higher priority among individuals, distinguishing passing emotions from symptoms of poor mental health can be challenging. However, at the same time, our understanding of various conditions and their causes is more reliable and comprehensive than ever before.

For individuals suffering from poor mental health, understanding the nuanced differences between disorders is crucial for effective diagnosis, treatment, and support. Among these, Mood and Personality Disorders represent classes of conditions that have overlapping symptoms but remain distinct in their symptoms and treatment.

Mood Disorders primarily affect a person’s emotional state, while Personality Disorders are characterized by enduring patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience that are abnormal, pervasive, and lead to distress.

This article aims to explain what these disorders are, their characteristics, and examples of each to demystify them and offer clarity for individuals who may be concerned about their mental health. While they may share specific symptoms, understanding these conditions is essential for those seeking better mental health and strategies to mitigate their effects.

Defining Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are a category of mental health disorders characterized by disturbances in someone’s emotional state. One common symptom of Mood Disorders is depression.

Depressive Disorders are characterized by sadness, lack of motivation or interest, low energy and appetite, and, in some cases, thoughts of self-harm. Overall, it is an experience of the ‘lows’ or unpleasant emotions that all individuals experience, but in a persistent and inescapable way.

Similarly, Bipolar Disorders are characterized by periods of these ‘lows,’ but also experience the ‘highs’ of mania, including irritability, elevated mood, trouble sleeping, and, in some cases, reckless behavior. These alternating symptoms occur in a cycle that significantly affects an individual’s ability to carry out tasks and be comfortable.

What Causes Mood Disorders

The definitive cause of Mood Disorders is not medically clear. However, issues with mood are almost always a mix of genetic, biological, and environmental factors, with no single cause manifesting in any individual.

The most significant cause appears to be biological, as individuals with Mood Disorders may show abnormalities in the structure and function of their amygdalas, the part of the brain responsible for mood regulation.

In these cases, neurotransmitters (the brain’s messenger chemicals) are disrupted or poorly regulated, resulting in unpleasant emotions and a lack of desire or motivation. Regulating these neurotransmitters helps individuals manage their brain chemistry and symptoms.

Additionally, genetics and environment also play a significant role. Some aspects of Mood Disorders can be hereditary, especially genes that affect brain chemistry. In the same way, traumatic or persistently unpleasant life events can lead to depression or persistent upsets in mood.

However, these disorders and their symptoms are never predetermined, and individuals participating in therapy can learn strategies to manage their symptoms if they become present.

Characteristics of Mood Disorders

Mood Disorders are characterized by significant disturbances in a person’s emotional state, leading to a lower quality of life and impairing their daily functioning.

Overall, Mood Disorders affect individuals in the following ways:

  • Emotional Symptoms: Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or irritability.
  • Physical Symptoms: Changes in appetite or weight, insomnia, or decreased energy.
  • Cognitive Symptoms: Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions; additionally, unexplained feelings of guilt or thoughts of self-harm.
  • Behavioral Symptoms: Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, withdrawal from social interactions, or unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches.

Additionally, individuals experiencing manic episodes may have the following symptoms. However, these symptoms are more difficult to spot than depression because they aren’t as unpleasant, and some are considered more socially acceptable.

  • Increase in goal-directed activity
  • Grandiosity, often a component of and similar to narcissism
  • A lack of need for sleep or trouble sleeping
  • Distractibility and racing thoughts
  • Increased or rapid speech
  • Reckless or otherwise careless actions

Common Types of Mood Disorders

Mood Disorders are defined in two classes: Depressive Disorders and Bipolar Disorders, which involve both depressive and manic symptoms. It is possible only to have manic symptoms, but the DSM V classifies this under Bipolar Disorders.

The most common types of Mood Disorders include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): Otherwise known as Clinical Depression, MDD involves persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in almost all activities. These symptoms last for at least two weeks.
  • Dysthymic Disorder: Also known as Dysthymia, this condition is a milder form of depression that lasts much longer, for at least two years. Individuals can still experience MDD episodes during this time.
  • Bipolar Disorder (BPD): BPD involves episodes of mania (elevated or irritable mood) alternating with episodes of depression.
  • Seasonal-Affective Disorder (SAD): A type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.
  • Substance-Induced Mood Disorder: Substance Abuse related Mood Disorders involve depression resulting from medicine, drug abuse, alcoholism, exposure to toxins, or other treatments.

Defining Personality Disorders

Personality Disorders represent a class of mental health conditions where an individual’s patterns of inner experience (personality) differ significantly from the cultural norm, are persistent, and remain stable over time. These conditions lead to distress or impairment in social, occupational, or daily functioning.

Everybody has a personality that generally remains stable while evolving over time. An individual’s personality may take detours or fluctuate during major life stages or events, but overall, personalities naturally align with the cultural norms of the society one lives in.

Individuals with Personality Disorders show behaviors, beliefs, and inner experiences that do not match cultural norms. While everyone has quirks in one form or another, a Personality Disorder is a significant deviation from cultural norms and, in some cases, reality.

Additionally, individuals with Borderline Personality Disorders, which is much rarer, experience significant instability in their moods and behaviors, leading to reckless behavior and unstable relationships. These patterns are stable and persistent, seriously challenging quality of life.

What Causes Personality Disorders

Similarly to Mood Disorders, Personality Disorders are complex conditions influenced by genetic, environmental, and social factors. These conditions typically begin in adolescence and early adulthood but are heavily influenced by early life events.

Genetics plays a significant role, as there is evidence that these conditions are hereditary and that specific genes play a role in their onset. However, while genetics may predispose individuals to developing Personality Disorders, it by no means guarantees them.

Environment appears to play a much more significant role. Early life experiences, including physical, verbal, or emotional abuse, are significantly associated with the development of Personality Disorders. In these situations, the Personality Disorder can evolve from maladaptive strategies or defense mechanisms to cope with stress early in life.

It’s important to note that these factors do not act in isolation but rather interact in complex ways to increase the risk of developing a Personality Disorder. Additionally, the presence of these factors doesn’t guarantee a condition will develop; it only increases the likelihood.

Characteristics of Personality Disorders

Personality Disorders are characterized by persistent patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving abnormally or differently from what’s expected. These patterns affect all aspects of life, including how one behaves, believes, and sees the world.

Characteristics of Personality Disorders include:

  • Persistent and Inflexible Patterns: Consistent and stable patterns of thoughts and behaviors that differ from societal norms to a degree that impairs quality of life and functioning.
  • Difficulty With Relationships: Deviation from norms that create difficulties in understanding others and being understood, working with others, and maintaining relationships.
  • Difficulty in Perception: Possible distorted perceptions and interpretations of events, others’ behavior, and self-image that can lead to inappropriate responses and difficulty interacting with others.
  • Emotional Dysregulation: Problems controlling emotions, having emotional instability, or lacking emotion when it might be expected.
  • Cognitive Distortions: Maladaptive or biased thinking patterns, such as all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophic thinking, and overgeneralization in response to everyday situations.
  • Resistance to Change: A limited capacity to adapt one’s behaviors or attitudes in response to changing circumstances or feedback from others.

Common Types of Personality Disorders

Personality Disorders represent a large class of conditions and are divided into three clusters based on symptoms. Cluster A represents odd or eccentric disorders, Cluster B represents dramatic or erratic disorders, and Cluster C represents anxious or inhibited disorders.

Cluster A: Odd/Eccentric

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder: Distrust and suspicion of others, believing that others are out to harm them.
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder: Lack of interest in social relationships, limited range of emotional expression, and preference for solitary activities.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder: Eccentric behavior, superstitious thinking, and feeling highly uncomfortable in social situations.

Cluster B: Dramatic/Erratic

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: Disregard for others’ rights, deceit, manipulation, impulsivity, aggressiveness, and lack of remorse.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Instability in personal relationships, self-image, and emotions. Impulsive behavior, fear of abandonment, and mood swings.
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Grandiosity, a constant need for admiration and attention, lack of empathy, and trouble maintaining relationships.

Cluster C: Anxious/Inhibited

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder: Feelings of inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to criticism, and a need to be socially isolated.
  • Dependent Personality Disorder: Excessive dependence on others and a need to be taken care of, difficulty making decisions without reassurance, fear of abandonment, and difficulty disagreeing with others.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: Preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and control at the expense of flexibility and efficiency. A rigid need to control the environment.

The Overlap Between Mood and Personality Disorders

The primary overlap between Mood and Personality Disorders is that they include many of the same symptoms, especially mood swings or the presence of depression. In some ways, Personality Disorders present more persistent mood changes, whereas Mood Disorders present the same symptoms in periodic or episodic ways.

Both Personality and Mood Disorders can present emotional instability and mood swings, especially in Bipolar Disorders and Cluster B Personality Disorders. These conditions can also cause aggression and impulsivity.

Additionally, many Personality Disorders can affect moods negatively and cause depression, among other symptoms. The additional changes in mood can make personal relationships challenging and promote negative thought patterns among several conditions.

This overlap can sometimes complicate diagnosis and treatment, as the symptoms of one can mask the other.

Challenges in Diagnosis and Treatment

These similarities, primarily that both create negative moods and mood instability, can cause challenges for diagnosis and treatment. While they may appear to have similar symptoms on the surface, the cause and treatment for each are significantly different.

Medication management is a strong option to curb Mood Disorders. It is most effective when paired with psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.

Understanding the overlap between Mood and Personality Disorders is essential for healthcare professionals to appropriately diagnose and provide treatment for these conditions.

The Main Differences Between Mood and Personality Disorders

While both Mood and Personality Disorders impact mental health, quality of life, and stability of moods, they have distinct causes and treatment options to address them. The primary difference between these two sets of conditions is that Mood Disorders are generally periodic, showing symptoms transiently, while symptoms of Personality Disorders are consistent across contexts.

Individuals with Mood Disorders will experience episodes, where symptoms arise for a time and then return to a normal state between episodes. In Personality Disorders, symptoms are stable and persistent, reflecting long-standing behavior patterns and inner experiences.

Additionally, when individuals with Mood Disorders are not in a period of depression or mania, they often have no problem maintaining relationships, interacting with others, and enjoying a reasonable quality of life. This stability is not present in Personality Disorders, where beliefs and behaviors persist.

In terms of self-awareness, individuals with Mood Disorders are often very aware of their mood changes and perceive them as distressing. Conversely, individuals with Personality Disorders often see their behavior and moods as normal and part of their identity.

Treatment and Management for Mood and Personality Disorders

Both Mood and Personality Disorders involve a mixture of therapy and medication tailored to the unique needs of the individual. Even between individuals with the same condition, personalized treatment is essential to help them manage their condition and enjoy the best quality of life.

However, between Mood and Personality Disorders, treatment options differ significantly. Medication is usually recommended for Mood Disorders when therapy alone is not effective. In contrast, psychotherapy is strongly recommended to manage Personality Disorders, with optional medication to help address some symptoms if they are present.

Treatment Options for Mood Disorders

Treatment options for mood disorders are varied and often depend on the specific type of Mood Disorder being treated as well as its severity. The primary goal of treatment is to stabilize mood swings and help alleviate symptoms.

A licensed practitioner often prescribes medication to stabilize moods by balancing neurotransmitters. This medication can manage serotonin uptake, psychotic symptoms, anxiety, and extreme mood swings.

However, medication is most effective alongside therapy, as it helps frame emotions and provide constructive strategies to manage moods and behavior. Cognitive Behavioral and Interpersonal Therapies help individuals understand their condition, reactions, and interactions with others.

Treatment Options for Personality Disorders

Treatment options for Personality Disorders primarily focus on helping individuals learn healthy ways to cope with their emotions, improve relationships, and better understand their feelings and behaviors. The treatment typically involves a combination of psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications, and sometimes medication for associated symptoms.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is particularly effective for Personality Disorders, teaching skills to manage emotions and improve relationships. Additionally, CBT helps in changing negative thought patterns and behaviors.

While no medications are specifically approved for Personality Disorders, certain drugs may be prescribed to alleviate associated symptoms or co-occurring conditions.

Additionally, group therapy can provide a supportive environment for practicing interpersonal skills and learning from peers. Lifestyle modifications such as stress reduction techniques (mindfulness and medication), regular exercise, and a healthy diet can have a positive impact on well-being.

Overall, Personality Disorders require a long-term treatment plan, tailored therapy, and regular follow-ups to provide successful management.

Get the Personalized Care You Need With Start My Wellness

Navigating the complexities of mental health can be a challenging journey, but understanding what conditions are, their causes, and treatment options is a significant step toward better mental health.

At Start My Wellness, we specialize in providing personalized care tailored to your unique needs. Our team of licensed therapists is dedicated to helping you understand and manage your symptoms, offering a range of treatment options in our holistic approach to wellness.

The journey to wellness starts with a single step. If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of a Mood or Personality Disorder, our compassionate team is ready to work with you to address your needs.

Call us at 248-514-4955 to schedule an appointment and begin your journey to wellness.


  1. John Hopkins Medicine: Mood Disorders
  2. National Library of Medicine: Mood Disorders
  3. John Hopkins Medicine: Dysthymia
  4. Personality Disorders
  5. National Institute of Mental Health: Personality Disorders
  6. American Psychological Association: What Causes Personality Disorders
  7. John Hopkins Medicine: Personality Disorders
  8. National Library of Medicine: Personality Disorders and Mood Disorders
  9. Start My Wellness: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  10. Start My Wellness: Psychiatric Medication
  11. Start My Wellness: Harmony in Motion
Dr. Anton Babushkin

Author: Anton Babushkin, PhD

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