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If you’re sad, feel unseen by family and friends, or are unusually rigid in your beliefs and values, you may be experiencing the early signs of mental illness. The key to successful diagnosis and treatment is to first understand the difference between a mood and personality disorder. Fortunately, treatment is available for either.

What is a mood disorder?

A mood disorder is a mental health problem that primarily affects a person’s emotional state. It is a disorder in which a person experiences long periods of extreme happiness, extreme sadness, or both.”

Moods may change depending on the situation, but diagnosis depends on symptoms being noticeable for many weeks or longer. Mood disorders can trigger changes in someone’s behavior and harm your ability to handle routine activities, like your family, work, or school responsibilities.

Know the symptoms

  • You feel sad nearly all the time, nearly every day
  • Low energy or feelings of sluggishness
  • You feel insignificant or hopeless
  • Lack of appetite or overeating
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • You feel highly elated or energized 
  • Fast speech or bodily movement
  • Agitation, edginess, or irritability
  • You do risky stuff, like spending frivolously or driving recklessly
  • Strange increase in action or attempting to finish too many things at the same time
  • Racing thoughts
  • Sleeping problems

What is a personality disorder?

Personality refers to how you think, perceive, react, and relate to others in a consistent pattern. Personality disorders crop up if these traits become so marked, rigid, and unadaptable that they interfere with interpersonal and work functioning. They can trigger significant pain in someone with personality disorders and those they interact with. The discomfort triggered by their harmful behaviors is normally why they seek treatment, not because of discomfort with their own thoughts and feelings.

What are the symptoms?

  • Universal distrust and suspicion of someone else and their motives
  • Unfounded belief that someone wants to deceive or harm you
  • Can’t find pleasure in most things
  • Can’t perceive standard social cues
  • Peculiar dress, thought, beliefs, behavior, or speech 
  • Repeated difficulties with the law
  • Repeated disregard for someone’s rights
  • Unstable or delicate self-image
  • You’re an attention seeker
  • You’re regarded as arrogant
  • Worried about criticism or rejection
  • Trouble starting or doing something
  • Unbending about ethics, morality, values

What’s The Difference Between a Mood & Personality Disorder?

Mood and personality disorders are kinds of mental health conditions, but they’re different from each other. Mood disorders talk about patterns in feelings, while personality disorders focus on how people relate to others.

Mood disorders can disrupt relationships, too, and personality disorders can impact someone’s mood. But each talks about patterns that most unswervingly affect relationships or emotions, for instance.

Diagnosing a personality disorder is hard, especially for someone with bipolar disorder. If you have a personality disorder, there’s an enduring and challenging behavior pattern, especially in your relationship with someone else. Supposedly, it’s distinct from mood indications like depression, obsession, or hypomania. But a clear difference is only likely if the challenging behavior pattern happens after mood symptoms are fully resolved. Sadly, most people suffering from mood disorders haven’t gotten to that point yet. But the truth is the theoretical difference between the two is difficult to uncover.

The key difference? The symptoms each one causes. With mood disorders, the main feature is episodes of emotional highs or low moods. Some personality disorders may feature mood swings, but that’s not the main symptom.  The challenge for your healthcare provider is in diagnosing two conditions, both of which can result in emotional and mood issues. The key is to look for symptom patterns instead of a single symptom.  

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists ten personality disorders but has replaced mood disorders with separate sections for bipolar disorders and depressive disorders.

Diagnosis & treatment

Diagnosing mood and personality disorders is hard, but it always depends on:

  • A physical examination. There are no medical tests to diagnose mental illness, but your healthcare provider will look for an underlying condition leading to your symptoms.
  • A mental health assessment is recommended if there isn’t a medical cause for your symptoms. The goal is to see if your thoughts, behaviors, and actions trigger symptoms, and to document personal and family history of mental illness.
  • Comparing symptoms to criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.

Treatment may include psychotherapy, certain medicine, or ketamine therapy.

Final thoughts

Knowing the difference between a mood and personality disorder makes you better prepared to seek treatment and make the commitment needed to get better. If you’re having symptoms of mental illness, look for a support network and seek professional care. Ask your healthcare provider if ketamine is right for you.

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