Mood Disorder vs. Personality Disorder

By Paula Holmes LCSW

There are many different categories and types of mental health disorders, and symptoms of one condition can sometimes overlap with another. When there are overlapping traits, it can be confusing to determine the difference between two conditions. Two types of emotional health conditions that sometimes present in similar ways are mood disorders and personality disorders.

What Is a Mood Disorder?

Mood disorders are mental health conditions that impact emotion regulation, energy levels and thought content. There are many factors that contribute to the development of a mood disorder, including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Genetic and body chemistry changes
  • Life experiences
  • Environmental factors
  • Negative relationships
  • Seasonal factors

Around 21.4% of American adults experience a mood disorder at some point in their lives. The severity of mood disorders may increase or decrease at varying points in time, depending on factors like life changes or health concerns.

Types of Mood Disorders

The mood disorder category includes several specific types, and each type varies in intensity and how they appear. Further, each type has subtypes that differentiate them from the others. When diagnoses are made, levels of severity and other diagnostic features are often specified. Types of mood disorders include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Cyclothymia
  • Hypomania
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

What Is a Personality Disorder?

A personality disorder is a condition that causes someone to struggle with:

  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Issues of self-perception
  • Beliefs about the perceptions of others
  • Challenges relating to managing stress and inflexible thinking patterns

While there is no exact known cause for personality disorders, it is thought to be related to genetic factors and childhood experiences like trauma.

One study indicated that 9.1% of adults had some type of personality disorder during the course of one year. Some people may experience low-grade symptoms, while others may have severe symptoms like suicidal ideation and isolation that interfere with their day-to-day lives. Challenging relationships can also impact quality of life for people with personality disorders, which can increase emotional stressors and worsen symptoms.

Types of Personality Disorders

There are six types of personality disorders, and each is characterized by differing symptoms and traits. The severity of symptoms often varies depending on life events and other stressors. Types of personality disorders include:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Key Similarities

Personality and mood disorders can present in similar ways, particularly when it comes to self-perception and expectations of others. Mood disorders like major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder often cause people to experience self-doubt and periods of low self-worth. This is also frequently true for people with borderline or avoidant personality disorder.

Mood disorders can sometimes result in erratic or unexpected behaviors, particularly in a manic phase of bipolar disorder. These behavioral changes can also occur in personality disorders and may cause impulsive decision-making; sometimes, they can also cause unsafe behaviors such as suicide attempts or self-harm. Impulsivity and self-harm can also emerge for people with mood disorders, especially if the condition is untreated.

Key Differences

The most significant differences between mood disorder and personality disorder involve the origins of the condition. Personality disorders often stem from problematic or unstable childhood experiences in combination with environmental factors and genetics. Mood disorders are indiscriminate and far more common, and they occur regardless of childhood experiences. Many mood disorders have strong genetic links.

Mood disorders can be challenging to treat. Still, they are considered more easily treated with medication and psychotherapy than personality disorders, which are often deeply ingrained and unable to be treated with medications. Often, personality disorders also cause greater impairment in interpersonal relationships than mood disorders, though certainly there can be challenges in relationships of any type, regardless of the presence of a mental health condition.

Treatment for Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are often treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication management. Treatment approaches for mood disorder often include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is an evidence-based treatment modality that can reduce the relapse rates of depression and mania in people with bipolar disorder. It can also improve psychosocial functioning in these individuals. CBT is also effective for other mood disorders because it challenges underlying thoughts, feelings and behaviors and teaches coping strategies to manage distress.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): Studies have shown that ACT can increase psychological flexibility for participants with mental health needs. ACT helps people with mood disorders identify inflexible thinking patterns and behaviors as well as learn healthier responses.
  • Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT): REBT helps people with depressive disorders identify irrational thoughts that may be getting in the way of progress and healing. REBT is effective in helping people with mood disorders think about how their irrational thoughts impact their behaviors and lead to unpleasant consequences.

Treatment for Personality Disorders

Like mood disorders, personality disorders are often treated using evidence-based treatment modalities like CBT, ACT and REBT to reduce problematic symptoms. Challenges such as low self-evaluation, relationship challenges and impulsive urges can often be identified with these approaches. Learning new coping strategies is an important part of personality disorder treatment. Often, this takes a lot of practice and involves redirecting unhelpful assumptions about oneself and others.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is recognized as a highly successful treatment method for personality disorders, particularly borderline personality disorder. DBT helps people identify strong emotions, understand triggers for those emotions, and learn consistent strategies that help reduce these emotions. One of the most important aspects of DBT involves tracking one’s emotions and sharing that data with the therapist. Learning how to navigate strong emotions without acting impulsively is a key part of DBT, and it is helpful for people struggling with personality disorders.

Co-Occurrence of Mood and Personality Disorders

Mood and personality disorders often co-occur and are strongly correlated. One study showed that 42% of people with major depressive disorder met at least one criteria for a personality disorder diagnosis. The risk of harm for people with co-occurring mood and personality disorder is increased, particularly if symptoms are severe.

When these two types of disorders co-occur, they can impact an individual significantly. Emotional dysregulation, negative self-worth and behavioral changes that often occur with mood disorders can worsen a person’s overall emotional state, especially when personality disorder is present.

When someone struggles with co-occurring mood and personality disorders, their risk for impulsive behaviors, substance abuse and suicidal ideation can increase. It is important for co-occurring conditions to be treated with evidence-based approaches to reduce the risk of harm and improve quality of life.

If you’re already in treatment for a mood or personality disorder, the free-to-use Nobu app can provide supplemental mental health resources that help enrich your day-to-day life. You can track moods, write down your thoughts, follow guided meditation lessons and much more. For an additional fee, you can even connect to a licensed mental health professional and receive therapy. Download the Nobu app today and see the many different ways it can help improve your mental health and overall well-being.

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum

Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.

Written by – Paula Holmes, LCSW

Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master’s degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. With over a decade of experience in the field of mental health, she is always amazed at the strength, beauty, and resilience of the human spirit… Read more.

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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.