Even in this day of advanced medical technology, distinguishing different medical conditions can be difficult due to the myriad details of the physical body and the wide variety of illnesses or diseases. The process is more complicated when trying to distinguish mental health disorders, since many of them share similar symptoms or may occur alongside other disorders.
The complexity of psychological disorders also contributes to misunderstandings about them. An example of this can be seen in the frequent confusion between mood disorders and personality disorders. While the two types of disorders share common symptoms, they also have key aspects that can help identify how they are unique.
A mood disorder is a mental health classification used to broadly describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders. Mood disorders cause serious changes in a person’s state of mind, emotions or feelings. A mood disorder is not represented by common changes in attitude or feelings that everyone experiences as a normal part of life. Instead, mood disorders dramatically affect a person’s everyday emotional condition. Mood disorders can increase a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.
Several common mental health Illnesses fall under the mood disorders classification, including the following:
- Major depression. Having less interest in usual activities, feeling sad or hopeless and other symptoms for at least two weeks may indicate depression.
- Dysthymia. This is a chronic, low-grade, depressed or irritable mood that lasts for at least two years.
- Bipolar disorder. This is a condition in which a person has periods of depression alternating with periods of mania or elevated mood.
Many medical illnesses, such as cancer, serious injuries or infections, as well as chronic conditions, can trigger symptoms of depression. Although the depression was originally caused by an underlying medical problem, diagnosis of a mood disorder may still be valid if the symptoms warrant it. In addition, mood disorders can be induced by co-occurring substance abuse disorder, which may lead to a dual diagnosis.
Personality disorders specifically affect the distinctive traits, behavior styles and personal patterns that make up a person’s character or individuality. Someone’s personality includes how they perceive the world and how they understand their own attitudes, thoughts and feelings.
People with healthy personalities are able to cope with normal stresses and have no trouble forming relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Those who struggle with a personality disorder have great difficulty dealing with others. They tend to be inflexible and unable to respond to the changes and demands of life.
There are many different types of personality disorders, which are grouped or classified into clusters:
- Cluster A – Odd or eccentric behavior. Examples are: schizoid personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder
- Cluster B – Dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior. Examples are: antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder
- Cluster C – Anxious fearful behavior. Examples are: avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
Distinguishing Mood and Personality Disorders
Both mood and personality disorders may have genetic, chemical and environmental factors or causes. They both may also produce similar symptoms, such as depression, making it very challenging to properly identify during diagnosis.
However, for general purposes, the two types can be distinguished by keeping in mind the underlying aspect of the person that is affected by each kind of illness:
- Mood is a temporary state of mind or feeling. Mood is generally more stable than a particular emotion and should not be equated with emotions, even though they are certainly involved.
Personality is the combination and interaction of a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Personality, once formed, usually lasts for a lifetime and is more stable or consistent than mood.
With these basic distinctions in mind, the following observations can be made to help distinguish between mood and personality disorders:
- Mood disorders affect someone’s mood, not their underlying core personality. Personality disorders are much more pervasive and affect someone’s fundamental character and individuality.
- Mood disorders are characterized by how an individual relates to their own emotions. Personality disorders are characterized by fundamental differences between the individual and most other people.
- Mood disorders cause severe fluctuations in mood or emotional state, prohibiting people from normal functioning in daily life. Personality disorders cause changes in character traits that make people behave in ways that are considered outside the norm.
- Mood disorders typically create instability in mood, which vacillates frequently or suddenly. Personality disorders, like personality itself, are relatively stable and constant.