Young Adult and Teen Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are a serious mental health condition that affect up to 1 in 6 young people.

What are mood disorders?

A mood disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by the raising or lowering of a person’s mood. Also known as affective disorders, mood disorders include multiple types of depression and bipolar disorders, which are all serious mental health issues.

People of all ages can have mood disorders, but teens and young adults may not always exhibit the same symptoms as adults. Evidence-based therapy, psychiatric care, personalized support, and wellness practices can help treat mood disorders.


Types of mood disorders

The following is a list of the most common types of mood disorders in young adults and teens:

Major depression

Having less interest in normal activities, feeling sad or hopeless, and other depression-related symptoms for at least two weeks is the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder.


Defined as a low-grade but persistent depressed or irritable mood that lasts for at least two years in young adults and teens.

Teenage girl dealing with her mood disorder in bed

Bipolar disorder

With this condition, a person experiences bouts of depression alternating with periods of mania, or an elevated mood that often includes reckless decision making. Bipolar disorder is typically split into two separate diagnostic categories:

Bipolar 1 disorder

Characterized by at least one manic episode that may or may not be followed by a major depressive episode. The manic episodes for young adults and teens with bipolar 1 are typically obvious to those around them, disruptive to everyday life, and may require hospitalization.

Bipolar 2 disorder

Characterized by a major depressive episode lasting at least two weeks that is followed by at least one hypomanic episode. A hypomanic episode is less severe than manic episodes associated with bipolar 1. They do not normally require hospitalization.

Mood disorder linked to another health condition

Many health conditions (including cancer, injuries, infections, and chronic illnesses) can trigger symptoms of a mood disorder in young adults and teens.

Substance-induced mood disorder

Symptoms of a mood disorder that are due to the effects of medicine, drug abuse, substance use disorders, exposure to toxins, or other forms of medical treatment.

Causes of mood disorders in young adults and teens

Many factors may contribute to mood disorders, with many experts pointing to an imbalance of brain chemicals. However, events such as stressful life changes may also contribute to the development of mood disorders. Mood disorders also tend to run in families.

Symptoms of mood disorders in young adults and teens

Symptoms of mood disorders differ from person to person due to a wide variety of factors. The following are the most common symptoms of mood disorders:

  • An ongoing sense of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Excessive guilt
  • A lack of interest in normal activities or activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Relationship problems
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Decreased energy
  • Trouble focusing
  • Difficulty with making decisions
  • Frequent physical complaints (for example, headache, stomachache, or tiredness) that don’t get better with treatment
  • Running away or threats of running away from home
  • Irritability, hostility, or aggression
  • Suicidal ideation 

The symptoms can be difficult to pin down. That’s why it’s important to talk with a healthcare provider to get an accurate diagnosis. 

Mood disorder risk factors for young adults and teens

Anyone can feel “down” or depressed at times, but mood disorders are more intense. They are also harder to manage than normal feelings of sadness or elation (when compared to mania). Teens and young people with parents with a mood disorder have a greater chance of also having a mood disorder. The risk of diagnosis in women is nearly twice as high as it is for men. 

Sometimes life's problems can trigger the onset of a mood disorder. Events such as being fired from a job, getting a divorce, losing a loved one, or having financial trouble can all be contributing factors. Beyond more commonplace stressors or even chronic stress, traumatic events may cause or worsen symptoms of a mood disorder.

Diagnosing mood disorders in young adults and teens

Mood disorders are serious mental illnesses. A psychiatrist or other mental health provider can diagnose mood disorders by doing a complete health history and psychiatric evaluation.

Treating mood disorders in young adults and teens

Mood disorders can often be treated successfully and symptoms can be controlled. Treatment may include:

Antidepressant and mood-stabilizing medicines

These medicines work very well in treating mood disorders, especially when combined with therapy. Newer medications such as intravenous and intranasal ketamine (esketamine) have shown positive results in the treatment of mood disorders.


Therapy that focuses specifically on changing the person’s negative view of themselves and their environment can be a huge help to those living with a mood disorder. It also helps improve relationship skills.

Key psychotherapies include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT improves dysfunctional cognitions and attitudes that exacerbate a mood disorder. CBT is the most extensively studied therapy for mood disorders, depressions, and other common mental health issues.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): These are beneficial in improving mood disorder symptoms and in curbing relapse.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT is a form of CBT that involves mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation.
  • Family therapy: A mood disorder affects all aspects of a family (emotionally, physically, and even financially). Professional support can help both the person with the diagnosis and their family members.
Adult woman doing therapy to deal with mood disorder

How to handle a suicide emergency

If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, please know that help is always available. For immediate support, visit your local emergency department or crisis center, or call one of the resources listed below.

If you’re with someone who has suicidal thoughts, a suicide plan, and the means to carry out a the plan, call 911 immediately.

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