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Mood Disorders vs. Personality Disorders

5 min.

Mood disorders invoke sadness and depression, while personality disorders produce low-self esteem, social anxiety, and a lack of empathy.

By: Sarah Fielding

Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC

April 4, 2023


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Table of Contents

The label “mental health condition” encompasses a large number of disorders. Disorders are often sorted into types to make sense of them — two of the most common being mood and personality disorders. So, what’s the deal with mood disorders vs. personality disorders? 

The fundamental differences between mood disorders and personality disorders 

Mood disorders tend to center on internal emotions and the self, and personality disorders often present in relationships with other individuals. Mood disorders also involve feelings of sadness and depression. In contrast, personality disorders are characterized by fear of socializing, low self-esteem, dependency, and a lack of respect or empathy for others. 

The scale and length at which a person living with a mood disorder feels depressed can vary tremendously and might even be interspersed with manic episodes, reports Mayo Clinic. About one in six young people experience a mood disorder, with their mindset and emotions altered to the point of disrupting their life. In contrast, though personality disorders typically start in the teen years, they often aren’t diagnosed until adulthood. Each personality disorder has its own symptoms, but the overarching themes are struggles with identity and relationships.

Mood disorders include: 

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Symptoms of personality disorders by cluster

Personality disorders are broken down by their overarching symptoms into Clusters A, B, and C, and include:  

Cluster A

These personality disorders revolve around eccentric or unusual thoughts and actions. Cluster A personality disorders include: 

  • Paranoid personality disorder: paranoia and a belief other individuals want to hurt them, physically or emotionally
  • Schizoid personality disorder: disinterest and lack of emotion toward interpersonal relationships
  • Schizotypal personality disorder: regular discomfort and minimal desire for interpersonal relationships 

Cluster B 

These personality disorders revolve around erratic and intense feelings and actions. Cluster B personality disorders include:

Cluster C

These personality disorders revolve around feeling tremendous fear or anxiety. Cluster C personality disorders include:

Teenage girl struggling with personality disorder

An important distinction: the difference between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder

While bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, and borderline personality disorder is a personality disorder, the difference between the two is sometimes unclear. Both disorders involve emotional instability, but their expression is distinct. People with bipolar disorder experience manic episodes of extreme elation and energy (mania) alongside severe bouts of depression. In contrast, people with borderline personality disorder struggle to regulate emotions, often expressing them intensely. A mental health professional can determine which disorder fits a person’s symptoms. 

Shared symptoms of mood disorders and personality disorders in young adults 

While most of the symptoms of personality and mood disorders differ, some of them overlap. Here are some of the symptoms they share: 

  • Exhibiting low self-esteem
  • Limited to no interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Problems maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Limited interactions with people in their lives 
  • Irritability and coldness toward others

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Symptoms of mood disorders

Additional symptoms of mood disorders mostly mirror those of depression:

  • Ongoing sadness or anxiety
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Excessive guilt
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Shifts in weight or appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Issues focusing
  • Difficulty with making decisions
  • Complaints of physical pain that don’t improve
  • Suicidal ideation 

The remaining symptoms of personality disorders reflect how deeply the individual’s interactions with others factor into them:

  • Social anxiety
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Attention and praise seeking
  • Boasting 
  • Difficulty accepting criticism 

The distinction between mood disorder’s internal depression and personality disorder’s link to relationships is evident through the characteristics of each sub-disorder and the distinct symptoms. While they present differently, mood and personality disorders stem from the same source. Genetics and environmental factors (especially stressful experiences) can cause mood and personality disorders. 

Treating mood disorders and personality disorders

A mental health professional can diagnose a mood or personality disorder and recommend treatment. If a teen has either of these, the symptoms can lessen and become much more manageable with the proper care. Psychotherapy is an excellent option for managing a mood disorder or personality disorder. There are a few options a person can consider:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy – thoughts and behaviors hurting a person’s mental health are identified and realigned toward better mental health goals
  • Dialectical behavior therapy – how to identify and regulate emotions in a beneficial manner
  • Family therapy – Young people bring their family into therapy sessions to discuss improving and understanding the disorder

Medication is a standard treatment option for mood disorders. According to the Cleveland Clinic, antidepressants (SSRIs and SNRIs) can help with symptoms. Doctors might prescribe antipsychotics or mood stabilizers to people with bipolar disorder. In contrast, no medication is specifically designed for personality disorders, but options such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medicine, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers all have potential benefits. A mental health professional will determine what options work best for you. 

Light therapy, in which artificial bright light substitutes for sunlight in the darker months, is used solely for mood disorders — specifically seasonal affective disorder.

How Charlie Health can offer support for mood disorders and personality disorders

Charlie Health offers intensive outpatient treatment for everything from borderline personality disorder to major depressive disorder. Mental health professionals can help you identify and manage symptoms of your mental health disorder. Learn more about it here

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