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The Actual Difference Between Mood Disorders and Personality Disorders

Updated: March 28, 2024

5 min.

Mood disorders primarily affect emotions, while personality disorders involve long-lasting behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that don't fit cultural norms. Read on for more.

By: Sarah Fielding

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process


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Table of Contents

The term “mental health condition” is a catchall for any disorder affecting a person’s mental well-being — including mood disorders and personality disorders, distinct categories of mental illness. Despite their differences, though, mood and personality disorders can have an overlap in symptoms, leading to confusion in diagnosis and popular understanding. Below, we delve into the topic of mood disorder vs personality disorder — including differences in how the conditions are treated and diagnosed and what the disorders have in common. 

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Mood disorder and personality disorder differences

Mood disorders and personality disorders can sometimes be confused because they both involve disturbances in a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. However, there are key differences between the two. Here are some major differences between mood and personality disorders. 

Type of problem

Mood disorders primarily affect a person’s emotional state, whereas personality disorders involve enduring patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience that deviate from cultural expectations. In essence, mood disorders tend to center on internal emotions and the self, and personality disorders often present in relationships with other people. 

Common mood disorders include major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder. By contrast, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) are among the more well-known personality disorders.

Duration and stability

Mood disorders typically involve episodic periods of mood disturbance, such as depressive episodes or manic episodes, which may fluctuate over time. Personality disorders, on the other hand, involve enduring patterns of behavior and inner experience that are stable over time and across situations.

Impact on functioning

While both mood disorders and personality disorders can cause distress and impairment in daily life, the specific ways in which they impact functioning differ. Mood disorders may affect a person’s ability to regulate emotions, while personality disorders may affect relationships, work, and overall life functioning due to disruptive patterns of behavior.


Mood disorders — like major depressive disorder, seasonal depression, and bipolar disorder — are more commonly diagnosed than personality disorders. About one out of five adults will be diagnosed with a mood disorder at some point in their life, whereas less than one in 10 adults receive a personality disorder diagnosis, data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shows. 

Use of medication in treatment

Both mood and personality disorders can be treated with therapy (more on this below), but medication is a first-line treatment for many mood disorders, too. Medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can help relieve anxiety and depression symptoms in people with mood disorders. Doctors may also prescribe antipsychotics or mood stabilizers to people with bipolar disorder (though SSRIs can also be helpful in the treatment of that mood disorder).

By contrast, no medication is specifically designed for personality disorders. On a case-by-case basis, medications like antidepressants or mood stabilizers may be used to treat co-occurring conditions (like depression in someone with BPD), but these medications aren’t designed for a personality disorder itself. Regardless of the mental health condition, a mental health professional should help determine what medication, if any, works best for you. 

Bipolar disorder vs borderline personality disorder (BPD)

While bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, and BPD is a personality disorder, the two can sometimes be confused. Both disorders involve mood instability and impulsive behavior, but these symptoms manifest differently. Bipolar disorder involves extreme mood swings, from highs (mania or hypomania) to lows (depression), whereas people with BPD struggle to regulate emotions, often expressing them intensely. A mental health professional can determine which disorder fits a person’s symptoms. 

Mood disorder and personality disorder similarities

On its surface, a person with a mental health disorder like histrionic personality disorder (marked by exaggerated emotions and erratic behaviors) may not seem to share many personality traits with someone with depression. However, in general, mood disorders and personality disorders share some things in common. 

Emotional dysregulation 

In both mood disorders and personality disorders, people may struggle to manage their emotions. For example, people with major depressive disorder (a mood disorder) may experience persistent feelings of sadness that make it hard to engage in social interactions or maintain interest in hobbies or work responsibilities. By contrast, people with antisocial personality disorder might quickly get very angry if they feel insulted or challenged, which could make them lash out or become violent. While the feelings people experience are different, in both of these cases, emotional dysregulation contributes to significant distress and impairment in functioning.

Shared symptoms 

While most of the symptoms of personality and mood disorders differ, some overlapping symptoms include: 

  • 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

Treatment options

In many cases, treatment for both mood and personality disorders involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication management. Psychotherapy, often referred to as talk therapy, provides a supportive and structured environment for people to explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with a trained therapist. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns while developing coping strategies to manage symptoms commonly associated with mood and personality disorders, such as depression or anxiety. Similarly, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) focuses on teaching skills to improve emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and mindfulness. 

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Mood disorder and personality disorder help at Charlie Health

If you or a loved one are struggling with a mood disorder or personality disorder, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for dealing with serious mental health conditions, including mood and personality disorders — from seasonal affective disorder to paranoid personality disorder. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies, like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With treatment, managing a mental health disorder is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today. 

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