How to Help Someone With a Mood Disorder

Mood disorders are a broad category of mental illnesses. They primarily affect a person’s persistent emotional state, which is another term for mood. Some of the more commonly known mood disorders include depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder. It’s estimated 21.4% of Americans will experience a mood disorder at some point in their lives. Knowing how to help someone with mood swings could give you the knowledge to assist your friends, family and loved ones.

Signs of a Mood Disorder

It can be difficult to recognize a mood disorder. Many of the symptoms are also signs of other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), diabetes or low blood sugar. The symptoms could also be occurring because of a bad day, burnout or exhaustion.

On top of that, each mood disorder has different symptoms or different patterns of symptoms. Some common ones to be aware of include:

  • Irritability or aggression
  • Feeling sad or empty
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of energy
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • No interest in activities that used to bring joy
  • Thoughts about death or suicide

Some people with mood disorders also experience hypomanic or manic episodes, which bring a feeling of elation. This is especially true of people with bipolar disorder. These episodes can include rapid speech or movement, racing thoughts and risk-taking behavior.

To be diagnosed with a mood disorder, the symptoms have to be overly intense and persistent. They must also affect a person’s ability to function.

How to Help Someone With Mood Swings

If you know someone who has mood swings, no matter what the cause, it can be difficult to know how to help. The first step is to not take their mood personally. It’s the disorder that’s causing the bad mood, not anything to do with you. As you move forward, don’t forget to take care of your own mental well-being so you have the energy to help them. Below are some things you can do to help them stabilize their mood.

Encourage Them to See a Doctor

A mood disorder is unlikely to go away on its own. If you notice any of the symptoms above, encourage your loved one to talk to their doctor. The mood swings may be a sign of a mood disorder or of a physical condition. Once there’s an accurate diagnosis, the journey to healing can begin.

Recognize Triggers

Help your loved one recognize what triggers their mood swings. This can include a lack of sleep, seasonal changes, or too much caffeine or alcohol. There can also be situational stressors that cause problems, such as issues at work or a health problem. With this information, you can help them avoid situations that bring on mood swings.


Studies have found that exercise is an effective treatment for people with mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. However, it can be hard for someone with a mood disorder to find the motivation to exercise regularly. You can help by setting an exercise date to walk together, go dancing or do some other form of movement regularly.

Be There

It’s possible your loved one doesn’t want to inflict their bad mood on you or doesn’t believe they’re worthy of support. Remind them that you’re here for them by reaching out regularly to tell them you care and want to be part of the team that helps them through. Practical help, such as minding children, running errands or emptying the dishwasher, also shows you’re ready to assist.

Why Someone People Experience a Mood Disorder

There are three factors that contribute to mood disorders.

  • Biological factors: The brains of people with mood disorders work differently than those without these disorders.
  • Genetic factors: Mood disorders often run in families.
  • Environmental factors: Different life events can make it more likely you’ll develop a mood disorder, including chronic stress, traumatic events and childhood abuse

What Are the Treatments for a Mood Disorder?

How to treat mood disorders depends on the exact diagnosis, but most use some combination of medication and talk therapy. Medications can include antidepressants, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. These all work to balance brain chemistry and reduce symptoms.

Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, aims to help people identify and change their unhealthy thoughts and emotions. It’s carried out with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Depending on the disorder and a person’s response to common treatments, solutions such as light therapy or electroconvulsive therapy may be suggested.

If you’re looking for more ways to help a loved one with a mood disorder, you’re in the right place. Mental Health Hotline is available 24 hours a day to offer guidance and support. Reach out today.