There are many stereotypes and misconceptions about mood disorders and people who have them. Learn what these myths are and the truth behind them.

Popular culture and social media are filled with stereotypes and misconceptions about mood disorders. Fortunately, there has been a growing effort recently to end some of the harmful stigmas surrounding mood disorders like depression and anxiety

Learning the facts about these conditions and dispelling the myths are important for understanding mood disorders and helping people get the treatment they need.

Myth 1: Creativity and mood disorders go hand in hand.

Fact: Many creative people do not have mood disorders, and having a mood disorder does not necessarily lead to greater creativity.

Throughout history, there have been many examples of influential artists and writers who openly struggled with a mood disorder. The painter Vincent van Gogh and the writer Ernest Hemingway both faced depression late in life, and some people speculate that the musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did as well. However, the work of these creators often diminished during the worst phases of their disorders.

It is true that there seems to be a significant number of artists and creators who have a mood disorder of some sort. As of yet, however, science has not found a solid link between mood disorders and creativity. There are great artists who do not have mood disorders, and many people who do have a mood disorder do not benefit from any extra creativity.

It can be easy for people to form the wrong ideas about mental health and creativity. Some think that suffering is necessary to create good art, or creative geniuses always have a mental illness that goes with their talent. This misconception can even interfere with treatment efforts because some patients are afraid of losing their creative streak if they seek help.

Myth 2: Mood disorders are simply a lack of willpower.

Fact: Mood disorders are diseases that people cannot simply “will” away.

Several symptoms of mood disorders may include low willpower or poor self-control. People with depression or anxiety may find it difficult to accomplish tasks at work and at home, may avoid socializing and attending events, or may even struggle to get out of bed or leave the house.

These symptoms are not due to laziness and are not within a person’s control at all. Rather, their underlying condition can make them unable to perform their regular activities for a variety of reasons. People with mood disorders often feel fatigued or drained of energy, and can have great difficulty concentrating. Those with depression often feel hopeless and unable to do anything helpful, and may wish they had more motivation or energy to do things. Those with anxiety may feel too afraid or stressed to perform standard tasks.

Myth 3: People who come from happy families don’t develop mood disorders.

Fact: People from any family background can develop a mood disorder.

There are many reasons why people develop mood disorders. Not all of them are fully understood yet. What all of the reasons come down to are imbalances in chemicals in the brain, mainly the neurotransmitters that send signals between neurons (brain cells). Several environmental and biological factors can influence the production of neurotransmitters.

Mood disorders do have a tendency to run in families, and there may be a couple of reasons why. The first is genetics. Certain genes may affect a person’s neurotransmitters or can influence the development of their emotions. These genes can be inherited from a person’s parents, and people are more likely to develop a mood disorder if one of their parents has one. 

The home environment and family events can also have a significant effect. Traumatic experiences or stressful situations during childhood or adolescence can lead to the development of mood disorders.

These are not the only factors that can cause mood disorders to develop. Many other risk factors can contribute to the development of mood disorders, and not all are known yet. Stressful situations outside the family, other illnesses and environmental conditions can all play a role. Even if someone had a happy childhood and came from a loving family, they can still develop a mood disorder.

Myth 4: Mood swings are always indicative of bipolar disorder.

Fact: Mood swings can happen as a part of several conditions, or not be related to illness at all.

There is often a desire to assign blame or pinpoint a cause for someone’s extreme changes in mood. They’re said to be hormonal or unstable. One common assumption is that people who switch between periods of joy to periods of sadness easily or rapidly must have bipolar disorder. In reality, there are many complex reasons why someone might experience mood swings.

Rapid mood swings are not typically part of bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. Bipolar disorder involves characterized by extended periods of elated feelings (manic phases) or of sadness and hopelessness (depressive phases), with periods of normal emotions in between. A small number of patients may have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, where the manic and depressive phases quickly change.

Mood swings and extreme emotions can be symptoms of other mood disorders. People with depression, anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, and other conditions may go through periods of extreme irritability, sadness, hopelessness, restlessness or lethargy.

Aside from mood disorders, mood swings can be caused by a great variety of factors, such as:

Myth 5: Mood disorders are personality flaws.

Fact: Mood disorders are not related to personality and are not flaws.

The term personality flaw is incorrect for several reasons. Mood disorders are illnesses beyond a person’s control, and people who have them can still lead productive, fulfilling lives.

Further, mood disorders themselves are not due to a person’s personality at all. Some people may be confusing mood disorders with personality disorders. Though the two categories of mental illnesses have some features in common, and people often have both at the same time, they are two distinct types of conditions. Doctors and psychologists consider mood disorders to be conditions where periods of extreme emotions affect a person’s daily life. Personality disorders, on the other hand, stem from ingrained patterns of behavior or thoughts.

Myth 6: Only adults suffer from mood disorders.

Fact: Children and teenagers can struggle with mood disorders as well as adults.

A common misconception is that children cannot develop the serious illnesses that adults do. Children and teenagers are sometimes believed to not develop mental illnesses because they don’t have the same worries or stressors that adults have. This belief is simply not true, and the problem of mood disorders in minors is too frequently overlooked.

Sadly, there are plenty of traumatic experiences or stressful situations that can happen to children and teenagers. Emotional or physical abuse, pressure from school or from peers and physical health problems can all cause children to develop depression, anxiety or other conditions. 

Depressive disorders are especially common among adolescents. As many as 18.2% of girls and 7.7% of boys experience depressive episodes by the time they are 17 years old. Between 0.8% and 4.3% of children have pediatric bipolar disorder or disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Recognizing mood disorders in children and teenagers is important for helping them grow and develop emotionally. Failing to help kids with mood disorders can have devastating consequences. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents, and rates of self-harm and teenage violence have been on the rise.

Related Topic: Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) treatment plan

Myth 7: Mood disorders are a sign of weakness.

Fact: Mood disorders are real diseases that have nothing to do with strength or weakness.

Calling mood disorders and other mental illnesses weaknesses further the harmful stigma that surrounds people who have them. This attitude can make people afraid to talk about their disease or to reach out for help. Such prejudice against mental illness can impact all aspects of a person’s life, from their job to housing to social life.

The reality is that mood disorders are real diseases that affect people no matter how resilient they are. Mood disorders such as depressionanxietybipolar disorder, and others are all officially recognized by doctors and psychologists around the world. 

Health care professionals learn to diagnose and treat mood disorders as part of their training. In the United States, standards for diagnostic criteria and treatment guidelines for mood disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Myth 8: Mood disorders are lifelong conditions.

Fact: Mood disorders can be treated and successfully overcome.

A major reason why dispelling myths about mood disorders and other mental illnesses is so important is so that people with these disorders can receive the help they need. Those who struggle with mood disorders need to know that treatment is available, and need to not feel afraid or ashamed to seek it out. The truth is that mood disorders do not have to last forever.

Several different treatment options are available for mood disorders. The specific types of treatment a person receives depends on several factors, such as:

  • The type and severity of their disorder
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Medications they already take
  • Overall physical health

Treatment plans usually include psychotherapy or counseling of some sort. Psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy are similar methods that can all be highly successful. Therapy may be done individually or in a group setting. These types of talk therapies can help patients learn to cope with their stressors in a healthy way and develop positive thought and behavior patterns that will help manage their symptoms. Mindfulness techniques like meditation and yoga can also be helpful.

For some people, medications can also be very helpful. Certain pharmaceutical drugs can restore the balance of chemicals in a person’s brain. Medications like these can help people regulate their emotions better and can enable them to focus their thoughts away from repetitive, negative ideas or memories.

Medications that can be prescribed for mood disorders include:

In severe cases, mood disorders can be treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Though a somewhat complex procedure, ECT is one of the best ways to alleviate major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

Mood disorders often occur along with drug or alcohol abuse. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mood disorder and an addiction, specialized help is always available. Contact The Recovery Village today to learn what we can do for you.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Anna Pickering, PhD
Dr. Anna Pickering has a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology. Anna works as a medical writer. She grew up in Oregon, where she developed a love for science, nature, and writing. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.