The terms personality and mood are sometimes misinterpreted as having the same meaning. This confusion often contributes to a consequent misunderstanding of the mental disorders of personality and mood. Clarifying the definitions of these terms is a good place to start in gaining a better understanding these distinct classes of mental illness.
Difference between Personality and Mood
What Is Mood?
The term “mood” typically refers to a temporary state of mind or feeling. Although mood is an internal, subjective state, a person’s mood is often evident through observable behaviors. Moods are generally thought of as being either positive or negative, and unlike more changeable emotional feelings, like fear or joy, moods are more stable, typically lasting hours or days.
What Is Personality?
The combined and consistent patterns of emotion, thought and behavior that make an individual unique are considered “personality”. This aspect of self differs from mood in that mood is a more changeable, often situational response, whereas personality is a relatively stable, life-long combination of traits.
Think of the overall list of general characteristics that those who know you would use if asked to describe what you’re like. Whether you are cheerful and optimistic or reclusive and brooding, characteristics of your personality are a product of your heredity and early life experience, and are generally fixed by the time you reach adulthood.
What is a Mood Disorder?
A mood disorder is a type of mental illnesses in which the normal functioning or range of mood is abnormal in a way that seriously disrupts a person’s life (APA 2000). Everybody gets the blues sometimes, and all of us experience happiness or emotional pleasure, but the emotions associated with mood disorders are typically extreme. The down swings may manifest as persistent feelings of depression or suicidal thoughts. The opposite end of the spectrum can be equally maladaptive, with abnormally high energy levels precluding sleep and the mind brimming with racing thoughts.
Mood disorders as classified by psychology’s “diagnostic bible” the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) into the following main categories:
- Major Depressive Disorder
- Dysthymic Disorder
- Cyclothymic Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder (a.k.a. Manic-depressive Disorder)
What Is a Personality Disorder?
The DSM-IV-TR defines those with personality disorders as having traits that cause them to feel and behave in socially abnormal ways. Depending on the specific disorder, these personalities are generally described in negative terms such as hostile, detached, needy, antisocial or obsessive. People with personality disorders typically experience conflict and instability in many aspects of their lives, and most are prone to blame others for their problems. While many other psychological disorders fluctuate in terms of symptom presence and intensity, personality disorders typically remain relatively constant throughout life, although they do vary in severity from individual to individual.
There are currently 10 conditions that are considered personality disorders, some of which have very little in common. Mental health professionals typically group those personality disorders that share characteristics into one of three clusters:
Cluster A Personality Disorders are those considered to be marked by odd, eccentric behavior. Paranoid, Schizoid and Schizotypal Personality Disorders are in this category.
Cluster B Personality Disorders are evidenced by dramatic, erratic behaviors and include Histrionic, Narcissistic, Antisocial and Borderline Personality Disorders.
Cluster C Personality Disorders are distinguished by the anxious, fearful behavior commonly seen in Obsessive-Compulsive, Avoidant and Dependent Personality Disorders.This article, originally published in Suite101 online magazine, describes definitions and clinical tools used by professionals to diagnose personality and mood disorders. The contents of this article are not meant to be used for diagnosis and are not a substitute for professional help and counseling.
Dobbert, D. (2007) Understanding Personality Disorders: An Introduction. Greenwood Press.
American Psychiatric Association APA (2000) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR)