Comments on
Mood vs Behavior Disorder

Another notion that needs to be challenged is that depression and bipolar are “mood disorders,” while hallucinations and delusions are “thought disorders.” There is nothing wrong with having moods, thoughts,

21 thoughts on “Mood vs Behavior Disorder

  • September 8, 2010 at 5:19 am

    I really enjoyed this post, and it really hit home for me. It’s so true that the labels we put on things limit the way we look at them and the way we treat them. This is a really useful way to look at; it gives you a good place to start taking control of your condition.

    I’m probably going to bookmark this post and come back to it to go over it again later. It’s a lot to take in and think about.

    Thanks again.

  • September 8, 2010 at 9:34 am

    It matters for a number of reasons:

    1. Internal mental states affect quality of life. Internal mental states also affect our ability to *understand* how internal mental states are affecting our quality of life.

    Someone in a coma might be “happy”, but I don’t think we would say that they are in a healthy mental state. But they can’t understand that they aren’t – unless someone diagnoses and intervenes with the internal mental state.

    2. Internal mental states affect our ability to control our behavior, and also our ability to understand whether or not we *are* adequately controlling our behavior.

    We may *think* that we are keeping our behavior under control, and we are likely to argue vigorously that we are doing so. But unless our mood or thought disorders are under control, then we probably aren’t.

    None of which is to denigrate behavioral approaches … we can try to keep our moods under control *and* learn behavioral approaches to help.

  • September 8, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    Umm….sorry. I don’t buy it. When my behavior is a bit off, it is due to a flare-up of my mood disorder. Cause and effect, with the cause being the mood disorder. I treat the cause, and by golly it works.

    If I have a downturn, I mobilize my resources and get through it through patience and the blessings of medication, a kind psychologist, and good friends.

    When my mood disorder is in remission (which it mostly is), the distorted feelings, psychic agony, brain fog, lack of concentration, and low energy improve. Any associated “behavioral” components (droopiness, not getting enough done, etc.) clear up as well. Then hey, it’s back to life as usual – work, friends, recreation.

    When my moods and energy are back in the normal range, then the rest follows. I do my very best to maintain normal activities during a downturn. But really, it’s control of the primary symptoms that really allows me to function unburdened and grounded, really enjoying work and people.

    • July 2, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      100% agree

    • October 19, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      Absolutely !!!!!!

  • September 9, 2010 at 1:05 am

    I disagree with the use of behavior disorder to describe what is commonly called mood disorder. Behavior is an outward manifestation while mood is an internal process. Being sent, or going to, a “behavior unit” of a hospital is saying that your behavior is inappropriate. What I have is a psychiatric problem, not a behavior problem. My mood problems are a difficulty for me, emotionally, not behaviorally.

    • October 19, 2017 at 3:36 pm

      Agreed !!!!!

  • September 11, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Hi Martina,
    Thank you for sharing examples of your life as part of your comment. It helps me to see where you are coming from and to get a sense of why you feel the way that you do.

    I hope that you can take a look at my argument again from the perspective of your own experience; it is a perfect example of my point. When you treat what you believe to be the cause (moods) you get temporary remission, but it comes back and controls your life.

    I understand that you cannot currently choose how to react when the moods come back. You have been focusing on making the moods go away instead of your behavior during them. You can get there, but you have to see that your current approach is not working and accept that another might.

    Although it is helpful at first to minimize the mood, just as it is helpful to put your leg in a cast when it is broken, you will never be able to function during the mood unless you learn to behave during it.

    If you would like to be free from the affect of your moods, you will need to learn to be free during them. Trying to be free of the moods does not work, as you have repeatedly proved by experience.

    You are not alone in your conclusion. The National Institute of Mental Health along with virtually everyone I have seen continues to cling to an approach that their own studies prove does not work: “According to the researchers, these results indicate that in spite of modern, evidence-based treatment, bipolar disorder remains a highly recurrent, predominantly depressive illness.” Yet, they continue to advocate more of the same: “This finding may indicate that complete symptomatic remission, i.e, the absence of all symptoms, should be the goal of treatment, as it is in non-bipolar, major depression.”

    Please give Bipolar In Order a chance. We have gotten to a point where it is no longer an illness and no longer dictates our choice of how to act. You can prove it in your own life too.

  • September 12, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I must confess that I’m a bit confused as to why you assume (without my saying anything to that effect) that I can’t or don’t choose how to react when my moods take a downturn. I actually think I react quite well and very practically and have in fact been complimented on the maturity with which I manage my mood disorder.

    I do not *believe* that the moods are the primary symptom of my disorder; I *know* they are. (Let’s not forget that moods are only part of the equation – there are energy and cognitive components.) But anyway, my problem is not behavioral – I do not behave badly, nor do I totally cave and cease to function when I have a downturn. And just because I acknowledge that I have a recurrent illness does not mean that it defines me.

    My remission is not as temporary as you seem to imply. It’s more the norm. My occasional downturns in fact have been often triggered by medication problems (e.g., a change in generics).

    I guess I am not sure why you are putting such a negative spin on what I consider to be tremendous success with my mood disorder. You say that what I’m doing isn’t working. But my current approach is working pretty darned well. In general, I think I’ve been doing great! And I owe a debt of gratitude to the doctors and therapists that have helped me through it.


  • September 12, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Hi Martina,
    I assume that you can’t choose how to react when your moods return because that is what you say in both your previous comment and last one. I don’t know how old you are, so I have no idea about the relative maturity of your reactions to bipolar compared to others your age, but that is wonderful that people have complimented your efforts. It is tremendous that you have accomplished what you have.

    I am very sorry that my attempt to help you understand is a sign of negativity to you. If you read my reactions (or lack thereof) to other posts challenging my articles, you will see that I seldom take the time to take someone outside of their comfort zone by pointing out the limitation of their arguments. I generally avoid such interactions because they are usually just attempts to argue instead of to learn. It is really a compliment that I think you have achieved so much that you are ready to take it to another level.

    As you say yourself though, “When my behavior is a bit off, it is due to a flare-up of my mood disorder… Any associated “behavioral” components (droopiness, not getting enough done, etc.) clear up as well… I acknowledge that I have a recurrent illness… ” That is why I point out that it still has control over you – you say it in both of your comments.

    Calling it temporary remission has nothing to do with the length of time between what you are calling downturns. Temporary means lasting for only a limited period of time; not permanent. The remission periods are temporary as long as the experiences return and are perceived as in disorder or an illness, which is what you are still calling them.

    Bipolar In Order is when our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual experiences are no longer perceived as disordered or illnesses. They are equally beautiful and valuable as any other state and do not need to be diminished or removed. We become free when we have complete choice in how to react to every stimulus and do so based on insights gained in both our interactions with the outside world and our internal experiences.

    Bipolar In Order means that the condition is an asset that informs our lives. Bipolar disorder is when people still cannot comprehend the changes in energy and information flow and believe that they are in disorder.

    With the tremendous success you have already achieved, are you ready to move from disorder to Bipolar In Order?

  • September 13, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I simply disagree. The mood disorders of mania and depression are a disorder. However, in our armoury of dealing with them, we only have our behaviour. So, the condition is a mood disorder and the treatment is behavioural. And over the years, I have become quite adept at controlling my behaviour whilst in the depths of very severe depression and anxiety. I can function when I’m really quite ill. Whilst no one knows unless I tell them, it is very taxing. Perhaps I’m missing the point somewhere and I would welcome you clarifying it for me. However, I see no problem in using the term ‘mood disorder’ and the treatment approach ‘behavioural’. One treatment approach ‘Behaviour Activation Therapy’ has been very useful for me. And certainly, no one would ever choose to be bipolar 1 and we all struggle to gain mastery over it, so therefore, it’s a disorder.


  • September 20, 2010 at 6:13 am

    Hi Colette,
    You have been a great influence on me. My latest talk is so much better because of the insights you have shared since we met. I can’t wait to share it with you. We don’t need to agree on everything to be great friends. The disagreements are what help us to grow.

    I agree with you that moods can be in disorder and have no issue with calling it such. Treating the disorder even may require temporary lessening of the mood.

    As I defined in the article, mood is “a conscious state of mind or predominant emotion.” The conscious state of mind can certainly be disordered and a source of great pain. It can even be argued that changing the state of mind can lead to temporary improvement. My argument is that the exact same state of mind can be experienced as beautiful, which renders the disorder the reaction to the state (behavior), not the state itself.

    As defined in the article, behavior is “the manner of conducting oneself, anything that an organism does involving action and response to stimulation, and the response of an individual, group, or species to its environment.” The stimulation is the mood, behavior is the response to it.

    I gladly choose Bipolar 1 Schizoaffective In Order and experience it as a wonderful condition. When it is In Order there is no longer a struggle to gain mastery over it. There is no doubt that, short of that, it is still a disorder as our increased functionality gradually lessens the negative impact of it.

    As you have proven yourself, great progress comes when we address our behavior (reaction to the state). Based on my exchanges with you over the last year or so, I believe you are way closer to In Order than you think. I am glad that we have been able to share our paths together.

  • September 20, 2010 at 9:05 am

    Hi Tom,

    Thank you for your kind words, I value them greatly.

    Now…to business. I believe you have something unique and important to contribute to the effective treatment of bipolar disorder. However, judging from some of the dismissive &/or affronted responses you have received in this and other posts, your message is easily lost as it is so at odds with conventional thinking on mental illness. There lies its strength and its weakness. How can you best get your message across without alientating the very people who would most benefit from hearing it?

    Whilst trying to imagine experiencing bipolar as “beautiful” (I can’t, by the way), I keep reminding myself that I’m just not there yet. But that’s the thing, achieving Bipolar in Order is a journey. I know you’ve made that point in your book (the part about not being able to see the whole picture until you have achieved Bipolar in Order). Maybe that’s something you could stress a little more? And that journey is not for the faint hearted. It’s a journey that requires belief that it’s achievable, laser focussed determination and sheer tenacity despite the inevitable set backs.

    My story is not much different from others that I’ve read. I remember bipolar in disorder all too well: suicide attempts, hospitalizations, unemployment, damaged relationships, multiple medication trials, debilitating medication side effects, multiple psychiatrists, multiple psychologists, going off all medications, then trying still more medications. And everything I read on bipolar only frightened & discouraged me more. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I started reading about Bipolar in Order and my outlook changed. What I was experiencing were paths along the way. That put things in perspective.

    So, anyway, if, as you say, I am at the point of ‘closer than you think’ to Bipolar in Order (is that a sub-category?), let me describe what that is for me. I’ll use the analogy of how I deal with pain. I’m good at pain. I learned a lot about pain from a very difficult childbirth experience. This is just as well, since I have tiny veins and usually have blood taken from the backs of my hands to test my medication levels. From what I learned from the childbirth pain, I can now just sit there and chat to the nurse as she takes the blood. It’s not “beautiful”. I wouldn’t ask the nurse to take another vial just to be sure, or anything. But pain is “in order”. And that’s pretty much how I deal with depression and anxiety now. I understand what it is and how to deal with it. So, it’s not so bad.

    But I aspire to one day see things from your view.

    Best Wishes,


  • September 20, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I forgot to put in one idea to ‘normalize’ your assertion that bipolar may be beautiful if you work at it. The expression ‘having a good cry’ is one most people can relate to. So, not all negative emotional states need necessarily be viewed as such.


  • September 23, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I think moods and behavior are interdependent to a big degree. It’s our behavior that influences our life. And the way our life is going largely influences our mood. It’s hard, if not impossible to be happy when everything is going wrong in our life… especially if it’s going wrong due to our doings and errors.

    So I think it’s important not to give in to our moods, at least not too much. Know when we can allow ourselves to act on our impulses and know when it’s absolutelly unacceptable… and try to act by it.
    I think I said this in my previous posts, but behavior is learned, so is self-control. And nobody does what they really want all the time… if we all acted according to what we “want”… well, the human civilization would not exist. The human race even, might be extinct.

    I learned to work on what I call “autopilot mode”. Might not be ideal for me… but for me at the moment is the next best thing.

    Often the moment we first give in to our moods, it’s the first step of the downfall. One day we wake up, we don’t want to communicate with our boyfriend and don’t want to go to work… when we give in, it usually does not get better over night. Sometimes it leads to losing what we have (yes, working can be stressful… but not working is even more damaging. I’ve seen normal and intelligent people to become depressed when they were unemployed for some time…). That way we find ourselves in sucky situation, which means we are down. We are down, therefore we don’t go out and seek other opportunities… We are isolated, therefore we are down. We are down, so we withdraw from the world… and so it goes in circles… I read one study which said that often the first step to curing depression is finding some goal, some meaning in your life… to be able to do that, you need to get yourself under control. No pill, or coping method is going to make you happy in a long term, unless you have something to live for. It doesn’t have to be anything big… but it’s much easier to get out of the bed in the morning, if you have reason to.

    Lot of people say I am entertaiming and funny and all this… and apparently, I can be so even if I am depressed… and my close friends know well to stop me from going too crazy when I am manic. (And maybe it’s the way I was raised, to be rational and don’t do things just because I want. So instead of actually buying a ticket to let’s say Tel Aviv for right now, I just spend a while planning, how nice it will be one day to go to Tel Aviv…).

    Maning your feelings and moods is absolute must… and it’s often the first step to “recovery” (for whatever it means…).

  • September 27, 2010 at 8:03 am

    Love this post. I loved it in the book and I loved it in the workshop.

    Tom, you and I may disagree on the degree of control some people have over behaviors at any given point in time, but I am in total agreement with the principle that behaviors (including thought as a behavior) are at the root of the problem. I likely never will have (nor am I sure I would want) total control over my thoughts and behaviors, but I certainly can learn to manage them within a range that is healthy for me and those around me. The key is willingness to change. I have found that if I can manage even a tiny bit of willingness it can lead to great changes. Patience, persistence and a grain of willingness has lead to profound change in my life.

    One dangerous area of thinking and behavior for me relates to supernatural beings or mystical concepts. No sky father, deity or dharma path has been useful to me. Quite the contrary. Whenever I open the door to visions and mystical experiences I also open the door to the thinking that leads me to hallucinations and megalomaniacal behavior.

    I realize this is not the case for everyone. Some people can drink alcohol safely I cannot. Some people can practice religion safely I cannot. This sometimes places me in conflict with those who rely on religion. Sometimes this saddens me. But I know that I am in good company. Thomas Jefferson studied science or mathematics to manage his depression. This works for me as well. The practice of remaining in the land of coffee cups and the wonder of the natural world gives me great peace.

  • March 9, 2012 at 10:05 am

    1. The diminished ability to function (behavior) happens to me when my body’s mood is out of sorts…
    But I also can feel sick without any change in outward behavior with my bipolar disorder.

    2. Treatments include medication, diet and breathing exercise directly effect the body not the behavior, directly.

    3.psychotherapy assist in training a consumer in managing thought patterns… loosely you could these patterns as behavior.
    You could argue that almost all “mental illness” health problems are behavior problems, since behaviors aggravate internal symptoms, etc…. all thoughts and responses could be considered behavior.
    But what would be the point? How will this help the consumer?

    Bipolar is a mood disorder because its treatments and management directly effect the body and behavior, not just behavior.

  • March 28, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Hi Tom,
    I don’t agree that the focus should be on the behavior in all cases. I think that with some people it is better to focus on behavior whereas with people like me it was better for me to focus on mood. I had major depressive disorder for 11 years from my preteen years on. I finally rid myself of it by trying to change my mood (not so much control it). I tried to figure out why I was stuck in a particular state of mind. To do that, I did some soul searching and tried to resolve an issue that I had ignored from my childhood that kept on manifesting itself in new situations as I got older. After changing my perception, I instinctively knew what to do to heal. I knew what kind of activities to engage in and what kinds of nutrients to take and it was gone 3 months later. During this period of time, I gave in to my body and shut down instead of trying to fight it, but I also made sure to seek out a solution in the meantime. Giving into my moods and focusing on gaining understanding of them (being an observer of myself) is what enabled me and empowered me to find unique and effective ways to combat the behavioral issues I had day to day, like lethargy. Focusing on my behavior did not help me although I see how it could help others.

    • March 28, 2012 at 12:40 am

      Great insights True,
      It sounds like you have made tremendous progress. I especially like when you said “Giving into my moods and focusing on gaining understanding of them (being an observer of myself) is what enabled me and empowered me to find unique and effective ways to combat the behavioral issues I had day to day, like lethargy.” Brilliant! And it sounds like you are taking responsibility for the behavior issues too.

      VenusHaley nailed it too when she said “I think moods and behavior are interdependent to a big degree.” I am glad that I got everyone to think more deeply about it. So many think that if all they do is make the moods go away everything will be fine. I took the opposite approach to see if people would find the middle ground. It is exciting to see that so many did.

      • April 4, 2012 at 7:34 am

        Thanks Tom – If I didn’t get the email, I would have never seen your reply. There was not one therapist or self-help author who made me feel like my depression could be cured (unless it was a gimmick), and I hated taking medication. I have been free of depression for over 5 years now, and all because I gave in (not up) and suffered on purpose for 3 months. I appreciate and agree with your approach.

  • October 19, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Tom, I read this blog, and I feel that I now have another really good resource, i.e. your blog. I have been in self imposed isolation for about 4 weeks. Mainly an existential crisis compounded by hurtful coping mechanisms. The big coping mechanism that I only developed in the last 10 years was alcoholism. I didn’t think I could beat it, but enough pain solved it for me. That’s a biggie. So I just quit running to alcohol, plain and simple. I just became too awfully tired of it. Now I have clearer and less fearful thinking to help handle the other big issues, and my anxiety has been greatly reduced. That is big for me. But this has been indescribably tough. However, it has helped. I never took enough time before to realize that cognitive dissonance was at the root of my pain in that I created it, and only I can resolve these dissonances for myself. Then I allowed myself full time to really begin processing it and to begin incorporating it well enough to stop myself from instinctively just fearfully reacting.
    Your blog rang true with me. The behavioral techniques you describe are working for me, and I discovered them independent of and before I read your blog. This more external confirmation of my improved self awareness, facilitated by working on my new perspective/perception of reality. What a big help! About a week ago I thought I was actually losing my mind, losing myself. Then I had insight that night enough to help me. I now know everything is going to be OK and will work out as planned, as long as I keep trying. I keep getting external confirmation of that. Once I continued to believe it, it will be true, as we see in ongoing particle physics research, which is just more external confirmation. Bottom line. I know your blog to be true, because for the first time, I recently lived it (exhausting struggle). But first I had to start believing. That simple and that hard. I know that over the last month of virtual isolation and attendant insight,and also while continuing to reinforce more positive thoughts (rather than those lifelong fatalistic thoughts), all is getting easier. After all perception is reality for that person. Excuse me for being wordy. I just wanted you or your assistants to know that your blog is truly helpful and real. Thank you. Pam


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