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What Is a Mood Disorder Not Otherwise Specified?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) explains mood disorder not otherwise specified (NOS) as a mood disorder that impairs an individual but does not meet each criterion required for the diagnosis of a specific mood disorder. Therefore, when a person presents mood-related symptoms but does not present each of the criteria for any particular kind of mood disorder, his healthcare provider might diagnose him with mood disorder NOS or one of the more specific NOS diagnoses. Treatment usually depends on the more prevalent symptoms or, when possible, the more specific diagnosis.

Mood disorders are psychological conditions characterized by mood disturbances acting as the fundamental symptoms. Broadly speaking, disorders dealing with depression and mania are the two most recognized groups, and within those groups are more specific disorders. Typically, medical professionals use the diagnostic codes within the DSM-IV to diagnose them. When a person does not meet requirements set forth in the diagnostic codes for a particular mood disorder, he might be diagnosed with this more general disorder.

Although a straight diagnosis of mood disorder not otherwise specified is possible, a more specific psychiatric diagnosis also is possible. Probably the two most common of the disorders in this family are depressive disorder not otherwise specified (DD-NOS) and bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BD-NOS). Each of these disorders feature symptoms prevalent in their namesakes. For example, a person might be diagnosed with DD-NOS if he displays symptoms of other depressive disorders, such as major depressive disorder or dysthymia, but does not meet the exact criteria for one of those. Likewise, a person might be diagnosed with BD-NOS if he experiences symptoms on the bipolar spectrum, such as depression and mania, but does not meet the criteria for any of the specific bipolar disorder diagnoses.

Generally, treatment for mood disorder not otherwise specified is similar to treatment for other types of mood disorders. A person diagnosed with a mood disorder might receive therapy, medications, or more commonly a combination of both. Of course, the type of therapy and medication most likely will depend on the predominant symptoms. For example, a person diagnosed with depressive disorder not otherwise specified might receive a combination of therapy and medications designed to treat symptoms of depression. On the other hand, a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder not otherwise specified might receive a combination of therapy and medications designed to treat the symptoms of both depression and mania.

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Discussion Comments

By anon942887 — On Mar 29, 2014

SarahGen, I can relate to your sis and am frustrated by this NOS. I feel it is a cop out for psychs who don't take the time to thoroughly question a patient and dig a little deeper. Without a specific diagnosis, how is one going to get the right treatment? Further, without it, getting SSDI is next to impossible.

By anon924137 — On Jan 02, 2014

I have been diagnosed with Mood Disorder NOS and have been in this state of being for years. I was once told that I have mixed episode bipolar. What one must realize is that mental illnesses rarely stand alone. This means there are usually two ore more additional diagnoses. I also have OCPD, GAD, and PTSD. I take medications to treat depression, anxiety and mania.

By anon357777 — On Dec 06, 2013

I have recently been diagnosed with Mood Disorder NOS, as a primary diagnosis. That particular diagnosis makes perfect sense to me, because I have seen Bipolar, Manic and Depressed people with those disorders. I myself, do not fall under any of those categories. It's more like experiencing different moods in a more erratic pattern at different times (which, for me, is nothing like Bipolar, where the mood lasts for days or extremely long durations).

That's how I make sense out of it, anyway. It's more of an erratic type state, versus being on one extreme of the spectrum or the other (with various, any and all moods included). Oh, and I have also known bipolar people to go to the extremes of hallucinations from lack of sleep, but again, I do not fall into that category.

By literally45 — On Dec 23, 2012

I think diagnoses can also depend on the doctor and how they're analyzing the symptoms. It's possible for someone to see two different doctors and be diagnosed with slightly different things.

By fify — On Dec 23, 2012

@SarahGen-- I'm in the same boat but not really bothered by the diagnosis. Mood disorders and other psychological disorders vary a lot. It's not possible to lump all people into clear cut categories because we're all different with unique needs. Some people lean toward bipolar symptoms, others toward anxiety, others toward depression and some people experience a combination of different things.

I think what's most important is identifying where the problems exist and targeting those areas for treatment like you said. Why would I want to be given a label if that label doesn't work for me? I'd rather be in the NOS category and know the reality of my situation.

By SarahGen — On Dec 22, 2012

My sister was diagnosed with mood disorder NOS and she's really bothered about it. She wants to know which specific category she belongs in and thinks that the doctor she's seeing isn't good. She wants to see a different one to see if she can get a more specific diagnosis.

I've tried telling her that it doesn't really matter as long as she is getting the right treatment for her symptoms and is feeling better. But she insists on knowing where she stands.

Has anyone else been diagnosed with mood disorder NOS? Are you experiencing the same frustration my sister is going through right now about your diagnosis?

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