Mood and Affect List

Meta Description: Access a handy guide to help you observe, evaluate, and further understand a client's mood and affect.

By Gale Alagos on May 15, 2024.

Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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What is the difference between mood and affect?

Mood and affect refer to an individual's emotional states. While they are typically used interchangeably, they represent distinct experiences.

Mood refers to a person's prevailing emotional tone – a general feeling that tends to persist for hours, days, or even weeks. Mood is subjective and often described as either positive (happy, content) or negative (sad, angry). It can color a person's overall world experience and influence their thoughts and behaviors. For instance, someone experiencing a low mood might struggle to concentrate or feel less motivated to engage in activities they typically enjoy.

Affect, on the other hand, reflects the outward expression of emotion. It's more fleeting and reactive, lasting seconds to minutes. We can think of it as the emotional weather. It can be joyful one moment and angry the next, often triggered by specific events or interactions. Affect can be observed through facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and speech content. For example, a patient with a flat affect might speak in a monotone voice with little facial expression, even when discussing a significant positive or negative event.

Printable Mood and Affect List PDF

Download this Mood and Affect List to help you observe, evaluate, and further understand a client's mood and affect.

How do mental health professionals assess a patient's mood and affect?

Accurately measuring a patient's emotional state is essential in effective mental health assessment. While mood and affect are interrelated concepts, they offer distinct insights.

When it comes to mood, a mental health professional can assess this through the following methods:

  • Self-report: Directly ask patients to describe their mood using clear and concise language. Examples include: "How have you been feeling overall in the past week?" or "Can you describe your emotional state in general?"
  • Behavioral observation: Notice changes in activity level, sleep patterns, appetite, or social interaction. These can often indicate underlying mood shifts.
  • Standardized mood rating scales: These self-report measures can quantitatively assess a patient's mood state. Examples include the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) or the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D).

Now, when talking about affect, we can pay attention to the following:

  • Non-verbal cues: Pay close attention to facial expressions, body language, and vocal tone. Incongruence between verbal and nonverbal communication can be a red flag.
  • Speech patterns: Consider the rate, volume, and content of speech. Rapid, pressured speech might suggest anxiety, while slow, monotone speech could indicate depression.

Beyond these manifestations and observations, it is also important to consider other factors, such as cultural context. For instance, some cultures may emphasize stoicism, while others encourage more open displays of emotion. We can also explore how long the patient has been experiencing a particular mood or affect. This can help differentiate between situational reactions and potential mental health conditions.

What mental disorders impact a person's mood and affect?

Mood and affect are two sides of the emotional coin, and when they become disrupted, they can be a significant indicator of underlying mental health issues and psychiatric illnesses. Here's a look at some common mental disorders that can impact a person's emotional well-being:

Mood disorders

These emotional disorders primarily affect a person's prevailing emotional state (mood). Examples include:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD): Characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in once enjoyable activities. People with MDD may also experience changes in sleep patterns, appetite, and energy levels.
  • Bipolar disorder: Involves episodes of both mania (elevated mood, racing thoughts, increased energy) and depression. Mood swings can be dramatic and significantly impact a person's ability to function.

Anxiety disorders

Excessive worry and fear are the hallmarks of these disorders. People with anxiety disorders may experience physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and muscle tension alongside emotional distress. These can then extend to how people express their moods and affect.

Schizophrenia spectrum disorders

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that can cause hallucinations, delusions, negative symptoms, and disorganized thinking. People with schizophrenia and other related disorders may have an unreasonable and sustained belief about specific experiences, which can influence their mood and affect. At the same time, they might also experience blunted or inappropriate emotional responses.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD can develop after exposure to a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, and intense emotional reactions to reminders of the trauma. People with this mental illness may also experience difficulty controlling their emotions.

Autism spectrum disorders

While not classified as a mood disorder, ASD can significantly impact a person's emotional experience and expression of affect. For instance, individuals with ASD may have difficulty understanding and managing their emotions. This can lead to intense emotional responses, frustration, and meltdowns. Some people with ASD could also exhibit a limited range of facial expressions or vocal tones, which can make it challenging to interpret their emotions.

4 examples of mood and affect

Understanding the range of emotional experiences is key to effectively assessing a patient's mental health. Here, we'll explore four common mood states and their corresponding emotional expressions or affect.

Euthymic mood

This refers to a balanced emotional state characterized by neither strong positive nor negative feelings. Affect in this state would likely be neutral as well, with calm facial expressions, even tone of voice, and relaxed body language.

Euphoric mood  

A euphoric mood is characterized by a feeling of contentment, joy, or satisfaction. Corresponding affect might include smiling, laughter, increased energy, and a generally positive and engaged demeanor.

Depressed mood

A depressed mood refers to feelings of sorrow, unhappiness, or disappointment.  This might be accompanied by tearfulness, slumped posture, a downturned mouth, and a soft or slow-paced voice.

Irritable mood

An irritable mood involves a state of being easily annoyed or frustrated.  People experiencing irritability might report feeling on edge or short-tempered.  The corresponding affect could include furrowed brows, scowling, tense body language, sharp or critical speech, and impatience.

What is a Mood and Affect List?

Diving into a patient's emotional experience is a fundamental step in assessment and providing mental healthcare. The Mood and Affect List can then be a helpful tool in this process, serving as a standardized reference for documenting a mood and affect in clinical practice.

Unlike a standardized test, the Mood and Affect List functions as a framework for systematically exploring a patient's emotional state. This framework includes two key components:

  • Mood words: This section presents a spectrum of terms that capture various emotional states. Examples might include euthymic, irritable, pessimistic, and depressed, along with the corresponding description.
  • Affect descriptors: Moving beyond internal experience, this section focuses on outward expressions of emotion. Words that describe facial expressions, body language, and vocal tone constitute a patient's affect. For instance, affect descriptors might include appropriate or labile affect.

Mood and Affect List example (sample)

We have created a handy reference when examining or observing a client's mood and affect. We draw from Martin's (1990) guide on the Mental Status Examination (MSE) and elaborate on the indicated mood and affect and their representations. This can be helpful in a psychiatric evaluation and in conducting a mental status exam to screen for psychiatric disorders. If this handout can be helpful for your practice, feel free to check out a preview by clicking on the link below. You can also choose to download this locally as a PDF file.

Download our free Mood and Affect List template example here

Mood and Affect List example

What are the benefits of using this list?

Using a comprehensive Mood and Affect List offers several benefits for healthcare practitioners in the field of mental health assessment and care:

Better clinical decision-making

The Mood and Affect list offers a structured template that can guide healthcare practitioners through the process of assessing a patient's mental health status. This systematic framework stimulates consistent recordings, making it easier to identify patterns or changes over time, thereby facilitating more accurate clinical decisions.

Enhanced patient understanding

A patient's affect and mood are significant indicators of their emotional well-being. This list serves as a tool better to understand the patient's current mental health presentation comprehensively, providing vital insights into their emotional state and overall psychological status.

Effective communication

The Mood and Affect List also promotes effective interdisciplinary communication. This ensures that all healthcare practitioners understand the patient's mood and affect similarly, ensuring consistent, effective, and patient-centered care.

Effective monitoring tool

This list serves as a valuable monitoring tool. Regular updates on the list can indicate the efficacy of an intervention or help detect any changes in the condition, potentially alerting to the need for a revision in treatment strategy.

Facilitates research

From a broader perspective, having a structured, universally understood Mood and Affect list template can aid in gathering standardized data for mental health research, contributing to advances in medical knowledge and practice.

Why use Carepatron as your mental health software?

Choosing Carepatron as your one-stop mental health software offers several compelling benefits to healthcare practitioners. Carepatron is designed to streamline various clinical and administrative tasks so you can prioritize the efficiency and quality of care you provide to clients. Specifically, we offer the following features:

  • Comprehensive patient management: Carepatron provides a centralized system for managing patient records, appointments, and treatment plans. This consolidation facilitates easy access to patient information, improving treatment coordination and patient outcomes.
  • Secure communication: Security is paramount in healthcare, especially when dealing with sensitive mental health information. Carepatron ensures that confidential information remains protected, complying with privacy regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
  • Integrated billing and coding: The platform simplifies the billing and coding process, reducing administrative burdens on practitioners and staff. By streamlining these processes, we help reduce errors and improve the accuracy of billing, leading to timely reimbursements and financial efficiency.
  • Documentation and note-taking: Mental healthcare providers can take advantage of templates and customizable notes for recording patient interactions and treatment notes.
  • Accessible anywhere: Being cloud-based, Carepatron allows practitioners to access patient information and use its features from anywhere with an internet connection.
Mental Health Software


Martin, D. C. (1990). The mental status examination. In Clinical methods: The history, physical, and laboratory examinations. Butterworths.

How are mood and affect different?
How are mood and affect different?

Commonly asked questions

How are mood and affect different?

While mood is the subjective and prolonged emotional state of a person, affect is the external, observable emotional response or reaction. Mood is what we feel inside, while affect is what others can observe from our external emotional reactions.

What can cause disturbances in one's mood or affect?

A range of factors can cause mood or affect disturbances, including stress, traumatic experiences, psychoactive substance use, physical health problems, side effects of medication, or a mental health disorder like depression or bipolar disorder.

Can the mood and affect change rapidly?

Yes, in certain mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, one might observe rapid shifts in affect, also known as "affective lability." This refers to quick, often drastic changes in mood over a short period.

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