The term “emotional disorders” usually refers to mental health conditions like mood disorders.

When people use the term emotional disorders, they’re usually talking about mental health conditions that affect your mood. Mood disorders, also called affective disorders, include conditions like clinical depression and bipolar disorder.

According to the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, emotional disorders include psychological disorders where people have “maladjustive emotional reactions that are inappropriate or disproportionate to their cause.”

When used loosely, the term can refer to any mental health condition.

Emotional or mood disorders can be treated, often through talk therapy and medications. If you have an emotional disorder, it’s possible to heal and feel better.

In clinical settings, the term “mood disorder” is used more often than the term “emotional disorder.”

Common emotional disorders include:

Common depressive disorders include:

Anxiety disorders aren’t considered mood disorders, although they can affect mood and often occur alongside the mood disorders mentioned above.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) aren’t considered mood disorders.

The symptoms of emotional disorders vary based on the individual and their specific disorder, and not everybody with an emotional disorder will have the same symptoms and experience.

You can generally divide the symptoms of emotional disorders into two groups:

  • depressive symptoms, which occur in depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, and PMDD
  • mania symptoms, which occur during manic and hypomanic episodes in bipolar disorder

Depressive symptoms include:

Symptoms of hypomanic or manic episodes include:

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also point to another condition (in other words, not an emotional disorder). For example, some depressive symptoms are common in people with PTSD.

Although the causes of mood disorders aren’t entirely understood, there are a number of factors that seem to increase your risk of developing a mood disorder, according to research.

The risk factors for emotional disorders include:

  • Brain function: The structure and chemistry of your brain may play a role in whether you develop a mood disorder.
  • Genetics: You’re more likely to develop an emotional disorder if a close blood relative has the same disorder.
  • Hormones: Recent research notes that increased levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone are associated with depression. Hormones also may play a role in the development of perinatal or postnatal depression, as well as PMDD.
  • Physical health: Certain physical health conditions, such as cancer, HIV, and hypothyroidism, can increase your risk.
  • Substance use: The use (and misuse) of certain substances, including amphetamines, cocaine, procarbazine, and steroids, can cause symptoms similar to mood disorders.
  • Traumatic life experiences: Trauma, although usually associated with PTSD, can also cause or trigger mood disorders.

Emotional disorders are diagnosed by mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, nurse psychotherapists, or psychologists. A general practitioner may also make a diagnosis, although they might refer you to a mental health specialist first.

Your clinician might ask about your current symptoms, medical history, and family history. They may use certain questionnaires to assess your mental health. If your symptoms fit the diagnostic criteria for a certain condition, you might be diagnosed with the disorder.

You don’t need a diagnosis before you approach a therapist. It’s possible to receive talk therapy even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a disorder.

Emotional disorders can be treated. The treatment course you take will depend on your condition.


Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy can be helpful for people with mood disorders.

Talk therapy can help you identify and change unhealthy patterns in your thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. You can use therapy as a space to explore and process your feelings in a constructive, healthy way.

Many different types of therapy are used to treat emotional disorders. Some of the most common types of therapy include:

Talk therapy is done with a qualified, licensed mental health professional, such as a clinical social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist.


In some cases, certain medications — such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers — can significantly benefit people with emotional disorders.

Common medications for emotional disorders include:

If you don’t feel that your medication is helping, discuss it with a mental health professional, as they may help you find alternatives. Stopping your medication without guidance and supervision can lead to unwanted complications.

Alternative treatments

In some cases, your doctor may suggest alternative treatments, such as.

These treatments can be helpful, especially if you have treatment-resistant depression or bipolar disorder (in other words, conventional medication and therapy only improve your condition very slightly).

Emotional disorders can be challenging to live with, but they are treatable. It’s possible to live a full, successful, happy life while living with an emotional disorder.

Some people respond to treatments more quickly than others, and in some cases, it might take time to find a treatment plan that works for you. Generally, emotional disorders require long-term treatment.

If you think you have an emotional disorder or mood disorder, a good first step is to speak with a doctor or therapist. They can help you take steps toward feeling better.

We’ve compiled a list of Mental Health Resources for people who are looking for mental health support. The article includes some guidance on finding lower cost and free counseling and support.

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.