Emotional disorders

Emotional disorders: types, symptoms, causes and treatment

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What are emotional disorders and how can we detect them? Throughout the last decades, this type of affectations has been included and rethought in the DSM (Manual of Diagnosis of Mental Disorders).
In this article, we will explain each of these emotional disorders, what symptoms and causes each one has and how they can be managed through therapy or with simple psychological advice.

Most common emotional disorders

We are going to know this type of disorder according to their frequency, as well as their most remarkable characteristics.

1. Major depressive disorderEmotional disorders

One of the most recognizable mood disorders and that it requires psychological and psychiatric intervention in most cases.


To be diagnosed with major depression, the mental health professional must perceive at least five of the following symptoms, and for a minimum period of two weeks:
• Depressed state (low mood) for most of the day
• Disinterest and inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia) in all or almost every facet of the day, and most days.
• Abrupt drop in body weight (more than 5% of the weight in 30 days), or loss or exaggerated increase in appetite on most days.
• Difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or excessive sleep (hypersomnia) almost every day
• Psychomotor agitation or slowness on most days
• Low energy most days
• Feeling of worthlessness, guilt or existential exhaustion on most days.
• Decreased ability to stay focused, to make decisions …
• Suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts about death
• It is a disorder that must be treated by doctors and mental health professionals. Its average appearance is around 25 years of age.

2. Dysthymic disorderEmotional disorders

Dysthymia is another disorder mood directly related to depression. To be diagnosed with dysthymia, the patient must show a depressed mood for most of the day and for a period of at least two years, without any lapse of two months in which their mood recovers to normal.


Two or more of the following symptoms should appear during the two-year period:
• Unusual loss or increase in appetite
• Difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or hypersomnia (excessive sleep)
• Apathy and low energy
• Self-esteem issues
• Trouble concentrating and making decisions
• There is an average age when the individual usually presents the first stage of dysthymia: around 20 years.

3. Bipolar disorder

The bipolar disorder, also known as bipolar disorder, is the predisposition to suffer episodes of mania alternating with periods of major depression. These mood swings lead to states of euphoria and frenetic activity over long periods of time, only to then fall into apathy and despair.

There are two types of bipolar disorder: I and II. They are distinguished in a characteristic of the manic episode. In bipolar I disorder, complete manic episodes with low-mood stages are intermittent. However, in bipolar II disorder, hypomanic episodes (milder than manic episodes) and episodes of depression are intermittent.


Be that as it may, the symptoms of both subtypes are these:
• Appearance of one or more episodes of major depression
• Appearance of at least one manic episode (in bipolar II disorder).
• Appearance of at least one hypomanic episode (in bipolar I disorder).

4. Cyclothymic disorderEmotional disorders

The cyclothymic disorder is a similar disorder to bipolar disorder II. It is distinguished because its episodes are milder, although its duration in time is longer.


The symptoms that warn of the arrival of this disorder are the following:
• Various stages of hypomanic symptoms
• Approximately 30% of patients end up referring to bipolar disorder

• Various stages of depression symptoms, but without meeting the criteria of major depression itself
• Different investigations indicate that the average age at which cyclothymic disorder appears is early, between 12 and 15 years

Causes of emotional disorders

In the scientific and academic community, there are different points of view and controversies around which are the most frequent causes of emotional disorders. However, there are several factors that can influence its appearance.
These mental disorders are multi-causal. That is, they do not appear due to a single factor, but it is the addition of several factors that can cause the disorder.

1. Genetics

If there is a history in the family of people who has suffered emotional disorders, this may indicate a biological and genetic predisposition. Different investigations conclude that people with family members who have suffered from mood disorders are 2 to 3 times more likely to suffer the same psychological disorder (Gershon, 1990).
However, there are also cases in which a disorder develops without a family history or can be verified. For this same reason, many experts indicate that there are environmental and psychosocial factors that may be closely linked to the appearance of diseases such as depression.

2. Biochemistry

The brain and its internal biochemistry have determining effects on the appearance (or not) of emotional disorders.
• Neurotransmitters: Studies show low levels of the hormone serotonin in people suffering from depression. This neurotransmitter regulates our emotions, and when we have low levels we tend to be more unstable and vulnerable.
• Endocrine system: Several investigations point to the link between the onset of depression and the hormone cortisol. This hormone increases in times of stress and is apparently also unusually high in people affected by mood disorders.

3. Stress and traumatic episodesEmotional disorders

More than 60% of emotional disorders arise after a bad psychological experience. Psychological trauma and stress are behind most psychological disorders.
When a depression patient is asked about life events that occurred just before falling into a depressive state, many of them report having suffered a breakup, having a child, being fired from work, having started a university career …
With this, it is not necessary to understand that the emotional disorder appears only because of that psychological trauma, but that the person already had a predisposition to suffer from a mood disorder, and stress has accelerated the mechanisms that lead to it.

4. Personality

Certain individuals have recurring negative thoughts, low self-esteem, external locus of control, and tend to be overly concerned with life’s circumstances. This type of personality makes them more prone to emotional disturbance.
They are individuals who incur a very common cognitive bias: arbitrary inference. That is, they tend to highlight the negative factors of a situation or circumstance over the positive ones. In addition, they commit overgeneralization, that is, they draw general conclusions in specific and negative situations that have occurred to them.

There are several ways to treat emotional disorders.

1. Antidepressant

There are three types of drugs used to alleviate depression: tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOs), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
These drugs act on the brain and regulate neurotransmitters, leading to a better mood for the patient in most cases. In any case, this type of pharmacological treatment must be prescribed by a psychiatrist, who will monitor the evolution of the patient.

2. Lithium

Lithium is a common salt that is used as a mood-regulating medication, mainly in manic episodes of bipolar disorder. In any case, it has more severe side effects compared to other depression-fighting drugs.
In cases of bipolarity, the administration of certain antidepressants is also frequent in order to alleviate episodes of low mood. Likewise, antipsychotics like haloperidol may also be prescribed if your reaction to lithium has not been as expected.

3. Psychological therapy

Psychological therapy is very effective in managing episodes of depression and bipolar disorder. In some cases, especially in bipolar disorder, psychotherapy must be carried out in parallel with pharmacological treatment.

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