What is an Emotional Disorder? - Definition & Types

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson provides a general definition of emotional disorder and discusses the different types of such disorders. Emotional disorders are broken down into two broad categories - mood and anxiety disorders - and the sub-types of these disorders are also defined.

What is an Emotional Disorder?

Technically speaking, there is no category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) specifically called emotional disorders. The category is too broad and would include many different types of disorder. So, to get an accurate definition, emotional disorders need to be broken down into several smaller subsets. It is also necessary to understand what is meant by disorder in the first place.

What is a Disorder?

When Kathy started studying to be a counselor, her professors told the class that they would have to read and understand the DSM-V in order to accurately diagnose. The teacher said that they would have many opportunities to do this, but they needed to understand the basics of diagnosis first. Kathy learned that many of the diagnoses seemed to fit her, and others in the class made the same discovery. But, the professor told them that for something to reach the level of disorder it had to be harmful to the individual or to others. For example, Kathy was told, everybody is depressed from time to time, but depression becomes a disorder when it disrupts the individual's daily life to a significant extent. It makes them unable to function in the world. The job of the counselors was to use the DSM-V to determine if an individual's issues reached the level of disorder.

When Emotional Distress Becomes a Disorder

The class then learned that emotions, or rather the dysregulation (improper channeling) of emotions, can become a disorder. But, there are different types of emotional disorders. The instructor told Kathy and the rest of the class that emotional disorders are generally broken down into mood disorders and anxiety disorders. Within these two types are many other, more distinct types of disorder. But, they were told:

  • Mood Disorders are characterized by a mood or emotions that are not appropriate to a given situation.
  • Anxiety Disorders occur when an individual remains in a persistent state of anxiety for an extended period of time.

These two types of disorder are also broad categories that contain more specific disorders under their respective umbrellas.

Types of Mood Disorders

Kathy had gotten to the point where she understood that there were many types of emotional disorders, but she wanted to know what the DSM-V said about the types of mood disorders. In her research, she found that there are eight different categories under the heading 'mood disorders'. She the listed the types so she could study them. They are:

  • Major depressive disorder: A single long period of extreme depression or multiple shorter periods.
  • Bipolar disorder: this is characterized by periods of extreme sadness with alternate periods of extreme euphoria (or mania).
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): a condition in which the changing seasons (from summer to winter) brings on extreme depression due to fewer hours of daylight.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: a less extreme form of bipolar disorder.
  • Dysthymic disorder: a less extreme form of clinical depression.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: extreme changes in mood prior to menstruation.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder: a childhood mood disorder characterized by extreme moods that are not appropriate to the given age of the child.
  • Depression caused by physical illness: Any extreme sadness that results from another medical illness.

Kathy found that each of these disorders had separate criteria that had to be met in order to correctly diagnose individuals. She also found that there was more than one type of anxiety disorder.

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