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By Jay (John) Case, MD, Psychiatrist, Program Director at Virtua Behavioral Health Chair of Psychiatry—Virtua Memorial Hospital

As a human being, it’s normal for you to experience a range of complex emotions and feelings that are linked to events in your everyday life. At one time or another, you’ve probably felt excited or happy about a positive life event, such as a promotion, a major achievement or a new relationship. You’ve probably also felt sad or “down” after a negative life event, such as the end of a relationship, job loss or the death of a loved one.

However, people can sometimes experience feelings of extreme sadness that affect their ability to function normally. In other cases, people can experience periods of extreme elevated mood and excitement that also interfere with their functioning.

If you experience intense emotions or emotional changes that interfere with your day-to-day functioning for more than a few days at a time, this could be a sign you have a mood disorder. This is a time to seek the help of a professional (a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or other licensed mental health clinician) to diagnose your condition and get appropriate treatment.

What is a mood disorder?

A mood disorder is a general term that’s used to describe conditions that affect your daily emotional state. To be a diagnosed a mood disorder, these changes in your mood must negatively affect your functioning in some way. Mood disorders usually are grouped into two categories:

Depression (major depressive disorder) You’ve probably heard people say that they are “depressed” when they’re really feeling sad or down. But, the medical diagnosis of depression is a serious condition that affects more than just your feelings—it also affects your ability to perform daily activities and the way you think.

For example, if you have depression, you might be unable to go to work or take care of your children. You may have trouble sleeping or lose interest in a hobby you used to enjoy. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, worthless, helpless, guilty, pessimistic or “empty”

  • Loss of pleasure or interest in activities or hobbies

  • Fatigue or lack of energy

  • Loss of appetite and eating too little—or sometimes too much

  • Sleeping too little—or sometimes too much

  • Trouble with concentration, memory and decision-making

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

  • Talking or moving slower than usual

  • Irritability

  • Restlessness