Terms You Should Know About Mental Health

Antisocial Personality Disorder

A condition characterized by antisocial behavior (such as lying, stealing, and sometimes violence), lack of social emotions (guilt and shame), and impulsivity.

Antisocial Personality

A behavior pattern beginning in childhood that seriously violates the rights of others. Individuals with this disorder are irresponsible in their work, school, finances, and personal relationships.

Anxiety Disorders

Illnesses that cause intense feelings of anxiety and tension when there is no real danger, causing significant distress and interfere with daily activities. The physical signs of anxiety are restlessness, irritability, disturbed sleep, muscle aches and pains, gastrointestinal distress, and difficulty concentrating. Anxiety disorders are often accompanied by the symptoms of depression and can lead to chronic anxiety.

Behavior Disorders / Emotional Disturbance

Disorders that are identified by extreme or unacceptable chronic behavior problems, consisting of four kinds of traits, including conduct disorders, anxiety-withdrawal, immaturity, and socialized aggression. Children with these disorders lag behind their peers in social development and are often isolated from others either because they withdraw from social contact or because they behave in an aggressive, hostile manner.

Behavior Modification

A method of certain techniques (rewards or punishments) to reduce or eliminate problematic behavior, or to teach people new responses.

Behavioral Medicine

The interdisciplinary field that studies behaviors related to the maintenance of health, the onset of illness, and the prevention of disease through the integration of behavioral and biomedical science.


An approach to psychology that focuses on the study of observable behaviors instead of inner thoughts. Behaviorists stress the role of the environment as a fundamental shaper of human and animal behavior. They use behavior modification to re-shape the behavior of subjects.

Bipolar Disorder / Manic Depression

A serious mood disorder which involves extreme mood swings or highs (mania) and lows (depression); also known as manic-depressive psychosis.

Borderline Personality

A highly unstable personality style identified by intense personal relationship problems such as extreme rudeness, aggression, or criticalness, and extreme changes in their feelings and opinions of others. They often act on impulse, have problems with drug abuse, and may have money issues, i.e. impulsive spending. Individuals with borderline personality often suffer from depression, anxiety, and the fear of being abandoned.


Characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting to compensate for the effects of binge eating. Although most people with this disorder can maintain a normal weight, it exerts a tremendous strain on virtually every major system and organ in the human body.

Childhood Depression

A mood disorder among children that resembles depression in adults, but shows up in very different ways in children.

Children with depression may appear persistently sad, may no longer enjoy activities they normally enjoy, display major changes in their eating or sleeping patterns, or frequently appear agitated, hyper or irritable. Depressed children may frequently complain of physical problems such as headaches and stomachaches, have frequent absences from school or perform poorly. In addition, they may appear bored or low in energy and frequently have problems concentrating. Significant depression probably exists in about 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have learning disorders are at a higher risk for depression.

Chronic Dieting

A very common eating disorder, especially among high school and college age women. Chronic dieting disrupts healthy eating patterns and involves negative self thoughts based upon external appearance. For chronic dieters, self-esteem is based upon looks, rather than being experienced as an internal feeling.


Repetitive behaviors intended to ward off harm to the sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Performing these rituals gives the person with obsessive-compulsive disorder some temporary relief from the anxiety caused by obsessions.

Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome

The obsessive accumulation of items that seem worthless to others, to the point where the hoarder's home may become so filled that it is almost unlivable. It is linked to Obsessive-Compulsive Syndrome. Homes may become dangerous due to sanitary conditions or fire hazards and they may have trouble forming relationships because of reluctance to invite others over and be "found out." They have trouble making decisions and focusing attention.

Compulsive Overeating or Binge Eating Disorder

An eating disorder which involves binge eating without the purging behaviors typical in bulimia. People with this disorder eat foods for emotional rather than nutritional reasons, often eating large quantities of "junk" food, turning to food for comfort when stressed or upset. They are often overweight, but not all people who are obese are compulsive overeaters.

Compulsive Personality

A personality type that makes the person unusually tidy and even rigid in their daily behavior. Unlike people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, however, they do not find their behavior distressing or perceive their behavior as interfering with their lives.

Compulsive Shopping / Compulsive Buying Disorder

A pattern of chronic spending and buying that is difficult to control. Most people occasionally splurge on things they don't need or spend too much money, but people with this disorder do this frequently, leading to devastating financial and emotional results. Shopping binges produce a high in compulsive shoppers, followed by a sense of guilt when they realize how much was spent. It may result in debt, depression and the destruction of relationships.


Gross misrepresentations of reality which are a common symptom of schizophrenia and other psychoses. Typical delusions include those of persecution, romance, grandeur, and control.


A mood disorder involving disturbances in emotion (excessive sadness), behavior (apathy and loss of interest in usual activities), cognition (distorted thoughts of hopelessness and low self-esteem), and body function (fatigue, loss of appetite). Symptoms extend into many parts of an individual's life and include lack of interest in daily activities, decreased motivation, feelings of worthlessness, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.

Dissociative Disorders

A mental disorder in which normal consciousness or identity is split or altered; often a result of an intense psychological trauma, as in psychogenic amnesia, post-traumatic stress disorders, or multiple personalities.

Emotional Disturbance / Behavioral Disorder

Many terms are used interchangeably to classify children who exhibit extreme or unacceptable chronic behavior problems. These children lag behind their age-mates in social development and are often isolated from others either because they withdraw from social contact or because they behave in an aggressive, hostile manner. Behavior disorders result from persistent negative social interactions between the child and the environment. Behavior disorders generally consist of four clusters of traits, including conduct disorders, anxiety-withdrawal, immaturity, and socialized aggression.

Gender Identity Disorder

A disorder in which the person feels uncomfortable in the sex they were born into and instead identify more closely with the other sex. Children with this disorder may refuse to dress in certain gendered clothes, ask to be called by a name of the other gender, have a hard time making friends with same-sex peers or insist that they will grow up to be a member of the opposite gender. Adults may adopt the mannerisms, dress and physical appearance of the other sex in public and/or private. In cases that have persisted for many years, some may ultimately request gender reassignment surgery.

Impulse-Control Disorders

A disorder that makes people feel an irresistible and repeated urge to perform behaviors that may harm themselves or others, such as pulling out your own hair, gambling, starting fires, etc. Sufferers may be aware that these actions are harmful but, like an itch, tension grows until they perform the act and feel a sense of relief or thrill.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED)

A disorder in which people who are generally not violent are set off by insignificant events and experience sudden outbursts of aggression, lashing out at others or damaging objects. They find that they cannot stop themselves from acting this way and often regret their actions afterward. To qualify as IED, an individual must have experienced at least three of these incidents.

Learning Disabilities

An impairment in a specific mental process which affects learning and interferes with the development, integration, and/or demonstration of verbal and/or nonverbal abilities. It exists as a distinct handicapping condition in the presence of average to superior intelligence, adequate sensory and motor systems, and adequate learning opportunities.


A symptom of bipolar disorder characterized by exaggerated excitement, physical over-activity, and profuse and rapidly changing ideas (scattered or tangential thoughts). A person in a manic state feels an emotional high and generally follows their impulses.

Multiple Personality Disorder

A rare dissociative disorder marked by a person having two or more distinct personalities (multiple personalities), each with its own name, history, and traits.

Neurosis / Neurotic

Freud's term for a psychological disorder characterized by self-punishing behavior, emotional symptoms, or physical symptoms that protect a person against unconscious anxiety. It is no longer used as a clinical diagnosis.


Persistent, unwanted, unpleasant, and intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of the obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferer and cause a high degree of anxiety. Some examples of obsessions include fear of being contaminated with germs, repeated doubts (is the stove on?), aggressive impulses, or sexual images.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

A neurobiological anxiety disorder that results in both obsessions (persistent thoughts that people dwell on) and compulsions (repetitive behaviors). Symptoms typically begin during the teenage years and early adulthood, but up to one-third of cases begin in childhood. Sufferers are usually aware of their problems and try to control their obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

Oppositional-Defiant Disorder

A disorder of early to middle childhood that may evolve into a conduct disorder, usually diagnosed before the age of twelve; children with oppositional defiant disorder defy adult rules, are angry, and often lose their tempers.

Panic Attack / Panic Disorders

A stress-related, brief feeling of intense fear and impending doom or death, accompanied by intense symptoms such as rapid breathing and pulse, sweaty palms, smothering sensations, shortness of breath, choking sensations, and dizziness. Sufferers often consult physicians many times thinking they are having a heart attack or asthma attack.

Personality Disorders

Psychological disorders in which people have trouble adapting to situations or are unable to get along with others. Often, the behavior is difficult to change despite aging, different environments, and medication, and often cause serious difficulties for the disordered individual.


Persistent fear of specific things or situations such as dogs, insects, snakes, driving, heights, tunnels, bridges, thunderstorms, or flying.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)

An anxiety disorder that occurs in response to an abnormal psychologically distressing event (military combat, sexual assault, natural disasters, severe auto accidents). The essential features of PTSD include continued flashbacks, nightmares and intense distress when exposed to an object or situation that is related to the traumatic event.

Psychosis / Psychotic Disorders

An extreme mental disturbance where people are entirely removed from reality, including irrational behavior, hallucination and delusions. The disturbance may have either psychological or organic causes. Childhood schizophrenia and autism are forms of psychosis.


A psychotic disorder in which people have delusions, hallucinations, incoherent word associations, inappropriate emotions, or lack of emotions. It is characterized by serious disturbances of thought and perception, which cannot be attributed to brain damage.

Self-Harm (self-mutilation, self-injury, cutting, etc.)

When someone purposefully injures his or her own body in various ways, such as cutting, scratching, bruising or burning themselves. Self-harm is not suicidal behavior. They are not trying to end their lives, but they find that hurting themselves relieves tension, counter a sense of numbness, distract them from problems or otherwise cope with emotional discomfort.

Social Phobia

Persistent anxiety regarding social or performance situations, such as public speaking, meeting new people, going to parties, etc., due to a fear of embarrassment. These fears can drive sufferers to drop out of school, avoid making friends, or lose their job.

Speech Disorders

Oral communication that exhibits poor or abnormal use of the vocal system. Speech is unintelligible or so inferior that it draws attention to itself and causes anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, or inappropriate behavior in the speaker.

Tourette's Syndrome

A neurobiological disorder characterized by tics (involuntary, rapid, sudden movements, such as eye blinking, head jerking, shoulder shrugging, etc. and/or vocal outbursts that occur repeatedly such as throat clearing, barking noises, sniffing, tongue clicking, etc.). The symptoms change periodically in number, frequency, type, and severity - even disappearing for weeks or months at a time.

Trichotillomania (TTM)

An impulse-control disorder which causes people to feel an irresistible urge to pull out the hair on their scalp, eyebrows and other parts of the body, resulting in noticeable hair loss. Usually symptoms first appear in early adolescence, but it may affect people of all ages and seems to worsen under stress and result in social distress and other things.