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The term psychological disorder is sometimes used to refer to what is more frequently known as mental disorders or psychiatric disorders. Mental disorders are patterns of behavioral or psychological symptoms that impact multiple areas of life. These disorders create distress for the person experiencing these symptoms.
While not a comprehensive list of every mental disorder, the following list includes some of the major categories of disorders described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The latest edition of the diagnostic manual is the DSM-5 and was released in May of 2013. The DSM is one of the most widely used systems for classifying mental disorders and provides standardized diagnostic criteria.
Neurodevelopmental disorders are those that are typically diagnosed during infancy, childhood, or adolescence. These psychological disorders include:
Intellectual disability (or Intellectual Developmental
Disorder) was formerly referred to as mental retardation. This type of
developmental disorder originates prior to the age of 18 and is
characterized by limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive
Limitations to intellectual functioning are often identified through the use of IQ tests, with an IQ score between 70 and 75 often indicating the presence of a limitation. Adaptive behaviors are those that involve practical, everyday skills such as self-care, social interaction, and living skills.
Global developmental delay is a diagnosis for developmental disabilities in children who are under the age of five. Such delays relate to cognition, social functioning, speech, language, and motor skills. It is generally seen as a temporary diagnosis applying to kids who are still too young to take standardized IQ tests. Once children reach the age where they are able to take a standardized intelligence test, they may be diagnosed with an intellectual disability.
Communication disorders are those that impact the ability to use, understand, or detect language and speech. The DSM-5 identifies four different subtypes of communication disorders: language disorder, speech sound disorder, childhood onset fluency disorder (stuttering), and social (pragmatic) communication disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder is characterized by persistent deficits in social interaction and communication in multiple life areas as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors. The DSM specifies that symptoms of autism spectrum disorder must be present during the early developmental period and that these symptoms must cause significant impairment in important areas of life including social and occupational functioning.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is characterized by a persistent pattern of hyperactivity-impulsivity and/or inattention that interferes with functioning and presents itself in two or more settings such as at home, work, school, and social situations. The DSM-5 specifies that several of the symptoms must have been present prior to the age of 12 and that these symptoms must have a negative impact on social, occupational, or academic functioning.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by shifts in mood as well as changes in activity and energy levels. The disorder often involves experiencing shifts between elevated moods and periods of depression. Such elevated moods can be pronounced and are referred to either as mania or hypomania.
Mania is characterized by feeling overly excited and even
hyper. Periods of mania are sometimes marked by feelings of distraction,
irritability, and excessive confidence. People experiencing mania are also
more prone to engage in activities that might have negative long-term
consequences such as gambling and shopping sprees.
Depressive episodes are characterized by feelings of intense sadness, guilt, fatigue, and irritability. During a depressive period, people with bipolar disorder may lose interest in activities that they previously enjoyed, experience sleeping difficulties, and even have thoughts of suicide.
Both manic and depressive episodes can be frightening for both the person experiencing these symptoms as well as family, friends and other loved ones who observe these behaviors and mood shifts. Fortunately, appropriate and effective treatments, which often include both medications and psychotherapy, can help people with bipolar disorder successfully manage their symptoms.
Anxiety disorders are those that are characterized by excessive and persistent fear, worry, anxiety and related behavioral disturbances. Fear involves an emotional response to a threat, whether that threat is real or perceived. Anxiety involves the anticipation that a future threat may arise. Types of anxiety disorders include:
Generalized anxiety disorder which is marked by excessive
worry about everyday events. While some stress and worry are a normal and
even common part of life, GAD involves worry that is so excessive that it
interferes with a person’s well-being and functioning.
Agoraphobia is characterized by a pronounced fear a wide range of public places. People who experience this disorder often fear that they will suffer a panic attack in a setting where escape might be difficult.
Because of this fear, those with agoraphobia often avoid situations that might trigger an anxiety attack. In some cases, this avoidance behavior can reach a point where the individual is unable to even leave their own home.
Social anxiety disorder is a fairly common psychological disorder that involves an irrational fear of being watched or judged. The anxiety caused by this disorder can have a major impact on an individual’s life and make it difficult to function at school, work, and other social settings.
Specific phobias involve an extreme fear of a specific object or situation in the environment. Some examples of common specific phobias include the fear of spiders, fear of heights, or fear of snakes. The four main types of specific phobias involve natural events (thunder, lightening, tornadoes), medical (medical procedures, dental procedures, medical equipment), animals (dogs, snakes, bugs), and situational (small spaces, leaving home, driving). When confronted by a phobic object or situation, people may experience nausea, trembling, rapid heart rate, and even a fear of dying.
Panic disorder is a psychiatric disorder characterized by panic attacks that often seem to strike out of the blue and for no reason at all. Because of this, people with panic disorder often experience anxiety and preoccupation over the possibility of having another panic attack.
People may begin to avoid situations and settings where attacks have occurred in the past or where they might occur in the future. This can create significant impairments in many areas of everyday life and make it difficult to carry out normal routines.
Separation anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder involving an excessive amount of fear or anxiety related to being separated from attachment figures. People are often familiar with the idea of separation anxiety as it relates to young children’s fear of being apart from their parents, but older children and adults can experience it as well. When symptoms become so severe that they interfere with normal functioning, the individual may be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder.
Symptoms involve an extreme fear of being away from the caregiver or attachment figure. The person suffering these symptoms may avoid moving away from home, going to school, or getting married in order to remain in close proximity to the attachment figure.
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There is no single cause for mental health disorders; instead, they can be caused by a mixture of biological, psychological and environmental factors. People who have a family history of mental health disorders may be more prone to developing one at some point. Changes in brain chemistry from substance abuse or changes in diet can also cause mental disorders. Psychological factors and environmental factors such as upbringing and social exposure can form the foundations for harmful thought patterns associated with mental disorders. Only a certified mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis of the causes of a given disorder.
Mental health disorders exist in broad categories: anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disordersand impulse control disorders. If someone you know experiences erratic thought patterns, unexplained changes in mood, lack of interest in socializing, lack of empathy, inability to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, or a seeming lack of control, that person may have a mental health disorder. This is, by no means, a complete list of symptoms.
Mental health problems can cause a wide variety of emotional symptoms, some of which include:
Mental health problems typically do not cause physical symptoms in and of themselves. Depression, however, can indirectly cause weight loss, fatigue and loss of libido, among others. Eating disorders, a separate class of mental health disorders, can cause malnutrition, weight loss, amenorrhea in women, or electrolyte imbalances caused by self-induced vomiting. This makes eating disorders among the most deadly of mental health disorders.
In the short-term, mental health problems can cause people to be alienated from their peers because of perceived unattractive personality traits or behaviors. They can also cause anger, fear, sadness and feelings of helplessness if the person does not know or understand what is happening. In the long-term, mental health disorders can drive a person to commit suicide. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, over 90 percent of suicides have depression or another mental disorder as factors.
It is hard, bordering on impossible, to accurately diagnose yourself for mental disorders with an online questionnaire. You do not have an objective view of yourself and are bound to answer questions inaccurately. Also, online tests are not comprehensive, so they do not check for all possible symptoms. Only a face-to-face session with a qualified mental health professional can begin to diagnose a mental health disorder with any degree of accuracy, because that professional has an outside viewpoint and can pick up on subtle cues.
Fortunately, prescription drugs can be used to treat mental health disorders in conjunction with behavioral therapy or cognitive therapy. Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics are the broad types of medication prescribed to treat mental illness.
Depending on the disorder, different medications will be prescribed. Antidepressants such as Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, and a variety of SSRIs, SNRIs and MAOIs can be used to treat depression. Mood stabilizers such as lithium tablets are used to treat bipolar disorder, as are anticonvulsants like Depakote. Antipsychotics like olanzapine or clozapine are used to treat schizophrenia or psychotic depression.
Some of the side effects of mental health medication include nausea, headache, changes in appetite, dry mouth, increased urination, change in libido, irritability, blurred vision and drowsiness. Other side effects can occur; each person’s body and brain chemistry is unique, and it is impossible to predict with certainty how a given medication will affect you or how well it will work. People who are prescribed these medications should regularly communicate with their doctors and notify them of any side effects.
Some mental health medications are known to cause physical and psychological dependency due to their changes in brain chemistry. Over time, dependency can become an addiction if the person isn’t careful. The withdrawal process can exacerbate the original mental illness because of the brain’s sudden loss of some chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and other endorphins. In severe cases, the person may need to be placed in a drug rehab facility to detox from prescription medication.
It is possible to overdose on medication in an effort to get the same effects as initially received, and this is more common when users are dependent on medications. Some signs of overdose can include seizure, coma, slowed heartbeat, or extreme paranoia. If these signs are present, immediately call 911 or your local Poison Control Center and have the prescription on hand if possible.
Depression often coexists with other mental disorders, or certain disorders may have caused depression in the first place. For example, 40 percent of people with post-traumatic stress disorder also have depression.
In drug rehab facilities, counselors are usually trained to identify dual diagnosis issues. This is because addiction is itself a type of mental health disorder, or the addiction can be the symptom of some other disorder. People may, for instance, turn to recreational drugs to combat depression or to help stabilize mood swings associated with bipolar disorder.
It’s important that you or your loved one should seek help to treat mental health issue. First, a physical checkup can rule out physical illnesses. An appointment with a mental health professional will usually include an interview and subsequent evaluation to determine the most obvious symptoms and to ascertain the type and severity of mental disorder. In certain cases, an intervention may be required from family and friends. If you or someone you know needs help, call us at to get more informationon treatment.