In the field of mental health treatment, there are a number of topics that are addressed regularly by professionals but are new terminology to the individuals who suffer from them. Family and friends are also often at a loss to comprehend what is happening to their loved one. This glossary of common mental health issues and terms can help increase your understanding and empower you to know when to reach out for help or how to best offer much-needed support. Keep in mind that while mental illness is treatable, it is also serious and often requires medical intervention by professionals. Don’t try to self-diagnose. If you suspect an issue, contact Peachford for more information on mental health treatment and advice on what to do next.


Addiction is the disruptive behavior or activity associated with obtaining and using a drug that a person is dependent on. Dependence on a chemical substance (alcohol, legal or illegal drugs) to the extent that a physiologic need is established. This physiologic need is manifested in withdrawal symptoms when the chemical substance is removed. Addiction generally interferes with the ability to work, study or interact normally with family and friends.

Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder refers to the development of behavioral or emotional symptoms in response to an identifiable life event or life events. Some examples are starting school, a new job, moving, divorce or grief. The symptoms generally decrease or stop as the person adapts to the stressor(s).


A disease known as alcohol dependence syndrome, alcoholism is the most severe stage of a group of drinking problems which begins with binge drinking and alcohol abuse.

Alzheimer’s Disease

This is the most common form of dementia among older people, Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder that seriously affects a person’s ability to carry out activities of daily living. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing problems with memory, thinking, language and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. As the disease progresses the person may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home. Alzheimer’s gets worse over time and it is fatal. Today it is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety is a condition marked by apprehension, tension or fear of real or imagined danger. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and may help a person deal with a difficult situation at work or school by prompting one to cope with it. When anxiety becomes excessive and interferes with activities of daily living it may fall under the classification of an anxiety disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is a major affective disorder in which there are episodes of both mania and depression that refers to the cycling between high and low episodes. Bipolar disorder is a condition in which people experience abnormally elevated known as manic or abnormally depressed states for short or significant periods of time in a way that interferes with activities of daily living. Bipolar disorder affects more than 2 million Americans – about three out of every 100 adults. It affects people of all ages, race, ethnicity, gender, education or occupation.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the person’s sense of self-identity. Individuals may experience intense bouts of anger, depression and anxiety that may last only hours or, at most, a day. These may be associated with episodes of impulsive aggression, self-injury, and drug or alcohol abuse. Distortions in cognition and sense of self can lead to frequent changes in long-term goals, career plans, jobs, friendships, gender identity and values.

Sometimes people with BPD view themselves as fundamentally bad, or unworthy. They may feel unfairly misunderstood or mistreated, bored, empty and have little idea who they are. Such symptoms are most acute when people with BPD feel isolated and lacking in social support, and may result in frantic efforts to avoid being alone. BPD affects two percent of adults, mostly young women. There is a high rate of self-injury without suicide intent, as well as a significant rate of suicide attempts and completed suicide in severe cases. Patients often need extensive mental health services and account for 20 percent of psychiatric hospitalizations. It is known that with help, many improve over time and are eventually able to lead productive lives.


When used to describe a mood, depression refers to feeling of sadness, despair and discouragement. As such, depression may be a normal feeling state. The overt manifestations are highly variable and may be culture and gender specific. Depression refers to both expected and pathologically chronic or severe levels of sadness, perceived helplessness, disinterest and other related emotions and behaviors. Slowed thinking, decreased purposeful physical activity, guilt and hopelessness, changes in eating and sleeping may be commonly seen in the depressive syndrome.

Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders are defined as conditions that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, awareness, identity and/or perception. There can also be a sudden, temporary fluctuation of normally integrated functions of consciousness, identity or motor behavior so that some part of one or more of these functions is lost. This mental process severs a connection to a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity. Dissociation can be a normal response to trauma as it allows the mind to distance itself from experiences that are too much for the psyche process at the time of trauma. When these functions are lost it will interfere with a person’s general functioning. Since dissociations are normally unanticipated, they are typically experienced as startling intrusions into the person’s usual ways of responding or functioning. Due to their unexpected and largely inexplicable nature, they tend to be quite unsettling.


Grief is characterized by strange and painful thoughts. It may be triggered by a major life change and is a normal reaction to a death or loss in a person’s life. It can be hard, stressful and tiring, but it is not an illness. Grief also affects people differently. It may be thoughts of confusion, disbelief and wondering if it is just a dream, feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, loneliness, bitterness, fear, edginess, nervousness, a short temper or a lack of confidence. People may cry a lot, blame others, have upset stomachs and headaches, have problems sleeping, resting, eating and doing small tasks. They may also have little to no energy.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

A disorder of impulse control in which several episodes of serious outbursts or relatively unprovoked aggression lead to assault on others or the destruction of property. There is no organic, epileptic or any other personality disorder that might account for the behavior.

Major Affective Disorders

A group of disorders in which there is a prominent and persistent disturbance of mood (depression or mania) and a full syndrome of associated symptoms. The disorder is usually episodic but may be chronic. Major depression and bipolar disorder are included in this category of major affective disorders.


Paranoia is a rare condition characterized by the gradual development of an intricate, complex and elaborate system of thinking based on (and often proceeding logically from) misinterpretation of an actual event. The clinical use of the term has been used to describe delusions where the affected person believes they are being persecuted. A person with paranoia often considers himself/herself endowed with unique and superior ability. Paranoia can also be a side effect of medication or recreational drugs such as marijuana and particularly stimulants such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

An insistent, repetitive, intrusive and unwanted urge to perform an act that is contrary to ordinary wishes or standards can describe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is believed that these compulsions are used to avoid more overt anxiety about unacceptable thoughts or wishes, and they are usually unconscious. Often misunderstood, the term OCD is used in popular culture to describe anyone who is very organized or has very specific preferences or likes and dislikes. Incorrect uses of the term only increase the misunderstanding.


A phobia is an obsessive, persistent, unrealistic, intense fear of an object or situation. It is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger. The fear is believed to arise through a process of displacing an internal (unconscious) conflict to an external object symbolically related to the conflict. A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder. If you become anxious and extremely self-conscious in everyday social situations, you could have a social phobia. There are many specific phobias. Other common phobias involve tunnels, highway driving, water, flying, animals and blood.

Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental condition that causes both a loss of contact with reality (psychosis) and mood problems. Another definition is a depressive or manic syndrome that precedes or develops concurrently with psychotic symptoms incompatible with an active disorder. The behavioral health care provider must consider and rule out any medical, psychiatric or drug-related condition that causes psychotic or mood symptoms before making a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Schizophrenic or mood disorder symptoms can occur in people who abuse cocaine, amphetamines or PCP, have seizure disorders or take steroid medications.


Schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong brain disorder. People who have it may hear voices, see things that are not there or believe others are reading or controlling their minds. This disease consists of a large group of disorders, usually of psychotic proportion, manifested by characteristic disturbances of languages and communication, thought, perception, affect and behavior which last longer than six months. Thought disturbances are marked by alterations of concept formation that may lead to misinterpretation of reality, misperceptions and sometimes to delusions and hallucinations. Mood changes include ambivalence, blunting, inappropriateness and loss of empathy with others. Behavior may be withdrawn, regressive, and bizarre. Studies suggest that genetics, early environment, neurobiology as well as psychological and social processes are important contributory factors.

Due to the many possible combinations of symptoms, there is debate about whether the diagnosis represents a single disorder or a number of discrete syndromes. Current psychiatric research is focused on the role of neurobiology, but no single organic cause has been found. There is a school of thought which states some recreational and prescription drugs appear to cause or worsen symptoms. Medication management by a board-certified psychiatrist can relieve many of the symptoms. It may take several attempts with different medications before the right drug is found to work. Relapse reduction occurs by staying on medicine for as long as the doctor recommends.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can simply be defined as a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes. It is the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of prescription or over the counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are indicated or in a manner or in quantities other than directed.

Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors

Suicide is the act of deliberately taking one’s own life. Suicidal behavior is any deliberate action with potentially life-threatening consequences, such as taking a drug overdose or deliberately crashing a car. Suicidal behaviors can accompany many emotional disturbances including depression, bipolar disorder or other psychiatric illness.

If you suspect that yourself or a loved one is suffering from a mental health disorder, we are here to help. Contact Peachford 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the toll-free number on this page.