A-Z of Mental Health


Abuse – Abuse refers to harmful or injurious treatment of another human being that may include physical, sexual, verbal, psychological/emotional, intellectual, or spiritual maltreatment.

Addiction – Most definitions refer to addiction as the compulsive need to use a habit-forming substance, or an irresistible urge to engage in a behavior. The term addiction has come to refer to a wide and complex range of behaviors. While addiction most commonly alludes to a compulsive use of substances, including alcohol, prescription and illegal drugs, cigarettes, and food, it is also used to describe excessive indulgence in activities such as work, exercise, shopping, sex, the Internet, and gambling.

Asperger’s – Asperger’s disorder, which is also called Asperger’s syndrome (AS) or autistic psychopathy, belongs to a group of childhood disorders known as pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) or autistic spectrum disorders. The essential features of Asperger’s disorder are severe social interaction impairment and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior and activities. Though it is similar to autism, children with Asperger’s do not have the same difficulties in acquiring language that children with autism experience.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – (ADHD) A developmental disorder characterized by distractibility, hyperactivity, impulsive behaviors, and the inability to remain focused on tasks or activities.

Autism – The term “autism” refers to a cluster of conditions appearing early in childhood. All involve severe impairments in social interaction, communication, imaginative abilities, and rigid, repetitive behaviors. To be considered an autistic disorder, some of these impairments must be manifest before the age of three.


Bipolar Disorder – Bipolar, or manic-depressive, disorder is a mood disorder that causes radical emotional changes and mood swings from manic highs to depressive lows. The majority of bipolar individuals experience alternating episodes of mania (an elevated or euphoric mood or irritable state) and depression.

Borderline Personality Disorder – (BPD) is a mental disorder characterized by disturbed and unstable interpersonal relationships and self-image, along with impulsive, reckless, and often self-destructive behavior. Individuals with BPD have a history of unstable interpersonal relationships. They have difficulty interpreting reality and view significant people in their lives as either completely flawless or extremely unfair and uncaring (a phenomenon known as “splitting”). These alternating feelings of idealization and devaluation are the hallmark features of borderline personality disorder. Because borderline patients set up such excessive and unrealistic expectations for others, they are inevitably disappointed when their expectations aren’t realized.


Case Management – Case management assigns the administration of care for an outpatient individual with a serious mental illness to a single person (or team). This includes coordinating all necessary medical and mental health care along with associated supportive services.

Clozapine – Clozapine is an antipsychotic drug used to alleviate the symptoms and signs of schizophrenia, a form of severe mental illness which is characterized by a loss of contact with reality, hallucinations, delusions, and unusual behavior. In the United States, the drug is also known by the brand name Clozaril.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – Cognitive therapy is a psychosocial (both psychological and social) therapy which assumes that faulty thought patterns (called cognitive patterns) cause maladaptive behavior and emotional responses. The treatment focuses on changing thoughts in order to solve psychological and personality problems. Behavior therapy is also a goal-oriented, therapeutic approach, and it treats emotional and behavioral disorders as maladaptive learned responses that can be replaced by healthier ones with appropriate training.

Compulsion – A compulsion is a repetitive, excessive, and meaningless activity or mental exercise that a person performs in an attempt to avoid distress or worry. Compulsions are not voluntary activities and are not performed for pleasure. Instead, a person with a compulsion feels the need to engage in a particular behavior to relieve the stress and discomfort which would become overwhelming if the activity were not performed in a specific, repeated manner.

Crisis Intervention – Crisis intervention refers to the methods used to offer immediate short-term help to individuals who experience an event that produces emotional, mental, physical, and behavioral distress or problems. A crisis can refer to any situation in which the individual perceives a sudden loss of his or her ability to use effective problem-solving and coping skills. A number of events or circumstances can be considered a crisis: life-threatening situations, such as natural disasters (earthquakes, tornados, etc.); sexual assault or other criminal victimization; medical illness; mental illness; thoughts of suicide or homicide; and loss or drastic changes in relationships (death of a loved one or divorce, for example).


Delusions – Delusions are irrational beliefs that are held with a high level of conviction and are highly resistant to change even when the delusional person is exposed to proof that contradicts the belief.

Dementia – Dementia is not a specific disorder or disease. It is a syndrome (group of symptoms) associated with a progressive loss of memory and other intellectual functions that is serious enough to interfere with performing the tasks of daily life. Dementia can occur to anyone at any age from an injury or oxygen deprivation, although it is most commonly associated with aging. It is the leading cause of institutionalization of older adults.

Depression and Depressive disorders – Everyone experiences feelings of unhappiness and sadness occasionally. But when these depressed feelings start to dominate everyday life and cause physical and mental deterioration, they become what are known as depressive disorders.

Dual Diagnosis – Dual diagnosis is a term that refers to patients who have both a mental health disorder and substance use disorder. It may be used interchangeably with “co-occurring disorders” or “comorbidity.”


Electroencephalography – (EEG) is a neurological diagnostic procedure that records the changes in electrical potentials (brainwaves) in various parts of the brain. The EEG is an important aid in the diagnosis and management of epilepsy and other seizure disorders, as well as the diagnosis of brain damage related to trauma and diseases such as strokes, tumors, encephalitis, and drug and alcohol intoxication.

Exposure Treatment – Exposure treatment is a technique that is widely used in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Exposure treatment is used for a variety of anxiety disorders, and it has recently been extended to the treatment of substance-related disorders.


Family Education – Family education is the ongoing process of educating family members about a serious mental illness in order to improve their coping skills and ability to help a relative affected by the illness.

Flat Affect – A symptom associated with schizophrenia, autism, depression, and traumatic brain injuries that involves a severe reduction in emotional expression.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder – (GAD) is a disorder characterized by diffuse and chronic worry. Unlike individuals with phobias or post-traumatic stress disorder, people with GAD do not worry in response to a specific trigger; they may worry about almost anything in their ordinary life.

Grandiosity – An inflated appraisal of one’s worth, power, knowledge, importance, or identity. When extreme, grandiosity may be of delusional proportions.

Group Therapy – Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which a small, carefully selected group of individuals meets regularly with a therapist. The purpose of group therapy is to assist each individual in emotional growth and personal problem solving.


Hallucinations – A hallucination is a false perception occurring without any identifiable external stimulus and indicates an abnormality in perception. The false perceptions can occur in any of the five sensory modalities. Therefore, a hallucination essentially is seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, or smelling something that is not there.

Hypersomnia – Hypersomnia refers to a set of related disorders that involve excessive daytime sleepiness.

Hypochondriasis – The primary feature of hypochondriasis is an excessive fear of having a serious disease. These fears are not relieved when a medical examination finds no evidence of disease. People with hypochondriasis are often able to acknowledge that their fears are unrealistic, but this intellectual realization is not enough to reduce their anxiety.


Impulse-Control Disorders – Impulse-control disorders are psychological disorders characterized by the repeated inability to refrain from performing a particular action that is harmful either to oneself or others.

Informed Consent – Informed consent is a legal document in all 50 states, prepared as an agreement for treatment, non-treatment, or an invasive procedure that requires physicians to disclose the benefits, risks, and alternatives to the treatment, non-treatment, or procedure. It is the method by which a fully informed, rational patient is involved in the choices about his or her health. Informed consent applies to mental health practitioners (psychiatrists, psychologists, etc.) in their treatment with their clients in generally the same way as physicians with their patients.

Involuntary Hospitalization – Involuntary hospitalization is a legal procedure used to compel an individual to receive inpatient treatment for a mental health disorder against his or her will. The legal justifications vary somewhat from state to state, but are generally based on a determination that a person is imminently dangerous to themselves or others, is gravely disabled, or clearly needs immediate care and treatment.




Learned Helplessness – An individual feels powerless due to a past traumatic event and/or repeated failures in their life. This state of mind often contributes to the development of depression.

Locus Coeruleus – A small area in the brain stem containing norepinephrine neurons. It is considered to be a key brain center for anxiety and fear.

Long-term Memory – The final phase of memory in which information storage may last from hours to a lifetime.


Manic Episode – A discrete period lasting a week or more during which a person experiences mania. A manic episode is associated with bipolar disorder and involves an abnormally elevated or euphoric mood as well as irritability, grandiosity, and impulsive decision-making.

Mental Retardation – (MR) is a developmental disability that first appears in children under the age of 18. It is defined as a level of intellectual functioning (as measured by standard intelligence tests) that is well below average and results in significant limitations in the person’s daily living skills.

Mixed Episode – A mixed episode is a discrete period during which a person experiences nearly daily fluctuations in mood that qualify for diagnoses of manic episode and major depressive episode. Over the course of at least one week, the mood of a person experiencing a mixed episode will rapidly change between abnormal happiness or euphoria and sadness and listlessness.


Narcolepsy – Narcolepsy is a disorder marked by excessive daytime sleepiness, uncontrollable sleep attacks, and cataplexy (a sudden loss of muscle tone that usually lasts up to half an hour).

Negative Symptoms – Negative symptoms are associated with schizophrenia. They are thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are “subtracted” or diminished in a person with a mental disorder, such as hygiene, social withdrawal, inability to experience pleasure, limited emotional expression, or deficits in attention control.

Neurotransmitters – Neurotransmitters are chemicals located and released in the brain that allow an impulse from one nerve cell to pass to another nerve cell. Nerve cells communicate messages by secreting neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters can excite or inhibit neurons (nerve cells). Some common neurotransmitters are acetylcholine, norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, and gamma amino butyric acid (GABA).


Obsession – A recurrent and persistent thought, impulse, or image experienced as intrusive and distressing. It is recognized as excessive and unreasonable even though it is the product of one’s mind. This thought, impulse, or image cannot be expunged by logic or reasoning.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – (OCD) is currently classified as an anxiety disorder marked by the recurrence of intrusive or disturbing thoughts, impulses, images, or ideas (obsessions) accompanied by repeated attempts to suppress these thoughts through the performance of certain irrational and ritualistic behaviors or mental acts (compulsions).

Oppositional Defiant Disorder – (ODD) is a disorder found primarily in children and adolescents. It is characterized by negative, disobedient, or defiant behavior that is worse than the normal “testing” behavior most children display from time to time.


Panic Attack – Panic attacks are intense anxiety experiences that are usually accompanied by symptoms in the affected person’s body and thinking. During the attack, the sufferer may experience sensations such as accelerated or irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, dizziness, or a fear of losing control or “going crazy.”

Panic Disorder – Panic disorder is a condition in which the person with the disorder suffers recurrent panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden attacks that are not caused by a substance (caffeine, tobacco, etc.), medication, or by a medical condition (such as high blood pressure).

Paranoia – An individual suffering from paranoia feels suspicious and has a sense that other people want to do him or her harm. As a result, the paranoid individual changes his or her actions in response to a world that is perceived as personally threatening.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder – (PDD) are a group of conditions originating in childhood that involve serious impairment in several areas, including physical, behavioral, cognitive, social, and language development. The most serious PDD is autism, a condition characterized by severely impaired social interaction, communication, and abstract thought. Autism is often manifested by stereotyped and repetitive behavior patterns.

Positive Symptoms – Positive symptoms are associated with schizophrenia. They involve thoughts, behaviors, and sensory perceptions that are “added” and present in a person with a mental disorder. Examples of positive symptoms are hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, or bizarre behavior.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PTSD is a complex disorder in which the affected person’s memory, emotional responses, intellectual processes, and nervous system have all been disrupted by one or more traumatic experiences.

Postpartum Depression – Postpartum depression is a type of depression that can range from mild to suicidal. The depressive symptoms often begin four to six weeks post-delivery, but can occur anytime within one year after the birth.



Rationalization – A defense mechanism, operating unconsciously, in which an individual attempts to justify, or make consciously tolerable by plausible means, feelings or behaviors that would otherwise be intolerable. Not to be confused with conscious evasion or dissimulation.

Reactive Detachment Disorder – In reactive attachment disorder, the normal bond between infant and parent is not established or is broken. Infants normally “bond,” or form an emotional attachment, to a parent or other caregiver by the eighth month of life. From about the second through the eighth month, most infants will respond to attention from a variety of caregivers, if the caregivers are familiar.

Relapse and Relapse Prevention – In the course of illness, relapse is a return of symptoms after a period of time when no symptoms were present. Any strategies or treatments applied in advance to prevent future symptoms are known as relapse prevention.


Schizoaffective Disorder – This condition involves both psychotic symptoms and conspicuous, long-enduring, severe symptoms of a mood disorder. The schizoaffective disorder classification is applied when a mental health client meets diagnostic criteria for both schizophrenia and an “affective” (mood) disorder (such as depression or bipolar disorder).

Schizophrenia – Schizophrenia is the most chronic and disabling of the severe mental disorders. It is associated with abnormalities of brain structure and function, disorganized speech and behavior, delusions, psychosis, and hallucinations.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – SAD is a type of mood disorder that follows an annual pattern consistent with the seasons. The most common course for SAD includes an onset of depressive symptoms late in the fall, a continuation of symptoms throughout winter, and a remission of symptoms in the spring.


Tardive Dyskinesia – Tardive Dyskinesia is a neurological disorder consisting of abnormal, involuntary body movements caused by certain medicines. It is usually associated with long-term use of medicines for treating schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

Tic Disorders – These disorders are characterized by the persistent presence of tics, which are abrupt, repetitive, involuntary movements and sounds that have been described as caricatures of normal physical acts. The best known of these disorders is Tourette syndrome.

Trichotillomania – The pulling out of one’s own hair to the point that it is noticeable and causes significant distress or impairment.


Unconscious – The part of the mind or mental functioning of which the content is rarely subject to awareness. It is a repository for data that have never been conscious (primary repression) or that may have been conscious and were later repressed (secondary repression).


Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) – VR is a set of services offered to individuals with mental or physical disabilities. These services are designed to enable participants to attain skills, resources, attitudes, and expectations needed to compete in the interview process, get a job, and keep a job. Services offered may also help an individual retrain for employment after an injury or mental disorder has disrupted previous employment.


Wellness – The state or condition of being in good physical and mental health

Wernicke’s Aphasia – Loss of the ability to comprehend language coupled with the production of inappropriate language.




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