An introduction to mental health terminology
Learn the basics about mental health conditions and treatments
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Mental health is a broad topic that covers thoughts, feelings, and emotions, your ability to solve problems and achieve goals, your ability to connect to other people, and your ability to understand the world around you. Everyone has a unique and personal experience of mental health. In general, mental health can be thought of as a spectrum, ranging from excellent mental wellbeing at one end, to severe debilitating symptoms at the other end. Individual people have their own unique mental health spectrums.
Mental illness is a term that covers a collection of conditions that can negatively impact mental health. Mental health conditions are typically diagnosed by a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist. There are a variety of treatments available that can help people better manage their symptoms, maintain daily wellness and improve their quality of life. People from all backgrounds can experience mental illness. However, some groups are more at risk of experiencing mental illness due to social inequality.
This article contains simple definitions of a small number of mental health conditions and a few common mental health treatments that can help you on your path in gaining a more in-depth understanding of mental health information. While this is a great place to start, to learn more about these topics, please talk to your GP or a mental health professional.
Mental health conditions
ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Symptoms of ADHD in childhood can include hyperactivity, issues with impulse control, and difficulty paying attention. In adulthood, it can affect organisational skills and concentration in work or education. ADHD can also impact relationships and self-esteem. ADHD can be managed in a variety of different ways, including but not always involving medication.
Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition marked by extreme changes in mood. Symptoms of bipolar can include moods can swing between depressed states, involving feelings of intense despair and poor self-esteem, and manic states involving excessive energy and racing thoughts. Individuals with bipolar sometimes experience alternating low and high moods, but some will have only manic episodes.
Emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD)
EUPD is a mental health condition affecting mood and how a person interacts with others. The four main symptoms of EUPD are unstable and changeable moods, disturbed patterns of thinking, impulsive behaviours, and intense unstable relationships with others. The symptoms of EUPD typically begin in adolescence and continue into adulthood. The causes of EUPD are unclear but things that can contribute to EUPD include genetics, brain chemical imbalance and experiences of abuse or neglect as a child.
Body Dysmorphia Disorder
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time each day worrying about ‘flaws’ in their appearance. These perceived flaws are often unnoticeable to others. People with BDD may repeatedly inspect their ‘flaws’ or take many steps to try and hide them or cover them up. Having BDD does not mean you’re vain or self-obsessed. People of any age can have BDD, but it’s most common in young people and affects all genders.
Depression is a mental health condition that can cause a person to have severe feelings of sadness. These feelings of sadness usually last for an extended period of time, but some people also experience a more short-term form of depression called situational depression that can develop in response to stressful or traumatic experiences. Depression affects one in 10 people in Ireland but is often treatable. Symptoms of depression often include feelings of overwhelming sadness and hopelessness and loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyed. Depression also causes sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, and thoughts of death, suicide or self-harm.
Dissociative disorders are a range of conditions that can cause physical and psychological challenges. A person who dissociates may feel disconnected from themselves and/or the world around them. Many people with dissociative disorder have survived a traumatic event and people may or may not be aware of their dissociative symptoms. Symptoms of dissociation may also include periods of amnesia where a person forgets where they have been or what they have been doing and large gaps of memory loss, forgetting people and events.
Three commonly known eating disorders include Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder. A person can also have a mixed type of eating disorder with a combination of symptoms. Eating disorders can affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. A person with an eating disorder may use food and weight as a way to cope with emotional distress. Some people with eating disorders judge their self-worth on their physical shape and weight. All age groups, gender, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds can be impacted by eating disorders.
General Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, or worry that you might feel about something. It is understandable for everyone to experience anxiety at some stage in their life. With Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) people may find it harder than most to control their worry or anxiety, to the extent that it impacts their everyday life. GAD can cause both mental and physical symptoms. People with it may feel anxious most days. These symptoms vary from person to person but can include a wide range of things such as having trouble concentrating and being unable to sleep.
Mood disorders are a collection of mental health conditions that affect a person’s mood or emotional state. Often, someone’s mood changes depending on the situation they’re in, but people who live with mood disorders experience long periods of extreme emotion that are not consistent with the current situation or circumstances. Depression and bipolar disorder are two of the most common mood disorders.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder where a person has distressing, repetitive thoughts. Sometimes, as a strategy towards stopping intrusive thoughts, someone with OCD will compulsively repeat an action (such as turning on and off a light switch). For example, a person may have obsessive negative thoughts that something bad is going to happen to them or their family and as a way of suppressing these thoughts they will repeat an action or ritual such as cleaning or checking doors are locked. Carrying out a routine or action can give a person with OCD temporary relief from their anxiety because it can support them to feel in control of a situation and its outcome.
Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where a person may regularly have sudden attacks of panic or fear. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and panic at certain times and it’s a natural response to stressful or dangerous and/or uncertain situations. But someone with panic disorder has feelings of anxiety, stress and panic attacks regularly and at any time, often for no apparent reason.
Postnatal Depression (PND) is a type of depression some people experience after they have had a baby. It usually develops in the first four to six weeks after childbirth, although in some cases it may not develop for several months. Symptoms of postnatal depression include low mood, feeling unable to cope and difficulty sleeping.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a traumatic event. A person suffering from PTSD can experience symptoms such as flashbacks of the event, nightmares, severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. They may also avoid places or activities associated with the event and experience negative changes in their thoughts, feelings and reactions. It is common for a person who has experienced trauma to have some difficulty with coping or adjusting, but if these difficulties do not get better with time and self-care they may develop PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD can begin to show a month after a traumatic event but may not appear for years.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition where a person has experiences that are real for them, but not for others around them. A person with schizophrenia may see, hear or experience things that others do not, and they may have beliefs that others do not have. Symptoms may also include disorganized speech, trouble with thinking and lack of motivation. Schizophrenia usually begins in the late teens and early 20s and is found in about one in 100 people.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder, also called social phobia, is an anxiety disorder in which a person has an excessive fear of social situations. Many people feel shy or anxious in certain social environments and this is understandable, but for some people, it can be something that prevents them from being able to be around others.
Seasonal depression, sometimes called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. SAD is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are often more apparent and more severe during the winter. Other people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter. What exactly causes SAD is still unknown, but experts think factors in your environment like lower levels of sunlight in winter months play a role by influencing the levels of chemicals in your body like serotonin and melatonin.
A few examples of mental health treatments
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a specific form of therapy that can be used to treat many types of mental health issues. Research shows that it is effective for a wide range of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders (such as post-traumatic stress disorder and OCD), eating disorders, phobias and depression. CBT works on the basis that our thoughts affect our behaviours and feelings and that it is our thoughts that can make us feel bad about our life circumstances or situations. Accredited CBT therapists hold a postgraduate degree in CBT that has been approved by a professional body like the British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapies.
Counselling is a type of talking therapy or psychological therapy. It involves speaking to a counsellor about what is going on for you. Counsellors are trained to listen and can support a person to address negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. They are also skilled at helping clients express their worries and concerns. Through counselling, a person can explore their concerns and also look at options for addressing them. Some counsellors hold a PhD in counselling psychology, but this isn’t true for all counsellors. Finding a counsellor isn’t a one size fits all process. The important thing is that a person finds a counsellor that they can connect with and whose counselling approach and style works for them.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
DBT is a form of talk therapy used to help people manage challenging emotions. DBT focuses on four main concepts: mindfulness (being fully aware in the moment), interpersonal problem-solving (how to deal with conflict with others), distress tolerance (how to tolerate difficult situations), and emotion regulation (how to tolerate and change emotions). DBT is mainly used to treat emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), and can also be used to treat those who are feeling suicidal. DBT has also been effective in treating substance abuse disorders, depression, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Psychotherapy is a general term that is used to describe the use of talk therapy to treat mental health issues and mental distress. During psychotherapy, a trained psychotherapist helps the client tackle different problems they are facing. Psychotherapy should be a safe space where people can explore issues, situations and/or relationships that are causing them distress. The therapist supports the person to become more self-aware through listening and different approaches such as CBT, DBT, and art psychotherapy among others. Psychotherapy can range from short term to longer-term depending on many factors and can be applied to individuals, as well as couples, groups of families and communities.
Talking therapies are treatments that involve talking to a trained professional about your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. There are many different types of talking therapy, but they all aim to:
- Give a person a safe time and place to talk to someone who is unbiased towards them
- Support a person to make sense of things and understand themselves better
- Assist a person in resolving complicated feelings, or find ways to live with them
There is a wide range of therapeutic approaches, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Family Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Art Therapy, and Psychoeducation.
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