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All of the presenting diagnostic definitions are derived from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) created by the American Psychiatric Association.
These terms and definitions were written by Stigma-Free Society interns and Adler University psychology students, Alensia Ma and Brianna Kunder, and reviewed by Dr. Shimi Kang & Dolphin Kids: Future-ready Leaders.
To view definitions please click on the “name” or the “+” sign on any given line. It will expand for you to read the full definition and close when you click on another one. At any time you may scroll to the top of window click the white “X” in the upper right hand corner of the “pop up” window to return the page you were originally on.
American Psychological Association Psychologist locator: Useful search engine to find licensed psychologists by city or zipcode.
Psychology Today Find a Therapist: Broad search engine for finding counsellors, therapists, psychologists, treatment centers and support groups.
Everyone has mental health, just like everyone has physical health. In the course of one’s lifetime, they may not experience mental illness, but they will experience struggles and difficulties, which will challenge their mental health. Mental health is essentially one’s mental well-being involving one’s emotions, thoughts and feelings, the ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties.
Mental illness is different from mental health because it affects the way individual’s think, feel, behave, and interact with others. The symptoms of mental illness impact one’s life on a much more substantial level that can impede one’s daily functioning and can be chronic, lasting a lifetime.
Bipolar disorder is a category that includes three different diagnoses under one umbrella: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. People with bipolar disorder experience intense emotional states that typically occur distinctly, ranging from days to weeks, called mood episodes. These mood episodes are characterized as being manic/hypomanic (abnormally happy or irritable mood) or depressive (sad mood). Generally, people with bipolar disorder also experience neutral moods. When treated, people with bipolar disorder can live fulfilling and productive lives.
Depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) is a mood disorder in which those who suffer experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and tend to lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed.
The development (onset) of major depressive disorder is typically puberty. It is more common for females to experience than males. It is also important to address one’s feelings of severe sadness and hopelessness as the risk of suicide is prominent with this disorder.
Anxiety is an adaptive response to stress in our environment. Anxiety disorders differ from typical feelings of nervousness or anxiousness to involve excessive fear, worry, or anxiety. It is the most common mental illness that can also include other types of anxiety, such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and more. Anxiety disorders are manageable and treatable.
An anxiety disorder can begin as early as 1 year of age, though is more commonly seen in school-age children, with nearly 1 in 3 adolescents (13-18) experiencing an anxiety disorder.
Feeding and Eating Disorders:
A persistent disturbance of eating or eating-related behaviour that results in the altered consumption or absorption of food and significantly impairs physical health or psychological, behavioural, and social functioning. Eating disorders are ranked the third most common chronic illness in adolescent females.
Substance and Addiction:
Substance-related disorders involve 10 separate classes of drugs: alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, hypnotics, stimulants, tobacco, and others (unknown substances). All drugs that are taken in excess similarly activate the brain reward system, which produces feelings of pleasure or euphoria. Whenever this reward system is activated, our brain notes that something is happening that should be repeated because it is enjoyable. This is the addictive property drugs hold onto the brain.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):
ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders typically diagnosed in childhood. The two pillars of ADHD are Inattention and Hyperactivity. Inattention may look like wandering off task, having difficulty staying focused, or inability to stay organized. Hyperactivity may look like excessive motor activity, such as excessive fidgeting, tapping, restlessness, or talkativeness when it is not appropriate. ADHD interferes with one’s functioning and development such as school performance and academic achievement, which can have a substantial impact on the child and their family
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
OCD is to have a tendency towards excessive orderliness, perfectionism, and/or great attention to detail characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent, persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are perhaps unwanted. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts that are done in response to the obsession, to prevent it from happening, or according to the rules one has made that they apply rigidly to avoid the obsession. Not performing these behaviours leads to great distress.
Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders:
Trauma is a lasting response to a stressful event. Experiencing a traumatic event can have a lasting impact on an individual’s sense of self, safety, and ability to regulate emotions. Psychological distress following a traumatic event can also look a lot like anxiety. It is not uncommon for a traumatic or anxious response to look alike.
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder and is attributed to an individual if they have two or more core symptoms; delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking and/or speech. The other core symptoms are significantly disorganized or abnormal motor behaviour, and negative symptoms. Delusions are fixed beliefs that are resistant to change despite conflicting evidence. For example, this might be a strong belief that someone is going to be harmed by another individual, despite there being no evidence of that being true. This is defined as a specific delusion called a persecutory delusion, which is the most common. Hallucinations are experiences that occur without an external stimulus (outside reason or cause). They are vivid and clear, like a voice speaking to you which is not just one’s individual inner thoughts; this is called an auditory hallucination. Disorganized thinking and speech can be quite sporadic in nature, whether a person jumps from idea to idea, or their ideas are completely unrelated, or their words or sentences just do not make sense. Disorganized or abnormal motor behaviour can be observed as a childlike “silliness” to unpredictable agitation. It can be seen as odd posture, excessive motor activity, staring, and more. Negative symptoms are diminished emotional expression seen in one’s face, eye contact, or delivery of speech and avolition which is a decrease in motivated self-driven activities such as sitting for long periods of time without interest in participating in work, school, or social activities
Therapy is generally defined as treatment for an injury, disability or illness with psychotherapy being specific to treatment of mental health conditions. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be done by many different professionals ranging from social workers to psychiatrists. Therapy can be beneficial to all types of people, and helpful in many different situations. It can range in intensity and be short or long term. Mental health professionals can have different areas of specialty and work under one or a combination of different “theories”. In all cases, the goal is to help people make sense of their emotions and thoughts to live more happy, productive and healthy lives.
A professional, usually with a master’s degree in social work, who helps individuals in disadvantaged situations. They can provide some counselling but are usually not trained to use psychotherapy theories. Instead, social workers usually help clients attain resources they need to change their circumstances. Social workers are generally involved in government or community services and specialize in family, child and school issues. They generally assist those with limited resources, victims of abuse, families adjusting to a child with mental health struggles, or families adjusting to a member who is differently abled.
A professional, with a master’s degree in counselling specific psychology, trained in psychotherapy. Those seeking out counselling range from dealing with trauma, anxiety, depression or just needing some extra support during stressful life events such as mourning a lost one or divorce. Anyone needing some extra support, guidance, a safe place to express their feelings or looking for something potentially long term should consider counselling.
A professional, with a doctorate degree in psychology, trained in psychotherapy who is also able to assign a diagnosis. Psychologists are able to offer support to those with symptoms of a suspected mental disorder and those with more severe mental health struggles looking for a treatment plan more catered to their diagnosis.
A professional, with a medical degree, trained in psychotherapy. They are able to assign a diagnosis, prescribe medication and other medical treatments. Those with mental health struggles such as severe depression or schizophrenia where medication is required should seek out a psychiatrist. Even those with moderate depression and anxiety who have been prescribed drugs by their general practitioner can benefit from a psychiatric consultation as they often have a more comprehensive understanding of disorders and their effective treatments. In Canada a referral from your doctor is needed to book an appointment with a licensed psychiatrist.
The guidelines, themes and general attitudes that counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists use to guide their treatment method. This is the framework they use to define client/counsellor relationship, intervention methods and the overall mood of the session. Different theories will appeal to different people and be more useful for different challenges. Don’t be afraid to try out a few different types until you find one that works best for you!
These theories are more long term and focused on the individuals and their life experience. They tend to attempt to treat the person as a whole and not just specific problems, and this generally leads to improvements in self-awareness. A few of the most common are listed below.
The original theory of talk therapy developed by Freud. Focuses on making sense of the subconscious and the past. A more intensive form of psychodynamic therapy characterized by a close working partnership between therapist and patient.
Person centered therapy:
Created by Carl Rogers, this holistic method uses empathy to help motivate people to find solutions to their problems themselves.
This theory helps people find meaning in their life and overcome the fear of death through self-determination.
This theory is goal oriented and works to help people find success , connectedness with others, and a sense of belonging in the world
Behavioral and Problem-Based Theories:
These theories tend to be more short term and focus on specific behaviors or symptoms that are causing the most issues. A few of the most well known are listed below
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
One of the most popular of the behavioral theories, this method focuses on identifying unhealthy ways of thinking and finding a healthier substitute. This has been shown to be very effective for those suffering from anxiety, depression, trauma related disorders, eating disorders and addiction.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT):
One of the newest forms of therapy, this was developed specifically to help treat those with borderline personality disorder. It focuses on helping people find acceptance as well as managing their emotions. This is also very effective in those dealing with other personality disorders, addiction, suicidal ideation and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This type of therapy is used specifically for younger children and uses games, toys and different forms of “play” to help children express confusing emotions, feelings or life events
Focuses on helping families communicate and deal with major conflicts that are affecting the household.
Focuses on helping people in relationships settle differences, improve communication and find ways to have a more content life together.
Generally led by a therapist, this type of therapy will be a small group of those suffering from similar mental health struggles who come together to find support from each other as well as the therapist. This is common for those suffering from eating disorders, addiction and is used often in DBT.