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Understanding Psychiatric Disorders

Psychiatric disorders are mental, emotional and behavioral disorders, comprising a broad range of problems with different symptoms. They are generally characterized by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behavior and relationships with others.

Mood and anxiety disorders are serious mental health conditions that have a considerable impact on a person’s personal and family life, as well as on their ability to function at work or school.


Mood disorders are characterized by periods of extreme mood, whether very low mood (depression), or opposing periods of elevated mood and low mood (bipolar disorder). People with depression feel sad, empty, or hopeless, and lose interest and pleasure in activities, for long periods of time. They are also likely to have cognitive symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating and making decisions. People with bipolar disorder have times when they seem abnormally cheerful and full of energy, which can lead to impulsive and risky behaviors.


Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive, unrealistic worry. People with generalized anxiety disorder, for example, have uncontrollable worries about various everyday things, such as their responsibilities, finances, and health. Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop following a traumatic event, such as exposure to violence or a vehicle accident, and may result in recurring nightmares and flashbacks.


Mood and anxiety disorders are relatively common, and it is not unusual for one person to suffer from multiple disorders. Symptoms differ from person to person but, with treatment, most people are able to return to their normal lives.


Get a deeper understanding of depression here, bipolar disorder here, generalized anxiety disorder here and post-traumatic stress disorder here.

A personality disorder is a pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving that differs markedly from what is expected by society, and does not really change over time. Whereas everyone in the world has a different way of seeing and relating to things, a ‘personality’ becomes a ‘personality disorder’ when it is unable to adjust appropriately to a particular situation, thereby causing distress and disability to the individual.


There are many different types of personality disorders. Depending on the type, a person may seem odd and eccentric, emotional and erratic, or anxious and fearful. For example, people with borderline personality disorder are afraid of being abandoned, and experience severe changes in mood. Impulsive actions, such as substance abuse and suicide attempts, are generally common among people with borderline personality disorder, and are important to address.


Personality disorders normally begin in adolescence or early adulthood and may or may not improve as the person gets older, depending on the disorder. Personality disorders have a considerable impact on a person’s relationships with friends and family and affect a person’s ability to cope with everyday life.


Get a deeper understanding of borderline personality disorder here.

Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, are serious mental health conditions associated with altered ways of thinking and perceiving things. They are characterized by ‘psychosis’ in which a person loses touch with reality. People may experience delusions – strong but false beliefs, such as the belief that someone is trying to harm them or that someone is putting thoughts into their head. People may also experience hallucinations – false information from their senses, such as hearing voices or seeing things that are not really there. In addition, people with psychotic disorders may have reduced emotions, difficulty in speaking, and reduced feelings of pleasure or interest.


Psychotic symptoms and disorders may be induced by certain medications and illicit drugs, may be a consequence of another medical condition, or may be due to structural changes or chemical imbalances in the brain. These disorders are commonly misunderstood by the general public, making them a source of stigma and discrimination.


Psychotic disorders require treatment and are often highly disabling, with a considerable impact on a person’s personal and family life, as well as on their ability to function at work or at school.


Get a deeper understanding of schizophrenia here.

The ‘substance’ in ‘substance use disorder’ can refer to a number of drugs, including alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives, stimulants (e.g., amphetamine or cocaine) and tobacco. What these substances have in common is that, when taken in excess, they cause changes in the regions of the brain that control motivation and reward. At first, the substance typically activates the ‘reward’ system in the brain and produces feelings of pleasure. Over time, the pleasure from taking the substance reduces, and a person may suffer from cravings and withdrawal symptoms when not taking the substance. Thus, rather than using the substance for pleasure, they may use it to avoid the negative effects of not using it.


As a consequence of these changes in the brain, a person with a substance use disorder will take the substance in larger amounts and for longer than intended. This is known as ‘tolerance’. Although they may try to cut down on their substance use, they find it difficult or not possible to do so. Much of each day can revolve around taking or getting hold of the substance, which naturally affects a person’s ability to fulfill obligations at work, school, and home.


Alcohol use disorder is a common type of substance use disorder. In particular, alcohol use disorder can have serious health consequences, and increases the risk of early death and disability.


Get a deeper understanding of alcohol use disorder here.

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