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Common Mental Health Diagnoses

Educating yourself is an important part of understanding what your loved one with a mental health condition is experiencing, and it may also reduce your own anxiety and confusion. Below is a grouping of some common mental health diagnoses (Source NAMI and Verywellmind). However, this is not a complete list and the definitions and experiences are fluid. Please consult a medical professional for further explanation and consultation.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a group of related mental health conditions, each having unique symptoms. However, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.

People typically experience one or more of the following symptoms:

Emotional symptoms:

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense or jumpy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger

Physical symptoms:

  • Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
  • Sweating, tremors and twitches
  • Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
  • Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea

There are many types of anxiety disorders. The most common types include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): GAD produces chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life even when there is no threat present. This worrying can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish daily tasks. A person with GAD may become exhausted by worry and experience headaches, tension or nausea.
  • Panic Disorder: is a type of anxiety disorder that is determined by panic attacks and sudden feelings of terror sometimes striking repeatedly and without warning. Often mistaken for a heart attack, a panic attack causes powerful physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and stomach upset. Many people will go to desperate measures to avoid an attack, including social isolation.
  • Phobias: We all tend to avoid certain things or situations that make us uncomfortable or even fearful. But for someone with a phobia, certain places, events or objects create powerful reactions of strong, irrational fear. Most people with specific phobias have several things that can trigger those reactions; to avoid panic, they will work hard to avoid their triggers. Depending on the type and number of triggers, attempts to control fear can take over a person’s life.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: More than shyness, this disorder causes intense fear about social interaction, often driven by irrational worries about humiliation (e.g. saying something stupid or not knowing what to say). Someone with social anxiety disorder may not take part in conversations, contribute to class discussions or offer their ideas, and may become isolated. Panic attacks are a common reaction to anticipated or forced social interaction.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Traumatic events—such as an accident, assault, military combat or natural disaster—can have lasting effects on a person’s mental health. While many people will have short term responses to life-threatening events, some will develop longer term symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms may include nightmares or unwanted memories of the trauma, avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the trauma, heightened reactions, anxiety, or depressed mood.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is demonstrated by repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do certain actions (compulsions). Although people with OCD may know that their thoughts and behavior don't make sense, they are often unable to stop them. Often, extensive rituals are undertaken in an attempt to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions.

Mood Disorders

A mood disorder, also called a  affective disorder, is a condition that severely impacts mood and its related functions. Mood disorder is a broad term that's used to include all different types of depression and bipolar disorder, both of which affect mood. If someone has symptoms of a mood disorder, their moods may range from extremely low (depressed) to extremely high or irritable (manic).

In general, the main types of mood disorders include:

  • Major depressive disorder: is often called depression and involves long periods of extreme sadness, hopelessness, and/or fatigue that last for two weeks or more. Some other symptoms include changes in sleep, appetite, loss of energy, lack of concentration, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): is a type of depression that typically strikes in late fall and winter (when the sun isn’t out as long), alternating with period of normal mood the rest of the year. 
  • Bipolar I disorder: is a mental health condition that is defined by having both experiences of extreme mood shifts of mania and depression. When someone has mania, they experience euphoric and/or irritable moods and increased energy or activity. During manic episodes, they might regularly engage in activities that can result in painful consequences for themselves/or someone else.
  • Bipolar II disorder: involves moods cycling between high and low over time (similar to Bipolar 1). However, the “high” moods are a less severe form of mania called hypomania. Most people with bipolar II suffer more often from episodes of depression. 
  • Dual Diagnosis: (also referred to as co-occurring disorders) is a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously. Either disorder—substance use or mental illness—can develop first. People experiencing a mental health condition may turn to alcohol or other drugs as a form of self-medication to improve the mental health symptoms they experience. However, research shows that alcohol and other drugs worsen the symptoms of mental illnesses.

Eating Disorders

When you become so preoccupied with food and weight issues that you find it harder and harder to focus on other aspects of your life, it may be an early sign of an eating disorder. Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food.

The most common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that makes people lose more weight than is considered healthy for their age and height. With anorexia, a person will deny hunger and refuse to eat, practice binge eating and purging behaviors or exercise to the point of exhaustion as they attempt to limit, eliminate or “burn” calories. People with anorexia may have an intense fear of weight gain, even when they are underweight. 
  • Bulimia: People living with bulimia will feel out of control when binging on very large amounts of food during short periods of time, and then desperately try to rid themselves of the extra calories using forced vomiting, abusing laxatives or excessive exercise. This becomes a repeating cycle that controls many aspects of the person’s life and has a very negative effect both emotionally and physically. People living with bulimia are usually normal weight or even a bit overweight. 
  • Binge Eating: Binge eating is when a person eats a much larger amount of food in a shorter period of time than they normally would. During binge eating, the person feels a loss of control and after an episode of binge eating, they don’t attempt to purge or exercise excessively like someone living with anorexia or bulimia would. A person with binge eating disorder may be normal weight, overweight or obese.

Psychotic Disorders

Psychosis is described as disruptions to a person’s thoughts and perceptions that make it difficult for them to recognize what is real and what isn’t. People with psychotic disorders lose contact with reality and experience a range of extreme symptoms that usually includes:

  • Hallucinations—hearing or seeing things that are not real, such as voices.
  • Delusions—believing things that are not true.

However, these symptoms can occur in people with other health problems, including bipolar disorder, dementia, substance abuse disorders, or brain tumors. 

  • Schizophrenia causes people to lose touch with reality, often in the form of hallucinations, delusions and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. People diagnosed with schizophrenia experience an altered state and may hear voices, see things that aren't there or believe that others are reading or controlling their minds. They may also have difficulty speaking and expressing emotion, and problems with attention, memory, and organization. 
  • Schizoaffective disorder is characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as depressive or manic episodes. 

Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders are defined by an involuntary escape from reality through a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory. The symptoms of a dissociative disorder usually first develop as a response to a traumatic event, such as abuse or military combat, to keep those memories under control. Stressful situations can worsen symptoms and cause problems with functioning in everyday activities.

  • Dissociative Amnesia: The main symptom is difficulty remembering important information about one’s self. Dissociative amnesia may surround a particular event, such as combat or abuse, or more rarely, information about identity and life history. The onset for an amnesic episode is usually sudden, and an episode can last minutes, hours, days, or, rarely, months or years. There is no average for age onset or percentage, and a person may experience multiple episodes throughout her life.
  • Depersonalization disorder: This disorder involves ongoing feelings of detachment from actions, feelings, thoughts and sensations as if they are watching a movie (depersonalization). Sometimes other people and things may feel like people and things in the world around them are unreal (derealization). A person may experience depersonalization, derealization or both. Symptoms can last just a matter of moments or return at times over the years. 
  • Dissociative identity disorder: Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, this disorder is characterized by alternating between multiple identities. A person may feel like one or more voices are trying to take control in their head. Often these identities may have unique names, characteristics, mannerisms and voices. People with DID will experience gaps in memory of every day events, personal information and trauma. 

If you think your loved one is experiencing a mental illness, talk to your loved one, find professional help, and get information. People with mental illness can and do recovery and lead rich and meaningful lives. 

It takes a trained mental health professional to diagnose mental illness. To begin the process, if your friend or family member has health insurance, call the number listed in the health plan member’s information. If your friend or family member does not have health insurance, call the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services ACCESS number 800-491-9099.