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Information about Mental Disorders

The following content is intended to be helpful to those seeking more information about various psychological conditions. Only a mental health professional should diagnose a psychological disorder. In addition to the features listed below, each condition must also cause significant distress and/or impairments to be a clinical-level problem. Furthermore, the condition must not be better explained by other disorders, medical problems, or substances.

5% of children and 2.5% of adults meet criteria for ADHD. These individuals often exhibit signs of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity that interferes with their functioning or development. Inattention can include making careless mistakes, having difficulty sustaining attention, not following through on instructions, difficulty organizing, being easily distracted, being forgetful in daily tasks, and avoiding/disliking tasks that require sustained effort. Hyperactivity can include fidgeting, feeling restless, running/climbing when inappropriate (among children), discomfort staying still for an extended time, talking excessively or blurting out responses before appropriate, difficulty waiting one’s turn, and interrupting or intruding on others. In order to qualify for ADHD, these signs must emerge before age 12 and in at least 2 settings (e.g., school, home, social contexts).

ASD is characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction than span across contexts. Individuals with ASD may also exhibit restricted interests or patterns of behavior, such as repetitive movements or speech, inflexible adherence to routine, and/or too much or too little reactivity to sensory input. These features will always manifest during childhood, though may not become evident until a phase in life when social demands exceed the person’s capacities. ASD commonly—though not always—occurs with an intellectual disability. Approximately 1% of the population meets criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Individuals with BPD have a longstanding pattern of fearing abandonment and taking measures to avoid this abandonment. They also report an unstable identity or sense of self, that their relationships tend to shift from one “extreme” to another (e.g., idealization and devaluation), and they experience impulsivity, mood instability, chronic feelings of emptiness, difficulty controlling anger, paranoia when stressed, and recurrent suicidal thoughts and/or gestures. Approximately 1.6-5.9% of the population meets criteria for BPD.

Individuals with Bipolar disorder (Type I) have experienced an episode of depression and at least one “manic” episode, characterized by unusually elevated or irritable mood with increased energy or goal-directed activity. Manic episodes may also be accompanied by inflated self-esteem, decreased sleep, more talkativeness than usual, racing thoughts, distractibility, and excessive involvement in potentially painful/harmful activities. These episodes can last from 4 days to over a week. Up to 0.6% of the population meets criteria for BD. Individuals with Type II Bipolar disorder also experience episodes of depression alternating with elevated mood , but the “up” periods do not meet full criteria for full-blown mania. In a hypomanic episode, people can feel “high,” be irritable, have rapid speed, decreased need for sleep, but these behaviors are usually not as destructive or extreme as in a full-blown manic episode.

In 2010, about 2.5 million emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations, or deaths were associated with TBI—either alone or in combination with other injuries—in the United States. TBIs have a variety of causes, from open and closed head injuries, deceleration injuries, and infections such as meningitis. Some injuries result in the loss of consciousness. Most TBIs (80%) are mild (also called concussion), with symptoms that resolve within days to months. Moderate or severe TBI include a prolonged period of unconsciousness and more serious lasting effects. The effects of TBI can range from mild confusion, headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, memory problems, sleep changes, mood or behavioral changes, and concentration/attention problems. More severe symptoms that may emerge include persistent nausea/vomiting, seizures, speech difficulties, loss of coordination, numbness of the extremities and severe confusion.

Depression is characterized by low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, or irritability, as well as other symptoms, including appetite change, sleep disturbances (either too much or too little), fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, poor concentration, and thoughts of death/suicide. About 7% of people meet criteria for depression in a given year.

  • Disturbances in eating can yield remarkably different presentations. In AN, person restricts food intake, is significantly below weight (e.g., BMI less than 17.5), intensely fears gaining weight, and has body image disturbances or gives excessive importance to their body shape/size in evaluating themselves. 0.4% of women meet criteria for AN in a given year.
  • In BN, the person experiences episodes of binge eating, in which he/she eats excessive amount of food and feels out of control of his/her eating. Individuals with this diagnosis also engage in compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain (e.g., vomiting, laxative use, excessive exercise). Similar to AN, those with BN also give excessive importance to their body shape/size in evaluating themselves. 1-1.5% of young women meet criteria for BN in a given year.
  • In BED, the person engages in binge eating approximately 3 times per week and feels uncomfortably full. The person may also eat alone due to embarrassment and feel guilty or disgusted with oneself following a binge

Gender dysphoria is marked by incongruence between expressed and assigned gender, for at least 6 months. It can be accompanied by a strong desire to be of the other gender, be treated as the other gender, or have the typical sex characteristics of the other gender. Prevalence ranges from .002% to .014%, though these are likely underestimates.

GAD is marked by excessive worry about a number of events/activities. The worry is difficult to control and is accompanied by difficulty concentrating, irritability, and/or physical sensations of anxiety, such as restlessness, fatigue, muscle tension. 0.9% in adolescents and 2.9% in adults meet criteria for GAD in a given year.

Individuals with OCD experience obsessions (intrusive, unwanted, recurrent, persistent thoughts/images) and/or compulsions (repetitive behaviors in response to an obsession). In OCD, the obsessions/compulsions are time consuming, distressing, and/or impairing. 1.2% of people meet criteria for OCD in a given year.

Individuals with PD experience recurrent panic attacks, characterized by an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by physical sensations of anxiety (e.g., sweating, sensations of shortness of breath, pounding heart) and sometimes fear of losing control or dying. The panic attacks cause persistent worry and/or maladaptive changes in behavior designed to avoid further panic attacks. In some cases, PD is accompanied by agoraphobia, which means a person tends to avoid public places or places where escape may be difficult (e.g., shopping mall, public transportation, sports arena). 2-3% of people meet criteria for PD in a given year.

Symptoms of PTSD emerge from experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as a threat of death, serious injury, natural disaster, violence, abuse, death/loss, etc. The signs of PTSD include flashbacks, distress in reaction to cues/reminders of the event, and recurrent, involuntary, distressing memories surrounding the event. Other signs of PTSD include avoidance of reminders of the traumatic events, thought/mood changes following the event, and arousal changes (e.g., hypervigilance). 3.5% of people meet criteria for PTSD in a given year and 8.7% of people will meet criteria for PTSD at some point in their lives.

Schizophrenia is most commonly characterized by hallucinations (sensory experiences in the absence of sensory stimulation) or delusions (unusual/distorted beliefs). It may also be characterized by disorganized speech, disorganized/catatonic behavior, and diminished emotional expressiveness or decreased motivation to engage in goal-directed behavior. 0.3-0.7% of people will meet criteria for schizophrenia in their lifetime.

SAD is marked by intense fear of social situations and possible scrutiny and negative evaluations by others. It is also characterized by avoidance of social situations and/or enduring social situations with great distress and anxiety. 7% of people meet criteria for SAD in a given year.

SUDs can involve an array of substances, including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis (marijuana), sedatives, hypnotics, opioids, anxiolytics, inhalants, hallucinogens, stimulants. Common symptoms of SUD across substances include consuming more of the substance than initially intended, unsuccessful attempts to decrease use, cravings for the substance, substance use causing failure to fulfill major obligations, social or interpersonal problems resulting from the substance use, important activities being given up or reduced because of substance use, using substances in hazardous situations, continuing using the substance despite physical or psychological problems that result, tolerance, and withdrawal. 8.5% of adults and 4.6% of adolescents meet criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder in a given year. 1.5% of adults and 3.4% of adolescents meet criteria for Cannabis Use Disorder in a given year.

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.