Mental health terminology primer


What is Anxiety?

Excessive worrying and anxiety over several different events or activities on more days than not for at least six months. The individual finds it difficult to control the worrying.
Common symptoms include: restlessness, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, unexplained weight gain/loss, hypersensitivity, poor appetite, oversleeping or difficulty sleeping and difficulty concentrating.

Types of Anxiety

Separation: Usually occurs during childhood and is characterized by excessive distress where the child has been separated from someone (normally a parent) for long amounts of time.
Free Floating: Generalized, persistent anxiety that is not connected with a specific object or event and is sometimes a precursor of a panic attack. May be found in latent cases of schizophrenia.
Performance: Stage fright; a fight-or-flight reaction. Commonly happens when an anxious person is placed in a situation (normally in a public setting) and is required to carry out a certain task, e.g. entertaining or public speaking in front of others, or fearing a poor performance. Could happen with large crowds or small groups.
Situational: A state of discomfort caused by experiencing a change or a new situation. Situational doesn’t require any treatment, nor is it abnormal. Symptoms usually fade once the individual adjusts to the change.
Social: The fear of social interactions or being involved with other people. Social anxiety is the fear of being negatively judged by others. It’s a pervasive disorder and tends to cause anxiety in nearly all parts of an individual’s life.
Seasonal: Symptoms for seasonal affective disorder normally occur during the late fall or early winter months and tend to go away come the spring and summer. However, there are cases of the opposite happening during the spring or summer months only to find them disappearing come the fall and winter. In both cases, the individual may find their symptoms start out mild and progress as the season does.

Possible root causes:

  • Negative self-talk
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Thinking you “should”
  • Taking things too personally
  • Trauma from events such as abuse, victimization or the death of a loved one
  • Stress in a personal relationship, marriage, friendship, etc.
  • Workplace stress
  • Stress at school
  • Financial stress
  • Natural disaster
  • Lack of oxygen in high altitude areas
  • Genetics

Possible Treatments:

  • Talk therapy
  • Medication
  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Dietary and lifestyle changes
  • Relaxation therapy

Sleep Deprivation

What is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is a condition of not having enough sleep and can either be chronic or acute. The recommended number of hours teens should be sleeping is nine, whereas adults should be getting anywhere from seven to eight.
Symptoms of a chronic sleep-restricted state have the potential to cause the following: fatigue, daytime sleepiness, clumsiness and even weight loss or weight gain. It also affects the brain and its cognitive function.


  • Decreased performance and alertness
  • Memory and cognitive impairment
  • Stress
  • Poor quality of life
  • Occupational injury
  • Automobile injury

Possible root causes:

  • Physical disturbances (pain)
  • Medical issues (asthma or other illnesses)
  • Psychiatric disorders (depression, anxiety)
  • Environmental Issues (alcohol use)
  • Life stresses (usually short term)
  • Noise or light
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Genetics
  • Medication
  • Aging
  • Shift work

Possible Treatments:

  • Talk therapy
  • Medication
  • Dietary and lifestyle changes
  • Increased physical activity
  • Therapeutic touch or sound
  • Increased or decreased room temperature


What is depression?

Depression is more than just a temporary change in mood and it is NOT a sign of weakness. Depression is a real medical condition that many people around the world suffer from and comes with many emotional, physical, behavioural and cognitive symptoms. Many people who suffer from depression are afraid to speak up and seek help while others end up shrugging off the symptoms and suffer in silence.
Depression is neither inevitable nor is it a character flaw. People suffering with depression often get these ideas and feel an immense amount of guilt.

Emotional Symptoms:

Feeling sad, hopeless, having little interest in life and feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.

Physical Symptoms:

Those suffering with depression may speak of unexplained aches and pains, as depression doesn’t always impact a person’s mental state.

Behavioural Symptoms:

A person suffering with depression may start to behave differently. Someone who is normally lively and cheery might become slow and uninterested in what’s going on around them.

Cognitive Symptoms:

Depression can also cause impartment to a person’s ability to think, reflect and can even affect memory.

Possible root causes:

  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • Gender (affects more women than men)
  • Health conditions
  • Trauma and grief
  • Changes or stressful events
  • Medication or substance abuse
  • An imbalance of chemicals in the brain
  • Stressful life events
  • Neglect

Possible Treatments:

  • Talk therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Exercise
  • Brain Stimulation Techniques

Panic Disorder and Panic Attacks

What is panic disorder?

Panic disorder goes beyond common fear and anxiety related to stressful situations. It is a serious condition which occurs without a reason or a warning. During a panic attack, the fearful response is often out of proportion for the situation and over time a person may start to develop a constant fear of having another attack.
Common symptoms of panic disorder are sudden fear or nervousness, sweating and a racing heart, difficulty breathing, the sensation of choking or smothering, dizziness or feeling faint, trembling, nausea and numbness in fingers and toes.

Possible root causes:

  • Family history
  • Abnormalities in the brain
  • Substance abuse
  • Major life stress

Possible Treatments:

  • Talk therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Medication
  • Relaxation techniques

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

What is borderline personality disorder?

BPD is a mental illness that causes an individual to have intense mood swings, impulsive behaviors and severe doubt with self-worth. The signs for this disorder tend to start in childhood, but the overall problems don’t usually appear until early adulthood. Treatment is possible and while it has the potential of taking a number of years to improve, even the most severe symptoms could get better over time.
Common symptoms of BPD include intense emotions and mood swings, harmful and impulsive behaviors (substance abuse, binge eating, out-of-control spending), low self-worth, a frantic fear of abandonment and aggressive behavior.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Feeling empty inside
  • Problems with anger (violent tantrums)
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts/attempts
  • Paranoia/losing a sense of reality.

Possible root causes:

Experts aren’t sure what causes BPD. They say it could be problems with the chemicals in the brain or could come about because of a childhood trauma such as neglect, abuse or the death of a parent. BPD also seems to run in families.

Possible Treatments:

Experts say there is yet to be an effective way of treating BPD, but some medications have been shown to help when combined with psychotherapy.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

At one point in time, OCD was considered to be a form of anxiety, but is now considered to be a separate condition. OCD is a potentially disabling condition which locks individuals in endless cycles of repetitive thoughts and behaviors. People who have OCD suffer from recurring and frightful thoughts, fears or images they cannot control. The anxiety that comes with these thoughts leads to desperate need to enact certain and specific routines. Compulsive routines are performed as a means to help prevent the thoughts or make them go away.
Routines may only repress the thoughts or feelings of anxiety for a short time and the individual will have to repeat their actions again. Some of these routines can vary in lengths of time depending on the situation; with some taking anywhere from a few minutes to hours of a person’s day. There is no way to prevent OCD, but if treated early it can reduce the time an individual spends dealing with impulses.
Common symptoms of OCD include: fear of contamination by germs, fear of harming another person, fear of making a mistake, worrying over being embarrassed or behaving in way that is not socially accepted, fearing of having ‘evil’ or ‘sinful’ thoughts, having the need for order or symmetry, having excessive doubt in one’s self.
Common compulsions include: repeatedly showering and washing hands, constantly checking locks or stoves, counting (mentally or verbal) while completing routines, refusing to shake hands, refusal to touch doorknobs, being stuck on images or thoughts which could prohibit sleep, having the need to complete the same task a number of times, hoarding certain items, constantly arranging/rearranging items.

Possible root causes:

  • Abnormalities in the brain
  • Environment
  • Abuse
  • Life changes/stress
  • Illness

Possible Treatments:

  • Talk therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Medication therapy


What is misophonia?

Misophonia or selective sound sensitivity syndrome is more than having a dislike toward certain sounds. An individual with misophonia can be thrown into a state of panic or rage by sounds that are as simple as someone breathing, chewing or yawning. Even small motions like seeing someone wiggling their foot could do the same.

Common symptoms of misophonia:

A mild reaction to these sounds and gestures usually causes the individual to feel anxious or uncomfortable. They could also feel disgusted or even have the sudden urge to flee.
In severe cases, an individual may experience rage, panic, fear, emotional distress. They may also have the desire to kill or stop whatever is making the noise and could have suicidal thoughts.

Possible root causes:

Experts aren’t sure what causes misophonia, but they believe it is related to an individual’s brain rather than their ears. Misophonia is a lifelong condition that usually begins around the ages of nine and 13 and is more common with girls.
Misophonia is often mistaken for anxiety, bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Possible Treatments:

  • Sound therapy
  • Psychological counseling/therapy
  • Using a hearing aid/device which creates background noise
  • Antidepressants
  • Exercise
  • Change in lifestyle
  • Wearing ear plugs or headphones
  • Social media groups where people share their strategies