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Understanding Psychological Disorders

With so many different ailments, illnesses, and diseases being spoken about today, it’s easy to be confused about the differences among each disease. And, in an age where psychological issues are all too common, it’s important to be able to understand the types of psychological disorders from which the general population suffers.

In order to be able to begin to understand psychological disorders, one must first know the definition of one.  A psychological disorder is clinically defined as an abnormality that is “deviant, distressful, and dysfunctional.”  Depression, for example, is deviant because it goes against what is normal; it is atypical to show no interest in previous hobbies and to be lethargic and blue on an almost daily basis.  It is distressful, because not only does it upset the person suffering from depression; it also creates an unpleasant situation for the friends and family members of the sufferer. And, finally, depression is dysfunctional because it causes a person to be unable to function normally in everyday life. Depression, then, qualifies as a psychological disorder because it is all of the following: deviant, distressful, and dysfunctional.

While psychological disorders do all meet these three criteria, there are differences among common mental illnesses. Psychological disorders differ in their roots, symptoms, and severity; therefore it is vital that mental health practitioners, and even the friends and family members who are in close contact with someone suffering from a mental illness, be able to recognize and identify various disorders, enabling them to perform an appropriate method of treatment.


Schizophrenia is characterized by an extreme disconnect from reality, and one suffering from the disease tends to experience disturbing perceptions, difficulty thinking logically, and a near inability to discern between real and unreal experiences.  They may also suffer from problems with attention, memory, and organization, as well as difficulty displaying appropriate emotions. Schizophrenics typically have difficulties with speaking coherently, which explains the “word salad” often associated with the disorder. “Word salad” is a group of loosely connected statements that only a schizophrenia patient can understand. The following is an example of a word salad:
“Yesterday, the neighbors arrived with a bushel of wheat. I can only hope that the children will receive their weekly bath. It seems to me that young Gracie has blue eyes. Snakes often have eyes. The grass is green as well.”

To a healthy person, the “word salad” would make no sense, but schizophrenics are able to understand such things, because of their disturbed perceptions and unusual ways of thinking.

Though schizophrenics all tend to display certain symptoms, such as “word salads,” there are two broad categories into which each case of schizophrenia is placed: acute and chronic. Acute schizophrenia, characterized by a rapid onset, involves the patient displaying positive symptoms, such as unusual perceptions and illogical thoughts.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, chronic schizophrenia, which is typically harder to treat, is characterized by a gradual onset and the presence of negative symptoms, such as apathy, lack of motivation, and social withdrawal.

General Anxiety Disorder

General anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive, uncontrollable, and irrational worry about everyday things, such as health and safety, and it interferes with daily functioning. An individual suffering from general anxiety disorder often anticipates disaster, and their level of worry far outweighs the circumstances that cause the worry. That is to say, they worry much more than what is normal for a given situation.  A sufferer often deals with fatigue, fidgeting, nausea, muscle aches, insomnia, irritability, and twitching.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

An individual suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID) displays multiple personalities/identities, and they have multiple beliefs and ideas that often contradict each other. They may experience memory loss and often suffer from amnesia and depersonalization, and they live their life as if watching themselves in a movie.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Issues with relationships and self-esteem, as well as impulsivity characterize borderline personality disorder, which is often associated with depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Those with the disorder are known to be involved in self-harm, which includes cutting, burning, and driving recklessly. Sufferers generally have anger issues, a low self worth, and an intense fear of being left alone. They may experience paranoia, and suffer from suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

An individual diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder experiences a complete detachment from friends and family, and society in general. They can lie, cheat, and even commit violent crimes against “loved ones” and feel no remorse for their actions. Sometimes referred to as “sociopaths,” individuals with the disorder display a complete disregard for social norms and laws, and they often find themselves conning others for personal gain and pleasure.  They impulsively lie and have no regard for the safety and well being of the people around them. The disorder is characterized by all of the following: irresponsibility, aggressiveness, difficulties with the law, narcissism, lack of long-term goals, and an inability to control behavior and boredom.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder, more commonly known as depression, is characterized by a blue mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and a low self esteem.  The disorder has an aversive effect on the sufferer’s family, work and school life, as well as sleeping and eating habits and general health.  One diagnosed with depression often experiences a preoccupation with social situations, thoughts of worthlessness, and self-hatred. They may also be inflicted with a reduced sex drive, social withdrawal, and thoughts of death/suicide.

Bipolar Disorder

Those suffering from bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive disorder, swing from one extreme to another. During their “manic” phases, they are highly productive and hyperactive, accomplishing in a short amount of time what would take the average person much longer to do. They are euphoric and elated during this state, and experience an abnormal level of happiness, as if high on drugs. The manic state is also characterized by restlessness, racing thoughts, high sex drive, and a tendency to make grandiose plans.

During their depressive states, on the other hand, they are quite the opposite. They experience irritability, loss of energy, anxiety, uncontrollable crying, need for sleep, difficulty making decisions, and even thoughts of death.

Panic Disorder

Someone inflicted with panic disorder experiences severe panic attacks, and they have an ongoing concern about having their next attack. An attack involves extreme anxiety, and one may feel as if they’re having a heart attack instead of a panic attack, as the symptoms of a panic attack mirror the symptoms of having a heart attack.  During a panic attack, a sufferer experiences a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, trembling, uncontrollable fear, and hyperventilation. The average attack lasts ten minutes, but it can last as few as 1-5 minutes, or as long as twenty minutes. Attacks can be regular occurrences, and they can even happen as often as weekly or daily. There is a correlation between being inflicted with panic disorder and experiencing agoraphobia.