The following descriptions of the mental health conditions that are targeted by the products on PsyberGuide are intended to help users get a basic understanding of each disorder. These descriptions are not comprehensive, and they are not intended to be a guide for diagnosing a psychiatric disorder. Cultural factors, in particular, can have a substantial impact on the specific symptoms of each disorder. Therefore, while we encourage our users to be proactive in their mental healthcare, we also remind our users that mental health diagnoses can only be made by licensed mental health professionals. In fact, many of our products can work better when used in conjunction with more traditional treatments – such as psychiatric medications or psychotherapy – and users should always consult a healthcare provider if they are concerned that they may have a psychiatric disorder.
Schizophrenia is a chronic psychotic disorder that has serious effects on all areas of functioning. There are five main categories of symptoms:
- Hallucinations – these may involve seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, or tasting sensations that are not actually present or sensed by others
- Delusions – these are fixed false beliefs, held onto despite reason or proof to the contrary
- Disorganized thinking – this is usually most obvious in someone’s speech, which may be incoherent or seem to not make sense
- Disorganized or abnormal motor behavior – including catatonia, which consists of excited, excessive, repeated but purposeless movements
- Negative symptoms – these describe previous thoughts or behaviors that a person no longer has or has to a lesser extent. Examples include social withdrawal, reduced speech, reduced attention, apathy (i.e. a lack of interest in activities that previously were important).
While it is almost always a chronic, life-long condition, the severity of particular symptoms will change over time. Onset is most common in young adults, with men developing the disorder slightly earlier than women. Schizophrenia can be treated and managed in many ways including medication, psychotherapy, and self-management strategies. With proper treatment and management, the sympoms of schizophrenia can be reduced allowing some people to experience some level of recovery.
Mood Disorders include the various forms of Depression and Bipolar Disorder. They are generally characterized by excessively low (“Depressive Episode”) or elevated (“Manic” or “Hypomanic episode”) moods that are not appropriate for the individual’s situation (for example, sadness after the loss of a loved one does not meet criteria for Depression, except in special circumstances). They also usually involve problems with sleep, appetite, and energy, and impair social or occupational functioning. Mood Disorders have a variable course, and the severity of symptoms can change dramatically over time. Onset can occur at any point in the lifespan, although there is a great deal of controversy about the diagnosis of Bipolar disorder during childhood.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (commonly called “PTSD”) is a trauma and stress-related disorder. It is a particular form of anxiety that develops after exposure to a traumatic event. PTSD is often characterized by flashbacks and frequent nightmares. Characteristics also include hypervigilance, increased arousal and being easily startled, or what we might call being “on edge”. PTSD is responsive to several forms of therapy such as prolonged exposure (PE), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), or other forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Stress & Anxiety
Stress is an uncomfortable emotional experience which occurs with physical and behavioral changes in the body. Acute stress is the most common form of stress, and comes from the pressure of the demands of everyday life. Many life changes and transitions can lead to increased stress, even ones that are largely positive like moving, getting a new job, or the birth of a child. We may feel stress because we are currently dealing with these demands, or because we anticipate them in the near future, or because they have just recently passed. Episodic acute stress occurs more frequently, and chronic stress is a longer-term state.
Symptoms of stress can be emotional, for example anger, irritability, anxiety. There are also physical symptoms, which may include muscle pains and headaches, stomach and bowel problems, increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, etc.
Anxiety refers to feelings of worry or fear. Anxiety may also be manifested through physical symptoms, like increased blood pressure, sweating, trembling or dizziness. Anxiety is similar to stress, but feelings of anxiety can continue even when a stressor is gone. Although everyone experiences anxiety, when these feelings are problematic, that is persistent or strong enough that they have an impact on daily life, they may indicate an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders may have recurring intrusive thoughts or avoid certain situations out of worry. There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders, for example generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Anxiety disorders can be treated through psychotherapy and medications. Complementary and alternative treatments like stress reduction, relaxation, mindfulness, and exercise can also help with management of anxiety.