Currently, I am a double major. I am currently studying political science and psychology. After I finish my undergrad degree and the next steps in my education, I plan to live in Washington D.C. and join the fight for better mental health treatment. Although I know I could work well and be successful working with small groups of people and individuals, I have felt that my talents can be used on a national level. My mission in life is to create sustainable change for the treatment of mental health through governmental policies. This will be a reoccurring topic in my posts, so I wanted to make an explanatory post of common phrases and terms used in reference to mental health. I will be using a combination of actual definitions as well as putting some of them into common language. I like to do this so not only does the reader have the technical definition, but they can see how the term is applied today.
Lack of information is one of the biggest causes of stigma, and the only way to fix this is education. By learning the proper meaning of select terms, not only can you have a better understanding of what others are talking about, but you can start to join in on the conversation and ask questions.
Technical definition: "Psychiatry is the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (an M.D. or D.O.) who specializes in mental health, including substance use disorders. Psychiatrists are qualified to assess both the mental and physical aspects of psychological problems... problems can be sudden, such as a panic attack, frightening hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, or hearing "voices." Or they may be more long-term, such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anxiousness that never seem to lift or problems functioning, causing everyday life to feel distorted or out of control." - American Psychiatric Association
Personal definition: Jokingly, I refer to this doctor as a "drug doctor." Their job is to know all the best combinations of medications and make the best recommendation as to what ones someone should be taking. It takes a long time before you can become a psychiatrist, and even then, you have to keep up with the current research. This is not an easy job and it takes a lot of focus and commitment.
Technical definition: "Practicing psychologists have the professional training and clinical
skills to help people learn to cope more effectively with life issues
and mental health problems. After years of graduate school and
supervised training, they become licensed by their states to provide a
number of services, including evaluations and psychotherapy.... Psychologists with doctoral degrees (either a PhD, PsyD or EdD) receive
one of the highest levels of education of all health care professionals,
spending an average of seven years in education and training after they
receive their undergraduate degrees." - American Psychological Association
Personal definition: I also refer to this doctor (jokingly) as the "talking doctor." Like with psychiatrists, it takes many years of hard work before they can earn this title. A lot of people have many misconceptions on what visiting a psychologist is like and the help they can provide. I will be covering more about these misconceptions later on in other articles.
Technical definition: "A therapist is a broader umbrella term for professionals who are
trained—and often licensed—to provide a variety of treatments and
rehabilitation for people. Therapists can be psychoanalysts, marriage counselors, social workers
and life coaches, among other specialties. A therapist’s goal is to
help patients make decisions and clarify their feelings in order to
solve problems. Therapists provide support and guidance, while helping
patients make effective decisions within the overall structure of
support." - All Psychology Schools
Personal definition: There is a distinct difference between a therapist/counselor and a psychologist. The biggest difference is the education and title. Although a therapist/counselor may not have been in the same academic rigor as a psychologist, they are useful to many people. Some people may select to have frequent sessions with a therapist to help them deal with certain problems in their life. You do not have to have a mental illness to have a problem in your life. Often, these professionals deal with people who need to talk things out but may not necessarily be diagnosed with a mental illness.
Technical definition: "Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain
disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them
involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods
range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energized behavior
(known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods
(known as depressive episodes)." - National Institute of Mental Health
Personal definition: I find myself constantly correcting others on what it actually means to be bipolar. Like all mental disorders, if you know someone who personally suffers from this, you know it is not something to joke about. Bipolar Disorder does not have fast changing mood swings. The moods can be very severe as well.
5. Mania (Manic)
Technical definition: "An abnormally elevated mood state
characterized by such symptoms as inappropriate elation, increased
irritability, severe insomnia, grandiose notions, increased speed
and/or volume of speech, disconnected and racing thoughts, increased
sexual desire, markedly increased energy and activity level, poor
judgment, and inappropriate social behavior. A mild form of mania
that does not require hospitalization is termed hypomania." - Medicine.net
Personal definition: If I had to give mania a one word definition, I would say "scary." When someone you know is in a manic episode, it can truly be frightening, especially if there is not much you can do.
Technical definition: "Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a
common, but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect
how you feel, think and handle daily activities, such as sleeping,
eating or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must
be present for at least two weeks." - National Institute of Mental Health
Personal definition: Although everyone in their life may experience brief moments of depression, clinical depression is anything but brief. In order to be considered "diagnose-able," a period of depression must last a minimum of two weeks. Although it may seem for a few days everything is hopeless and you may not be able to get out of bed, this does not mean you suffer from clinical depression. Like bipolarity, depression can come in different forms and is different for everyone.
Technical definition: "Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a
person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can
get worse over time. The feelings can interfere with daily activities
such as job performance, school work and relationships. There are
several different types of anxiety disorders. Examples include
generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety
disorder." - National Institute of Mental Health
Personal definition: Like depression, there is a difference between anxiety and having an anxiety disorder. Those who suffer from anxiety disorders can explain how it is more than just feeling overwhelmed.
9. Panic Attack
Technical definition: "Sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, pounding
heart or accelerated heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking;
sensations of shortness of breath, smothering or choking; and feeling
of impending doom." - National Institute of Mental Health
Personal definition: Terrifying. If you have had one or witnessed someone having one, then you know how scary this can be. Although panic attacks are usually short, they are hard to watch.
Technical definition: "PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary or dangerous event...Symptoms usually begin early, within three months of the traumatic incident,
but sometimes they begin years afterward. Symptoms must last more than a
month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to
be considered PTSD. The course of the illness varies. Some people
recover within six months, while others have symptoms that last much
longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic." - National Institute of Mental Health
Personal definition: PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental illness that can be triggered by events. Without that event, the person may have had no problems of any kind with mental health. After the event happens, the person can experience moments or "triggers" that will make them relive that awful event.
Technical definition: "Fluoxetine (Prozac) is used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive
disorder (bothersome thoughts that won't go away and the need to perform
certain actions over and over), some eating disorders and panic
attacks (sudden, unexpected attacks of extreme fear and worry about
these attacks). Fluoxetine (Sarafem) is used to relieve the symptoms of
premenstrual dysphoric disorder, including mood swings, irritability,
bloating and breast tenderness. Fluoxetine is in a class of medications
called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It works by
increasing the amount of serotonin, a natural substance in the brain
that helps maintain mental balance." - U.S. National Library of Medicine
Technical definition: "Lamotrigine extended-release (long-acting) tablets are used with other
medications to treat certain types of seizures in patients who have
epilepsy... All types of lamotrigine tablets other than the extended-release tablets
are also used to increase the time between episodes of depression,
mania (frenzied or abnormally excited mood), and other abnormal moods in
patients with bipolar I disorder (manic-depressive disorder; a disease
that causes episodes of depression, episodes of mania, and other
abnormal moods). Lamotrigine has not been shown to be effective when people experience
the actual episodes of depression or mania, so other medications must be
used to help people recover from these episodes. Lamotrigine is in a
class of medications called anticonvulsants. It works by decreasing
abnormal electrical activity in the brain. " - U.S. National Library of Medicine
Technical definition: "Sertraline is used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder
(bothersome thoughts that won't go away and the need to perform certain
actions over and over), panic attacks (sudden, unexpected attacks of
extreme fear and worry about these attacks), posttraumatic stress
disorder (disturbing psychological symptoms that develop after a
frightening experience) and social anxiety disorder (extreme fear of
interacting with others or performing in front of others that interferes
with normal life)... Sertraline is in a class of
antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
It works by increasing the amounts of serotonin, a natural substance in
the brain that helps maintain mental balance." - U.S. National Library of Medicine
Technical definition: "Lithium is used to treat and prevent episodes of mania (frenzied,
abnormally excited mood) in people with bipolar disorder
(manic-depressive disorder; a disease that causes episodes of
depression, episodes of mania and other abnormal moods). Lithium is in a
class of medications called antimanic agents. It works by decreasing
abnormal activity in the brain...Lithium is also sometimes used to treat depression, schizophrenia (a
mental illness that causes disturbed or unusual thinking, loss of
interest in life and strong or inappropriate emotions), disorders of
impulse control (inability to resist the urge to perform a harmful
action) and certain mental illnesses in children." - U.S. National Library of Medicine
Some places to find some more resources and information:
NAMI - "The National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness."
NIMH - "The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the lead federal agency for research on mental disorders. NIMH is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)."