Behavioral Health Terms


Depression is a serious medical disorder that involves the brain. It is more than just a feeling of being “down in the dumps”. These feelings persist and interfere with everyday life. Causes include genetic, environmental, psychological and biochemical factors. Depression usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30, and is much more common in women. Antidepressants and therapy are effective treatments for depression.

Symptoms can include:

  • Suicidal feelings or ideas
  • Loss of interest
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Isolation
  • Loss of concentration
  • Decrease or increase of appetite
  • Psychomotor restriction
  • Sexual inactivity or obsessive activity

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that causes unusual mood changes. Bipolar people rapidly fluctuate between very happy to very sad. They often have normal moods in between the extremes. The up feeling is called mania. The down feeling is depression.

The causes of bipolar disorder aren’t always clear. It runs in families, and abnormal brain structure and function may also play a role. Bipolar disorder often starts in a person’s late teen or early adult years, but children can also experience it. The disorder usually lasts a lifetime.

If not treated, bipolar disorder can damage relationships, cause poor job or school performance and even lead to suicide. Medication and therapy are usually effective treatments to control symptoms.If you experience these types of symptoms, tell your healthcare provider. A medical checkup can rule out other illnesses that might cause your mood changes.


Schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong brain disorder. People who have it may hear voices, see things that are not there or believe others are reading or controlling their minds. In men, symptoms usually start in the late teens and early 20s. For women, they start in the mid-20s to early 30s.

No one is sure what causes schizophrenia, but genetic makeup and brain chemistry may play a role. Medicines can relieve many symptoms, but it can take several trials before you find the right drug. You can reduce relapses by staying on your medicine for as long as your doctor recommends. With treatment, many people are able to lead satisfying lives.

Other symptoms include:

  • Paranoia
  • Disorders of movement, face, eyes or limbs
  • Difficulty speaking and expressing emotions
  • Problems with attention, memory and organization
  • Hearing voices or being controlled by an external force


Fear and anxiety are part of life. You may feel anxious before you take a test or walk down a dark street. This kind of anxiety is useful; it can make you more alert or careful. It usually ends soon after you are out of the situation that caused it. But for millions of Americans, anxiety persists and worsens over time. It may cause chest pains, nightmares and fear of leaving home. Treatment can involve medicines, therapy or both.

Types of anxiety include:

  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Phobias
  • Generalized anxiety disorder


For most adults, moderate alcohol use is typically not harmful. However, about 18 million adult Americans suffer from alcoholism or alcohol problems. Alcoholism carries many serious dangers. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of certain cancers and cause damage to the liver, brain and other organs. Alcoholism also increases the risk of fatal car crashes, injuries, homicide and suicide.

Alcoholism is a disease with four main features:

Craving – a strong need to drink
Loss of control – inability to stop drinking once you’ve started
Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, or shakiness when you do not drink
Tolerance – the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to feel the same effect

If you want to stop drinking, there is help. Start by talking to your healthcare provider. Medicines, counseling, and support groups may help you address alcoholism

Drug Abuse

Drug abuse is a serious public health problem that affects almost every community and family. Drug abuse is even more dangerous in children and teenagers and poses a greater hazard than in older people since their brains are not yet fully developed. As a result, the brains of young people may be more susceptible to drug abuse and addiction than adult brains.

Abused drugs include:

  • Amphetamines
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Club drugs
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Inhalants
  • Marijuana
  • Prescription drugs

Anger and Aggression

Anger management teaches people to recognize signs of mounting anger and ways to calm down and address frustrating situations in a positive way. Anger management does not try to keep people from feeling anger or encourage them to internalize it. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion when expressed appropriately. Anger management is about learning how to do this.

You may learn anger management skills on your own using books or other resources but for many people, taking an anger management class or seeing a mental health counselor is the most effective approach.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious behavior problems that cause serious physical and emotional harm. They include:

Anorexia nervosa – Perception of being overweight that causes people to not eat and become dangerously thin.
Bulimia nervosa – Periods of overeating followed by purging, sometimes through self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives
Binge-eating – out-of-control eating habits

Women are more likely than men to have eating disorders. It usually starts in the teenage years and often co-occurs with depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Eating disorders can cause heart and kidney problems and even death. Getting help early is important. Treatment involves monitoring, mental health therapy, nutritional counseling and sometimes medicines.

External Resources

Psych Central


Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

National Alliance on Mental Illness

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