8: Psychological Disorders
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A psychological disorder is a behavioral or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. Such features may be persistent, relapsing and remitting, or occur as a single episode. Many disorders have been described, with signs and symptoms that vary widely between specific disorders. Such disorders may be diagnosed by a mental health professional and the causes of mental disorders are often unclear. Mental disorders are usually defined by a combination of how a person behaves, feels, perceives, or thinks. This may be associated with particular regions or functions of the brain, often in a social context. A mental disorder is one aspect of mental health, although cultural and religious beliefs, as well as social norms, should be taken into account when making a diagnosis.
- 8.1: What Are Psychological Disorders?
- A psychological disorder is a condition characterized by abnormal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Psychopathology is the study of psychological disorders, including their symptoms, etiology (i.e., their causes), and treatment. The term psychopathology can also refer to the manifestation of a psychological disorder. Although consensus can be difficult, it is extremely important for mental health professionals to agree on what kinds of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are truly abnormal.
- 8.2: Diagnosing and Classifying Psychological Disorders
- A first step in the study of psychological disorders is carefully and systematically discerning significant signs and symptoms. How do mental health professionals ascertain whether or not a person’s inner states and behaviors truly represent a psychological disorder? Arriving at a proper diagnosis—that is, appropriately identifying and labeling a set of defined symptoms—is absolutely crucial.
- 8.3: Perspectives on Psychological Disorders
- Scientists and mental health professionals may adopt different perspectives in attempting to understand or explain the underlying mechanisms that contribute to the development of a psychological disorder. The perspective used in explaining a psychological disorder is extremely important, in that it will consist of explicit assumptions regarding how best to study the disorder, its etiology, and what kinds of therapies or treatments are most beneficial.
- 8.4: Anxiety Disorders
- Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive and persistent fear and anxiety, and by related disturbances in behavior (APA, 2013). Although anxiety is universally experienced, anxiety disorders cause considerable distress. As a group, anxiety disorders are common: approximately 25%–30% of the U.S. population meets the criteria for at least one anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Also, these disorders appear to be much more common in women than they are in men.
- 8.5: Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders are a group of overlapping disorders that generally involve intrusive, unpleasant thoughts and repetitive behaviors. Many of us experience unwanted thoughts from time to time and many of us engage in repetitive behaviors on occasion. However, obsessive-compulsive and related disorders elevate the unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors to a status so intense that these cognitions and activities disrupt daily life.
- 8.6: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Extremely stressful or traumatic events, such as combat, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks, place the people who experience them at an increased risk for developing psychological disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Throughout much of the 20th century, this disorder was called shell shock and combat neurosis because its symptoms were observed in soldiers who had engaged in wartime combat.
- 8.7: Mood Disorders
- All of us experience fluctuations in our moods and emotional states, and often these fluctuations are caused by events in our lives. We become elated if our favorite team wins the World Series and dejected if a romantic relationship ends or if we lose our job. At times, we feel fantastic or miserable for no clear reason. People with mood disorders also experience mood fluctuations, but their fluctuations are extreme, distort their outlook on life, and impair their ability to function.
- 8.8: Schizophrenia
- Schizophrenia is a devastating psychological disorder that is characterized by major disturbances in thought, perception, emotion, and behavior. About \(1\%\) of the population experiences schizophrenia in their lifetime, and usually the disorder is first diagnosed during early adulthood (early to mid-\(20s\)). Most people with schizophrenia experience significant difficulties in many day-to-day activities, such as holding a job, paying bills, caring for oneself and maintaining relationships wit
- 8.9: Dissociative Disorders
- Dissociative disorders are characterized by an individual becoming split off, or dissociated, from her core sense of self. Memory and identity become disturbed; these disturbances have a psychological rather than physical cause. Dissociative disorders listed in the DSM-5 include dissociative amnesia, depersonalization/derealization disorder, and dissociative identity disorder.
- 8.10: Personality Disorders
- The term personality refers loosely to one’s stable, consistent, and distinctive way of thinking about, feeling, acting, and relating to the world. People with personality disorders exhibit a personality style that differs markedly from the expectations of their culture, is pervasive and inflexible, begins in adolescence or early adulthood, and causes distress or impairment (APA, 2013).
- 8.11: Disorders in Childhood
- Most of the disorders we have discussed so far are typically diagnosed in adulthood, although they can and sometimes do occur during childhood. However, there are a group of conditions that, when present, are diagnosed early in childhood, often before the time a child enters school. These conditions are listed in the DSM-5 as neurodevelopmental disorders, and they involve developmental problems in personal, social, academic, and intellectual functioning (APA, 2013).
Thumbnail: Hoarding is a psychological disorder. Image used with permission (CC BY-SA 3.0; Grap).