A behavioural pattern characterized by compulsion, loss of control, and continued repetition of a behaviour or activity despite of adverse consequences.

Forceful behaviour with intent to dominate; physical or verbal force directed toward the environment, another person, or oneself.

Fear of open spaces, leaving a familiar place (e.g., one’s home), or being in places or situations in which escape may be difficult or embarrassing or where help may not be available.

Uncontrollable motor restlessness and movement, commonly a side effect of certain medications.

alzheimer’s disease
A form of dementia characterized by progressive deterioration of mental function caused by age-related physiological changes within the brain; symptoms include memory impairment and loss, diminished ability to concentrate, disorientation, depression, apathy, amnesia, and paranoia.

The inablity to experience pleasure; a loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities.

anorexia nervosa
An eating disorder in which refusal or inability to maintain normal food intake leads to malnutrition, severe weight loss, medical complications, and possibly death.

Drugs developed primarily to treat and relieve symptoms of depression.

Drugs used to treat the severe distortions in thought, perception, and emotion that characterize psychosis (also called neuroleptics).

antisocial behaviour
Actions performed without regard for another’s rights, person, property or for societal norms.

Apprehension or uneasiness about an anticipated danger. Anxiety may be a normal reaction to danger or threat, or occur when no such danger exists and cause troubling symptoms.

Indifference, or lack of feeling, emotion, or interest.

Impairment of the ability to use or to understand works, usually due to organic brain disease or trauma.

attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD)
A mental disorder that usually develops before the age of seven, and is characterized by limited attention span, overactivity, restlessness, distractibility, and impulsiveness.

atypical depression
A form of major depression characterized by symptoms other than those usually associated with depression (e.g., increased appetite, weight gain, and sleeping more than usual).

autistic disorder
A developmental disorder that manifests itself in infancy or early childhood, and consists of severe impairment of social interaction and communication, behaviour, and normal activity: thought to be neurophysiologic in orgin.


behavioural therapy
A form of treatment that aims to change behaviour by means of systematic desensitization, behaviour modification, or adversion therapy.

binge eating
Uncontrollable eating of an amount of food significantly larger than most people would consume during a given period of time.

beta blocker
An agent that halts or inhibits the action of the beta-adrenergic receptors in the nervous system, which affect the blood vessels, heart and lungs; in psychiatry, used most often in the treatment of performance anxiety.

bipolar disorder
A mood disorder characterized by recurrent, alternating episodes of depression and either mania or hypomania (formerly called manic depression).

body dysmorphic disorder
A somatoform disorder characterized by a preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance.

bulemia nervosa
An eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by vomitting, purging with diuretics and laxatives or other methods to control weight such as fasting or extreme exercise regimens.

A state if physical, emotional and mental exhaustion resulting form constant emotional pressure.


Persisting over a long period of time or recurring frequently.

cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
A short-term form of psychotherapy whose goal is to enable the individual to recognize and change specific conditions or symptoms, based on the complex interrelation of thoughts and behaviour.

The coexistence of two or more illnesses in an individual.

A repetitive behaviour (e.g., handwashing) or repetitive mental process (e.g., counting) that serves no rational purpose.

conduct disorder
A persistent disruptive behaviour disorder in children marked by repeated violations.

crisis intervention
Emergency action to address a threat of suicide, violence, or similar urgency; also a form of brief psychotherapy that focuses on a specific emotional trauma.


A false belief regarding the self or the world that a person persistently holds despite clear evidence to the contrary.

A cognitive disorder characterized by impaired memory, language, thinking and perception.

A term that describes feeling of sadness, discouragement, and despair. It can be a normal and transitory reaction to events in a person’s life, a symptom occurring in various physical and mental conditions, or a mental disorder in itself. The mental disorder involves slowed thinking, decreased pleasure, feelings of guilt, hopelessness, despair, and helplessness, and problems in eating and sleeping.

The separation of some mental processes from conscious awareness; any altered form of consciousness that changes the sense of self or the ability to integrate memories and perceptions.

dissociative identity disorder
A condition in which two or more distinct personalities coexist in a single individual (formerly called multiple personality disorder).

A neurotransmitter found in the brain; elevated or decreased levels are associated with certain mental disorders such as schizophrenia.

dual diagnosis
The simultaneous occurrence of a psychiatric disorder and a substance use disorder in the same individuals at the same time of diagnosis.

Any disturbance of movement.


eating disorders
Unusual and often dangerous patterns of food consumption, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
The administration of a controlled electrical current into the brain, through electrodes placed on the scalp, that induces a convulsive seizure which can be effective in relieving certain mental disorders, such as an episode of major depression. Not to be confused with older, less effective forms of such treatment (shock treatment).


fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)
A group of irrreversible, congenital abnormalities caused by maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Characteristics include small head, small size, and mental retardation due to impaired brain development; other malformations may also be present. In milder forms of FAS, called fetal alcohol effects (FAE), the newborn may have low birth weight, irritability, and mental impairment.


generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
An anxiety disorder characterized by unrealistic or excessive apprehensiveness and worry about life circumstances, which persists for a period of at least six months and interferes with normal functioning.


A perception of sound, sights, physical sensations, or smells that do not exist.

A somatoform disorder characterized by persistent worry about health or fear of having a disease, despite medical reassurance to the contrary.

A state of abnormal mood that falls between euphoria and mania and is characterized by unrealistic optimism, rapid speech and activity, and a decreased need for sleep.


A mood disturbance characterized by excessive elation, inflated self-esteem, hyperactivity, agitation, and rapid and often confused thinking and speaking; may occur in bipolar disorder.

Any of a variety of thought-focusing approaches that use breathing and other techniques to achieve relaxation, to improve concentration, and to become attuned to one’s inner self.

mental disorder
A behavioural or psychological condition or syndrome that causes significant distress, disability, disturbed functioning, or increased risk of harm or pain to one’s self or others.

mental health
A state of psychological and emotional well-being that enables an individual to work, love, relate to others effectively, and resolve conflicts.

mood disorder
A group of disorders characterized by disturbances in mood; they include depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, and certain disorders caused by a general medical condition or substance use.


Self-admiration or self-love; a tendency to over-estimate one’s abilities and importance.

negative symptoms
In the residual phase of schizophrenia, indications of deficiency in certain mental functions and of an absence of normal behaviours; these include flattened or inappropriate emotions, lack of will, loss of spontaneous verbal expression, or lack of logic.

Chemicals found in the nervous system that function as messenger molecules by facilitating the transmission of impulses across the synapses between neurons.


obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
An anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, time-consuming obsessions and/or compulsions that impair the ability to function and to form relationships and are a source of significant distress.

oppositional defiant disorder
A condition characterized by a pattern of negative, defiant, and hostile behaviour that develops in childhood or early adolescence, lasts for at least six months, and causes significant impairments in everyday functioning.


panic attacks
Sudden, unprovoked, emotionally intense experiences of impending doom, fear of dying, “going crazy”, or losing control, marked by physical symptoms such as palpitations, dizziness, trembling, nausea, or shortness of breath.

A tendency to view the actions of others as deliberately threatening or demeaning; suspicious thinking based on misinterpretation of an actual event.

personality disorders
A group of disorders marked by persistent, inflexible, maladaptive patterns of thought and behaviour that develop in adolescence or early adulthood and significantly impair an individual’s ability to function.

Fear of a particular object or situation. Phobias may be specific, such as a fear of animals, insects, storms, water, blood, injury, cars, airplane flights, heights, tunnels, elevators, etc.

An eating disorder characterized by the repeated eating of non-nutritive substances (e.g., paint, dirt, clay); more common in children, and occasionally seen in pregnant women.

play therapy
A technique in the treatment of children in which the child’s play is a medium for expression and communication between patient and therapist.

positive symptoms
In the acute or active phase of schizophrenia, signs that reflect abnormal mental activity and cause grossly abnormal behaviour, including delusions, hallucinations, disorders in thought processes, disorganized speaking, and disorganized behaviour.

postpartum depression
A depressive episode in women who have recently borne a child; distinguishable by its symptoms, duration, and intensity from the normal downswing in mood that often follows childbirth.

posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
An anxiety disorder occurring after exposure to an extreme mental or physical stress–usually involving actual or threatened death or serious injury to self or others–and characterized by symptoms that persist for one month or more include reexperiencing of the event, avoidance of stimuli associated with it, numbing of general responsiveness, and signs of increased arousal (e.g., sleeplessness, irritablity, hypervigilance).

premenstrual dyspmorphic disorder
An uncommon depressive disorder–more severe than premenstrual syndrome (PMS)–that occurs prior the onset of menstruation and abates soon thereafter; symptoms are both psychological (e.g., emotional volatility, anxiety, depressed mood) and physical (e.g., sleep problems, breast tenderness or swelling, headaches, overeating or food cravings).

The prediction of the outcome of an illness.

A form of psychotherapy, originally developed by Sigmund Freud, that is intended to help patients become aware of long-repressed feelings and issues by using such techniques as free association and the interpretation of dreams. The process usually involves frequent sessions over a long period of time.

A licensed professional who has completed a graduate program in psychology that includes clinical training and internships, and who provides care for individuals with mental and emotional problems. An increasing number of psychologists have a doctorate and have undergone postdoctoral training; however, they are not physicians and cannot prescribe medication.

A major mental disorder characterized by gross impairment of a person’s perception of reality and ability to communicate and relate to others. A psychosis can be biological or emotional in orgin.

A term describing an inseparable interaction of mind (psyche) and the body (soma); often used to designate physical symptoms or conditions that have a mental or emotional component.

Any type of conselling based on the exchange of words in the context of the special relationship that develops between a mental health professional and a person seeking help.

A term used to describe drugs that act in a particular way on the brain affect the mind.


rapid cycling
In bipolar disorder the occurrence of four or more episodes of mood disturbance (mania, depression, or both) within one year.

Specialized molecules on the surface of neurons to which particular neurotransmitters bind after their release from another neuron; receptors receive the chemical “message” to activate or inhibit a nerve, blood vessel, or muscle.

In psychiatry, the methods and techniques used to achieve maximal functioning and adjustment.

A term describing the phase of an illness that occurs after remission of active disease.

retardation, mental
Intellectual functioning and capacity that is significantly below average; may occur as a result of a genetic defect, a prenatal developmental impairment, or a mental or physical disorder.


schizoaffective disorder
A psychotic disorder in which either a major depressive or a manic episode develops concurrently with the symptoms of schizophrenia.

A major mental disorder with characteristic psychotic or positive symptoms (such as delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thought patterns) during the active phase of the illness, and negative symptoms (such as lack of logic or will) evident following psychotic episodes. The onset is generally between late adolescence and the mid-thirties.

seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
A recurrent mood disorder characterized by depressive episodes and related symptoms that develop at particular times of the year, most often in fall or winter, and remit when the season ends.

selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)
A medication that inhibits recapture of the neurotransmitter serotonin by the nerve cells.

A sense of self-worth; the valuing of oneself as a person.

self-help group
An assemblage of individuals with a common problem who collectively aid one another through personal and group support.

separation anxiety disorder
A condition developing before the age of eighteen that is marked by inappropriate anxiety concerning separation from home or from persons to whom the child or young person is emotionally attached.

A neurotransmitter found both in the brain and elsewhere in the body that may play a role in several mental disorders, including depression.

shock treatment
An obsolete and inaccurate term that was often used to refer to older, crude forms of electroconvulsive treatment; a more refined treatment, known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), is used today in treating certain mental disorders.

social phobia
A persistent fear of finding oneself in situations that might lead to scrutiny by others and humiliation or embarrassment.

social work
A profession whose primary concern is how human needs, both of individuals and of groups, can be met within society.

somatoform disorders
A group of disorders with symptoms suggesting physical disorders but without demonstrable medical findings to explain the symptoms; included in the category are somatization disorder, conversion disorder, pain disorder, hypochondriasis, and body dysmorphic disorder.

The nonspecific response of the body to any demands made upon it.


tartive dyskinesia
A medication-induced movement disorder consisting of involuntary movements of the tongue, jaw or extremities, that develops with long-eterm use (usually a period of months or more) of antipsychotic (neuroleptic) medication; sometimes irreversible.

An impulse-control disorder characterized by pathological hair pullling that results in noticeable hair loss.

* Glossary adapted from book Caring For the Mind : The Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health, Hales, Dianne & Robert E. M.D., New York, New York : Bantam Books, 1996.