It can be difficult to differentiate between an underlying psychological disorder and the negative effects of everyday stressors and worries. Not to mention the fact that the term ‘psychological problems’ has a negative connotation in our society, and the amount of prescriptions for psychological disorders has been gradually increasing. It’s enough to make anyone feel as though they have mental problems! While psychological problems are no joking matter, it’s important to understand the differences between the symptoms that point to a disorder and the symptoms that are common throughout the population on a day to day basis.
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There are six main types of psychological problems that we’ll be focusing on: anxiety disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders and somatoform disorders.
Anxiety disorders are classified by an abnormal and excessive fear, anxiety or worry, either in general or over something specific.
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by consistent, overwhelming general anxiety. Those suffering from this disorder may find it hard to interact with others, take tests or even leave their house due to their intense worry. They have difficulty concentrating, may have poor sleeping habits, tend to feel lightheaded and experience muscle tension.
- Social Anxiety Disorder is the extreme fear of interacting with others. Those suffering from social anxiety may avoid social interactions at all costs, due to the intense fear of being judged or scrutinized by others. This disorder is much more severe than simply being shy; it affects the individual’s ability to form lasting relationships, get a job and complete schooling.
- Phobias are the intense fear of one particular object or situation. Arachnophobes are irrationally afraid of spiders, xenophobes are afraid of strangers or foreigners, and agoraphobes are afraid of being trapped in a particular place or situation with no way out. If the individual comes in contact with the object or situation they have a phobia of, they may begin to feel nauseous, lightheaded, dizzy and short of breath.
- Panic Disorder is characterized by recurring panic attacks that may not have a specific place of origin. The symptoms of a panic attack include severe feelings of terror, a rapid heart rate and rapid breathing. Those affected may also experience sweating, tremors, dizziness and chest pain. They live in constant fear that another panic attack may take them over at any moment.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs after a traumatic event has taken place. Those suffering from this disorder have constant, disruptive memories about the event, and tend to have recurring nightmares. They may have realistic flashbacks and have difficulty concentrating on the task at hand or falling asleep at night.
- Anorexia nervosa is characterized by persistent starving and over-exercising. Those with anorexia nervosa constantly count calories and restrict their eating, often to the point of fatigue. They have a distorted body image, believing that they have more fat on them than they truly do, and persistent starving can lead to many other problems such as infertility, abnormal hair growth and muscle weakness.
- Bulimia is characterized by a cycle of binging and purging. Purging, in this case, can either be through forced vomiting, the use of laxatives, excessive exercise, the use of diuretics or binging followed by a long fast. Due to the constant purging, those with bulimia may suffer from cardiovascular problems, dehydration and intestinal problems.
- Binge eating is an eating disorder that is often overlooked. Those with binge eating disorder are often overweight, due to the loss of control over their eating habits. They binge, but they do not purge. Binge eating is a vicious circle; those who suffer from this disorder may feel guilty about the fact that they cannot control their eating, which in turns leads them to eat more in order to deal with their guilt.
- Bipolar Disorder consists of fluctuations between mania and depression. While depression is chronic sadness, mania may feel like the best feeling in the entire world. Mania is characterized by feelings of euphoria, extreme creativity and increased energy. Although it seems positive, it can quickly spiral into excessive gambling, lascivious behavior and reckless spending. Those with bipolar disorder may feel manic one week and depressed the next, or they may be symptom free for a while before suffering from one extreme or the other.
- Depression is more than just feeling sad after a traumatic event; it is persistent, overwhelming sadness that creeps into every aspect of your life and keeps you from participating in activities you once loved – even if nothing bad has happened recently. Those with chronic depression feel worthless, are uninterested in people and activities they once enjoyed, are chronically fatigued, feel empty and sad all of the time, and may have thoughts of suicide.
- Antisocial Personality Disorder is characterized by acts of violence, such as cruelty to animals, pyromania and a lack of respect for authority. Those suffering from this disorder tend to act impulsively, often getting into trouble with the law. They have trouble feeling any sort of empathy for others, and don’t appear to have any remorse for their negative actions and behaviors.
- Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by extreme instability in personal, romantic, and professional relationships. This instability stems out even farther to include moods, self image and behavior. Those suffering from this disorder are unable to make and achieve long-term plans, and commonly feel anxious, depressed or irritable. They may begin to show signs of self-destructive behavior and thoughts of suicide.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder is not the same as obsessive compulsive disorder. Those with OCPD disorder have an extreme preoccupation with control and order in many different aspects of their life. If they don’t feel as though they have control in a particular situation, they may begin to feel helpless. They are very resistant to change and tend to be very stubborn, leading a life that is focused wholly on work, rules, and clear directions.
- Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder, meaning that it is characterized by the presence of hallucinations or delusions of grandeur. Those affected by schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders have difficulty making good decisions, communicating with others, thinking clearly, understanding reality and behaving in an appropriate manner. During extreme symptoms, those suffering from this disorder may have difficulty staying in touch with reality and completing normal, every day tasks.
- Conversion Disorder begins as a mental or emotional trauma, and then begins to show itself through physical symptoms that have no underlying physical cause.
- Somatization Disorder is a chronic condition in which the person suffering experiences pain and other negative symptoms in various parts of the body, although a physical cause can never be found. Due to the intense level of worry and stress that comes from not understanding the origin of their pain, their pain is often intensified.
- Hypochondria is the all-encompassing belief that you are suffering from a life-threating illness, even though no symptoms of that illness are present. Hypochondria can affect people for months or years at a time, often increasing their anxiety levels so much that they begin to feel psychosomatic symptoms (the belief that you have a particular illness can actually manifest symptoms of that illness).
- Body dysmorphia is when you believe your physical appearance is flawed in an extreme way; those suffering from this disorder become so obsessed with this one particular flaw that they withdraw from others and become anxious and depressed.
Do You Have a Psychological Problem?
While reading through the descriptions of many of these disorders, you may have said “oh yeah, I do have these symptoms sometimes!” Most people experience symptoms of many of these disorders in small amounts throughout their life, depending on what is happening at the time. If you are experiencing minor symptoms that don’t affect the way you live on a day to day basis, you have nothing to worry about. If these symptoms become debilitating, it’s important to speak to a professional to determine the best course of treatment. If you do have a psychological problem, you are not alone, and there is treatment available for you.
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