Psychological disorders, also called mental illnesses, can affect how you think, feel, and behave.
Psychological disorders are also called mental illnesses or mental health conditions. They can affect your thinking, emotions, and behavior, often affecting your relationships and day-to-day functioning. These conditions may be temporary or lifelong.
Mental health conditions are common. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences a psychological disorder each year.
Although psychological disorders can be challenging to live with, they can be treated. Talk therapy, self-care strategies, and medication can all play a role in helping people with psychological disorders function better.
Everybody feels anxious from time to time, and anxiety is a natural part of life. But people with anxiety disorders experience persistent anxiety that often gets in the way of their day-to-day functioning. Often, their anxiety is disproportional to the situation at hand.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), anxiety disorders are the most common type of neurodevelopmental condition, affecting nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. Although anyone can have an anxiety disorder, they’re more common among women than men.
Common types of anxiety disorders include:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- illness anxiety disorder (previously called hypochondria)
- separation anxiety disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- specific phobias
- panic disorder
The symptoms differ from disorder to disorder, but usually include:
- anxious thoughts or beliefs that are difficult to control
- trouble concentrating
Lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a routine and engaging in healthy stress-relief methods, may also help.
Mood disorders include:
- Depressive disorders such as major depressive disorder, postpartum depression, and major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns, also known as seasonal affective disorder.
- Bipolar disorders
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which involves severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, especially symptoms relating to mood
The symptoms can include:
- depressive symptoms, such as persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or apathy
- mania symptoms, which occur during manic episodes in bipolar disorder, and include periods of high energy, elation, and restlessness
Mood disorders are primarily treated through talk therapy. They can also be treated with medications — such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers.
Schizophrenia, an often misunderstood condition, affects less than 1% of the U.S. population. It’s a chronic psychiatric disorder that involves distortions of reality, often in the form of delusions or hallucinations.
The early symptoms of schizophrenia can include:
- isolating oneself from friends and family
- changing friends or social groups
- a change in focus and concentration
- difficulty sleeping
- irritability and agitation
- difficulties with schoolwork, or poor academic performance
- vague suspiciousness
- feeling different from others
Symptoms of advanced schizophrenia can include:
- hallucinations, which are when someone hears, sees, or feels things that aren’t there
- delusions, which are intense, false beliefs, such as believing others are conspiring to harm them
Psychosocial intervention, which can include individual therapy, family therapy, and social skills training, may also help.
The symptoms of psychosis may include:
- disorganized behavior, which can seem impulsive or nonsensical to others
- catatonia, which is where someone appears “frozen”
- sudden lack of interest in things that usually matter to them
- an expressionless face or a flat tone of voice, making them appear emotionless
- an ungroomed appearance
If someone is having an episode of psychosis where they pose a risk to themself or others, they may undergo rapid tranquilization, which is when they’re injected with a substance that will relax or sedate them.
After an episode of psychosis, you may be prescribed antipsychotic medications to help manage hallucinations and delusions. Individual talk therapy, group therapy, and family therapy may also help.
The APA estimates that 2% to 3% of people in the United States have OCD.
OCD is characterized by:
- obsessions, which are repetitive, unwanted thoughts that won’t go away
- compulsions, which are behaviors or rituals they feel urged to do in order to relieve the obsessive thought
OCD can be treated and managed with talk therapy. A type of therapy called exposure and response prevention is considered the gold standard for treating OCD, but other kinds of therapy may also be used.
In some cases, medications may be prescribed to assist with OCD symptoms.
The symptoms of PTSD can include:
- avoiding people or things that remind you of the event
- difficulty thinking about the events
- difficulty remembering parts of the events
- distorted feelings of guilt, worry, or blame
- feeling anxious or “on edge”
- irritability and anger
- panic attacks
- reduced interest in activities you once enjoyed
- startling easily
PTSD is often treated through talk therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy or exposure therapy. In some cases, group therapy can be helpful.
A mental health professional may also prescribe antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, or sleep medication to assist with the symptoms of PTSD.
People with personality disorders may have a way of thinking, feeling, and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture in such a way that it causes distress and makes it difficult for them to function healthily.
In order to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, you have to have long-term patterns of behavior and inner experiences that affect at least two of the following:
- how you think about yourself and others
- how you respond emotionally
- how you relate to other people
- how you control your behavior
The 10 personality disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) are:
- antisocial personality disorder
- avoidant personality disorder
- borderline personality disorder
- dependent personality disorder
- histrionic personality disorder
- narcissistic personality disorder
- obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
- paranoid personality disorder
- schizoid personality disorder
- schizotypal personality disorder
Personality disorders are usually treated with talk therapy and, when necessary, medication. Certain medications can help improve the symptoms of personality disorders, such as low mood, anxiety, or impulsivity.
Sleep disorders can affect your sleep pattern, which means you may sleep significantly more or significantly less than typical.
Certain sleep disorders involve unusual behavior while asleep, such as sleepwalking.
Types of sleep disorders include:
- circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders
- hypersomnolence disorder
- nightmare disorder
- non-rapid eye movement sleep arousal, which includes sleepwalking and night terrors
- rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder
- restless legs syndrome
- sleep apnea
Sleep disorders may be treated with:
- proper sleep habits
- relaxation techniques
- medications, such as sleep aids
- talk therapy
Often, a general practitioner can be your first point of contact when getting help for a sleep disorder. In some cases, you may also benefit from speaking with a sleep specialist, psychiatrist, or therapist.
Eating disorders affect your behaviors and thoughts around eating and food. According to the APA, eating disorders may affect up to 5% of the U.S. population.
Common types of eating disorders include:
- avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, which can involve extreme picky eating to the point of being unable to meet your nutritional needs
- anorexia nervosa, which may be further categorized into a restricting type or a binge eating/purging type
- bulimia nervosa, which involves alternating dieting with binge eating
- binge eating disorder, which includes episodes of binge eating and, later, a sense of guilt and distress about the binge behavior
- pica, which involves eating things that aren’t food with no nutritional value for at least a month
- rumination disorder, which involves repeatedly regurgitating swallowed food and either re-chewing and re-swallowing food or spitting it out
- other specified feeding and eating disorder, a diagnostic category that includes eating disorders that don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for the disorders mentioned above
Treatment for eating disorders may include talk therapy, which can include individual, family, or group therapy. In some cases, medications can be used to help with accompanying symptoms.
Nutritional counseling can help people with eating disorders learn healthy nutrition and eating habits.
Substance use disorders are treatable. Usually, the first step is detoxification, which involves stopping (or gradually stopping) your use of the substance. During this phase, the withdrawal symptoms are treated.
Further treatments, such as individual and group counseling, can help encourage long-term abstinence from the substance.
Medications can also help with recovery — for example, if you experience heroin addiction, a clinician may prescribe a medication called methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) to help soothe withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for substance use disorder can be provided in outpatient facilities or inpatient residential recovery programs (such as a rehabilitation program).
If you have a psychological disorder, know that you’re not alone. Psychological disorders can be challenging to live with, but they can be treated. Consulting with a doctor or therapist can be a great first step.
Our list of Mental Health Resources includes guidance on finding therapy as well as lower-cost and free support services. You don’t need to be diagnosed with a psychological disorder in order to benefit from therapy.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.