Psychological Problems and Disorders


When faced with important events (stressors) which are threatening or very hard to deal (cope) with, people experience stress. Psychological symptoms of stress include anxiety and tension, uncontrollable worrying, irritability, distractibility, and difficulty in learning new things. Physical symptoms include difficulty in sleeping, loss of appetite or excessive appetite, fatigue, and aches and pains.


A neurosis is characterized by anxiety, internal tensions and conflicts, uncontrollable avoidance of threatening situations, and ineffective coping. Examples include panic, phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and posttraumatic stress.


A neurotic disorder in which people channel their anxieties, worry, and obsessional thinking into the conviction that they have a specific physical illness (e.g., cancer of the colon). That is, they are preoccupied with having an illness, even though tests and reassurances by medical personnel indicate that they do not have this illness. People with this disorder spend a lot of time and money visiting doctors and undergoing various tests. Their relationships with doctors and nurses are often conflictual, to the point where a real sickness may well be overlooked by those who are tired of the person's previous unrealistic insistence that they are ill.

allSomatization Disorder

A rare disorder, but it is time-consuming and infuriating for medical personnel. The person, usually a woman, has a long, complicated medical history and series of dramatic but vague physical symptoms which "demand the doctor's immediate attention." The complaints usually involved a combination of gastrointestinal, gynecological, and sensori-motor symptoms, coupled with "aches and pains." The personalities and lives of people with this disorder are typically dramatic and chaotic.

allFactitious Disorder

Individuals with this disorder create the appearance of a physical illness (e.g., by "doctoring" blood samples) in order to become the center of medical attention and/or to obtain various types of drugs. When they are questioned or challenged about inconsistencies in their symptoms or stories, they usually become evasive and belligerent, and will probably escape the hospital or clinic at the first opportunity, only to try somewhere else. Many people with this disorder have the same type of "histrionic" or "borderline" personality as those with somatization disorder.


A set of severe psychological symptoms which make it very hard to work, play, and be with other people. "Positive" symptoms include delusions (irrational beliefs), hallucinations (sensory experiences in the absence of stimuli), incoherent thought and speech, intense and uncontrollable anxiety or paranoia, and bizarre behavior. "Negative" symptoms include loss of both emotional experiences and emotional expressiveness, loss of willpower and initiative, inability to experience pleasure or interest in things, and withdrawal from contact with others.


In general, this refers to high levels of suspicion and mistrust, usually seen in the person's belief or delusion that he or she is the target of other people's hate, jealousy, and resentment. In paranoid schizophrenia the person has delusions that he or she is being persecuted by "others" (for example, neighbors, the government, being from outer space), often because the person is someone special such as "the messiah" (a delusion of grandiosity). In paranoid personality disorder the person appears normal, but is actually suspicious, mistrustful, hostile but guarded, controlling, and quick to develop resentment (grudges) and jealousy. Some men who batter their wives or girlfriends have this disorder.


A severe emotional problem in which the person cannot stop feeling sad or "down" or "empty," and constantly feels helpless and hopeless. Depressed people often struggle with anxiety and irritability, a lack of motivation, a loss of pleasure in things they used to like to do, and problems with eating, sleeping, and aches and pains. Many depressed people have suicidal thoughts, and 10-15% will eventually take their own lives.


A period of time (usually a week to a month long) in which the person is (and feels) very excited, talkative, active, and impulsive. In most episodes of mania the person is unusually happy and confident, but some people are edgy and irritable. Manic people seem to have endless energy (they are "driven") and do not need more than a few hours of sleep at night, if they sleep at all. In its mild form (hypomania) the person may be very creative and productive at work. In its severe forms the person becomes "psychotic." That is, the person loses the ability to think straight and make realistic judgments, and may experience delusions and hallucinations. Manic people tend to be very impulsive, demanding, and aggressive, which often results in spending too much money, drinking too much, sexual promiscuity, and trouble with the law.


Approximately 1-2 in every 100 to 250 people around the world experience episodes of mild or severe mania, interspersed with episodes of mild or severe depression. If the episodes of both types of emotional problems are mild(er), the condition is known as cyclothymia. If the episodes of depression are severe, regardless of whether the episodes of mania are or not severe, the condition is known as bipolar disorder (formerly called "manic-depression"). The age of onset is typically in the late teens or early 20's, and the condition is usually chronic. Many individuals with these disorders return to a somewhat normal state between episodes, and there is a statistical association with creativity and even artistic genius. However, the impact of this disorder on a person's life is often devastating. The risk of marital problems, substance abuse, suicide, and problems with the law is very high.


Sometimes referred to as "rapid onset brain syndrome," this psychological condition is associated with acute physical sickness (e.g., drug overdose or accidental poisoning). Symptoms include confusion and disorientation, lapsing in and out consciousness, agitation, apathy, and "illusions" (misperception of external stimuli, such as hearing the turning wheels of a hospital cart as a the sound of a huge grinding machine which is comiing to grind you up). Delirium should be taken very seriously and treated immediately, because it often represents a serious physical illness.


Refers to a generalized decline or deterioration of intellectual faculties, most notably memory, attention, and abstract thinking. The person may get lost easily and be unable to do simple things such as make change or figure out how to get back into the house after he or she has mistakenly locked the doors. Depression and paranoia are often associated with dementia, and some demented people develop delusions and hallucinations. One of the best known examples of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, which typically begins after age 55.


People with this personality characteristic have an uncontrollable need to feel important, successful, and admired by other people. They act as if they are unique and entitled to special favors. They really don't care about how other people are feeling and resent (are jealous of) other people's accomplishments.

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