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2024 Glossary of Mental Health Terms

The definitions of the mental health terms listed below contain information from several sources, including the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 


Anxiety is an informal term that describes irrational fear and excessive worry. The anxiety disorders section of the DSM-5 includes several conditions, including:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
  • Separation anxiety disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific phobia
  • Panic disorder
  • Selective mutism
  • Substance/medication induced anxiety disorder

In addition to inducing psychological distress, some anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder) can also involve a variety of unpleasant physical symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a general mental health term that refers to conditions that involve dramatic swings in mood, attitude, and energy levels. The following are the three most common types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I disorder: This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by manic episodes (weeklong periods of elevated mood, increased energy, heightened self-confidence, and impulsivity).
  • Bipolar II disorder: This version includes hypomanic episodes (four-day periods of symptoms similar to a manic episode) and major depressive episodes (two-week periods of pervasive sadness, low energy and motivation, diminished self-confidence, and a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness)
  • Cyclothymic disorder: People with this version of bipolar disorder have hypomanic and depressive symptoms that don’t endure long enough to qualify as full episodes. These symptoms will appear on and off for a period of at least two years.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a short-term, solution-focused type of psychotherapy that can help people overcome challenges in their life by changing how they think and act. CBT is based on the principle that many psychological problems are caused at least partially by self-defeating thought and behavior patterns, as well as unhelpful core beliefs. CBT sessions help people develop healthier coping mechanisms and a variety of other beneficial skills to minimize their distress and enhance their quality of life.

CBT has proved to be helpful for children, adolescents, and adults who have been experiencing a wide range of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, trauma, grief, eating disorders, and self-harm.


As with anxiety and bipolar disorder, depression is a general mental health term that can refer to several distinct disorders, all of which involve symptoms such as low mood, diminished energy, little to no motivation, and frequent thoughts of death and dying.

 Common depressive disorders include:

  • Major depressive disorder: This condition is characterized by intense symptoms that are present most days, for most of the day, for a period of at least two consecutive weeks.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: People who have this type of depression will experience less intense symptoms that last for a period of at least two years. During this two-year period, they may have times where they have no symptoms. They may also have major depressive episodes.
  • Postpartum depression: The DSM-5 refers to this condition as major depressive disorder with peripartum onset. Symptoms of postpartum depression will become evident during a person’s pregnancy or within four weeks after they have given birth.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is the clinical term for the simultaneous presence of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder (addiction). For example, someone who has been living with both depression and alcoholism could be accurately described as having dual diagnosis. 

For a person with dual diagnosis to have a successful treatment experience, it is essential that they receive care from a provider who can identify and address the full scope of their needs, including their struggles with both mental illness and addiction.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy is an evidence-based form of care that is often included in comprehensive mental health treatment plans. This approach includes both individual therapy sessions and skills groups. 

DBT groups are designed to help participants increase their capabilities in the following four areas:

  • Distress tolerance
  • Mindfulness
  • Emotion regulation
  • Interpersonal effectiveness

Dialectical behavior therapy was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Marsha Linehan, who was seeking an effective way to help women who were at elevated risk of suicide. Through the decades, it has proved to be beneficial for people who are struggling with a wide range of mental health concerns.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

EMDR therapy is a form of treatment that is designed to minimize the distress that is associated with certain traumatic memories. 

This technique, which was created by Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s, involves an eight-phase approach that uses rapid bilateral eye movements along with the guidance of a trained professional to help people replace negative emotions with healthier responses when they recall specific memories.

Holistic Treatment

Holistic treatment describes care that is designed to address all aspects of mental illnesses, including the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual impact of these conditions. A holistic approach to mental health treatment may include a range of therapies and support services, including both traditional techniques and emerging methodologies.

There are no hard and fast parameters regarding which types of care must be provided to qualify as holistic treatment. Examples of the various elements of care that are frequently incorporated into holistic treatment include meditation, mindfulness, acupuncture, yoga, and expressive arts therapy.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT incorporates prescription medication with therapy to help people end their use of opioids or alcohol. This approach can be a key component of care for dual diagnosis patients.

The medications that are included in MAT can ease cravings and other withdrawal symptoms, which makes it easier for a person to stop using the drug that they have become addicted to. The therapeutic part of MAT helps people develop the skills that can empower them to resist future urges and live a healthier, drug-free life.

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are a category of mental health conditions that are characterized by pervasive and rigid thought patterns, behaviors, and personality traits that deviate considerably from societal norms or expectations. The DSM-5 has organized 10 personality disorders into three clusters:

  • Cluster A: Paranoid, schizoid, and schizotypal personality disorders
  • Cluster B: Antisocial, behavioral, histrionic, and narcissistic personality disorders
  • Cluster C: Avoidant, dependent, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders

According to the NIH, in a typical year about 9.1% of adults in the U.S. will exhibit symptoms of a personality disorder. 


Psychosis refers to a variety of symptoms that undermine a person’s ability to accurately perceive their environment and interact with other people. Examples of psychotic symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Grossly disorganized behaviors
  • Negative symptoms

Psychosis is perhaps most closely associated with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. These symptoms have several other possible causes, including substance abuse, bipolar disorder, and traumatic brain injury.


Psychotherapy is commonly known as talk therapy. This type of treatment can include individual, group, and family sessions. It can also incorporate the principles of various modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Psychotherapy is typically an integral component of mental health treatment.


Self-harm is the intentional infliction of pain or damage on one’s own body. Examples of self-harming behaviors include cutting, scratching, or burning your skin; pulling out your hair; repeatedly punching yourself or hitting your head against hard objects; and inserting needles or other sharp objects under your skin. 

Self-harm is also referred to by several other mental health terms, including self-injury, self-mutilation, and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). As the final term in the previous sentence indicates, self-harming behaviors are not suicide attempts, though they can be unintentionally fatal.


In a mental health context, trauma refers to intense psychological pain that occurs in the aftermath of one or more horrific (often life-threatening) experiences. Examples of traumatic experiences include sexual assault, child abuse, relationship violence, acts of terrorism, military combat, serious illnesses, and extreme weather events (such as tornadoes or hurricanes).

It’s common to be upset after directly experiencing or witnessing these types of events. But if someone continues to struggle for an extended period of time, or if their suffering is so severe that it undermines their ability to function, then they may have developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or another trauma-related mental health concern.


A trigger is an event, situation, or circumstance that can prompt the onset or recurrence of mental health symptoms. For example, someone who has PTSD may experience considerable distress when they encounter a person or place that reminds them of the trauma they endured.

Learning how to identify, avoid, and (when necessary) respond to triggers in a healthy manner can be a vital part of treatment for various mental illnesses, as well as for people who have dual diagnosis.

Find Mental Health Treatment in Atlanta

If you have been seeking mental health treatment in the Atlanta, Georgia, area, Peachtree Wellness Solutions is here to help. Our center offers a full continuum of care, including customized treatment at the residential, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient levels.

In every program, you can expect to receive personalized services and comprehensive support from a team of highly skilled professionals. We’ll work with you to understand the full scope of your needs, so that we can deliver the individualized services that will put you on the path toward a healthier and more hopeful future.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.