Unsure what therapy can help with? Here's our glossary of psychological conditions we cover.

Different types of psychological issues - book
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Different Types of Psychological Concerns

Experiencing a traumatic or abusive event can be an extremely difficult and painful experience. Examples of traumatic events include physical or sexual abuse, a violent attack or witnessing a catastrophic event such as war or natural disasters. These events can make you feel helpless and unsafe and can lead to anxiety, depression, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. You may also find your appetite and sleep patterns change dramatically. It is important to bear in mind that what one person finds traumatic another person may not, and so it is perfectly natural for you to feel emotions that another person may not.

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Work, relationships and illnesses are all examples of life changes which can cause stress and anxiety. In most cases many individuals adjust to these stressful life events within a few months and normality returns. However, some may continue to feel deeply distressed and feel completely overwhelmed by their, once normal, daily routines. As such, these individuals cannot adjust to these changes and the stress simply becomes unbearable affecting all aspects of their life. This reaction may be indicative of an adjustment disorder.

Whilst many assume that attention deficit disorder is an issue based solely in childhood, it can in fact be a disorder in adulthood as well, even affecting those who were not diagnosed as a child. Often adults with ADHD have difficulty focusing, crave excitement, blurt out inappropriate thoughts without thinking, and have poor organisational skills. They may similarly suffer from irritability or mood swings, low self-esteem and often have an explosive temper. Paradoxically, they may also have a tendency to become completely absorbed in tasks that are stimulating and rewarding, becoming so engrossed they neglect everything else they are supposed to be doing. Consequently, left untreated ADHD has the potential to cause problems in virtually every aspect of life.

Without doubt, alcohol is our favourite drug and though most of us use it purely for enjoyment, it can develop into a more serious problem. In alcohol dependence, there is a fundamental desire for alcohol which can be seen in symptoms such as requiring a drink to ‘feel right’ or needing a drink to start the day. Your body will start to adapt to this increased level of alcohol and therefore you may start to develop withdrawal symptoms soon after your last drink, as the effect from alcohol wears off. These withdrawal symptoms may include, trembling, increased sweating and anxiety and, in a small number of cases, convulsions. Consequently, more alcohol is consumed to prevent withdrawal and a vicious cycle occurs.

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At some point in our lives, most of us will have experienced anger. Rush hour travel, computer crashes and problematic relationships are all aspects of modern day living that can tip us over the edge. However, anger is an emotion that can easily become out of control causing you and those around you considerable distress. During an angry episode you may feel your heart beating faster, your body tensing and your breathing rate becoming quicker. You may feel the desire to lash out, shouting, throwing objects or becoming violent towards others, over the simplest of things. Consistently feeling like this can cause substantial physical and mental health problems including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure and a less efficient immune system. Additionally, substantial problems can occur in both social and romantic relationships.

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Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can range in severity from fairly mild to cripplingly severe. Although it is perfectly normal to experience anxiety over stressful life events such as an exam or job interview some individuals may find it hard to control their worries and these feelings often affect their daily life. There are several conditions for which anxiety is the main symptom including panic disorders, phobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These disorders tend to be focused around a specific issue or event, whereas in comparison generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) causes anxiety around a wide range of situations and issues. Individuals with GAD feel a constant sense of anxiety which can manifest in a number of symptoms such as palpitations (irregular heart beat), a perpetual sense of dread, irritability, insomnia (difficulty sleeping) and restlessness.

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Bereavement is a distressing but incredibly common experience. At some point in all of our lives, we will have to face the heartache of losing someone we love or deeply care about. We may feel a range of emotions and sensations in our grief such as shock, emotional numbness, anger, guilt and regret. We may additionally, feel depressed, exhausted and slowed down. However, as time passes these powerful feelings begin to fade but for some individuals their grief can last for years, unable to move on from the pain of losing someone they loved.

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Bipolar disorder, or as it was previously known, manic depression, is a condition which affects mood. Individuals suffering from bipolar disorder can swing from feelings of manic elation to deep despair which are known as ‘episodes’ of depression and mania. Both extremes in mood have their own associated symptoms, with each episode lasting for several weeks. Symptoms associated with the depressive phase include overwhelming feelings of sadness, difficulty concentrating, low energy and hopelessness. In contrast, the mania phase is characterised by feelings of euphoria, boundless energy, irritability and, finally, engaging in pleasurable activities that often have negative consequences such as spending large quantities of money or casual sex. During the manic phase of bipolar disorder the individual may also have symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations and delusions. These high and low phases of the illness are so extreme that they often interfere with everyday life.

Most people will have experienced stress from time to time. This may be due to redundancy, marital problems or even something positive such as going on holiday. Yet, persistent and prolonged stress can lead to ‘burnout’. Burnout occurs when you feel completely overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands of your life. You may feel like all of your energy has disappeared along with your interest and motivation, leaving you feeling hopeless and with nothing more to give. Feelings of frustration, isolation, and emotional outbursts are similarly all characteristic of burnout. This feeling does not usually happen overnight but is a slow gradual process that increasingly worsens.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), is a condition which causes long-term tiredness that affects everyday life. These feelings of tiredness do not go away with sleep or rest and substantially limit the ability to undertake mundane life activities. Although there will be periods where the symptoms do improve, there will also be times where the symptoms will flare up and get worse. The symptoms of fatigue can be mental as well as physical and include muscular pain, headaches, stomach pains, sleeping problems and psychological difficulties such as depression, irritability and panic attacks.

Co-dependency describes when an individual has a strong desire to control the people around them and believes that without them individuals such as their spouse, children or colleagues are incapable of undertaking the tasks they are responsible for. They have good intentions and desperately try to take care of people who are experiencing difficulty; however, these good intentions can quickly become compulsive and defeating. Due to an inability to say ‘no’ to requests made of them, they may find themselves the victims in abusive relationships and believe that if they are loving enough they can change the other person’s behaviour.

Oniomania or compulsive shopping is a form of addiction specifically in relation to shopping. Spending money can give the individual a buzz or a high and is commonly used to improve the individual’s mood when they are angry, depressed or lonely. They commonly go through a form of withdrawal whereby their thoughts are preoccupied with spending money. It is usually not the specific item that they are buying which excites them, but the processes of buying it. They therefore can have numerous items still with their tags on and which have never been worn or used. This form of addiction can result in devastating financial consequences, with individuals running up substantial debit.

From time to time, many of us feel sad, miserable and fed up. Whilst these feelings are normal reactions to events that are upsetting or stressful, it is also quite normal to experience them for no reason at all. Yet, individuals suffering from depression do not find quick relief. Their feeling of sadness persists for weeks and months, resulting in significant interference in their day-to-day lives. Depression however, is not the same for everyone and can show itself in many different ways. Symptoms include, feeling tearful, feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, difficulty sleeping and physical symptoms such as pain, headaches and exhaustion.

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Drugs, whether legal or illegal, are chemical substances that act on the brain and nervous system resulting in changes to a person’s mood, emotion or state of consciousness. However, some of these substances carry the potential to induce addiction with damaging psychological and physical effects. Like with alcoholism, indications of drug dependency can be seen in symptoms such as feeling like you are not able to function without it, preoccupation with getting hold of it and requiring more of the substance to feel an effect. Likewise, withdrawal symptoms are a common feature of drug addiction, with symptoms such as fever, sweating, nausea, chills and body aches all common place. It is important to be aware that legal drugs such as benzodiazepines (tranquillisers) carry the potential to be equally as addictive as illegal drugs such as heroin.

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Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes an individual to change their eating behaviour. An individual with an eating disorder may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food with damaging results to their health. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa is characterised by a preoccupation with keeping weight as low as possible through methods such as starving oneself and exercising excessively. Bulimia nervosa is similarly a control of weight but the individual binge eats and then is deliberately sick or uses laxatives to reduce calorie intake. Finally, binge eating is where individuals feel compelled to overeat.

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For many of us, buying a weekly lottery ticket or placing a bet in the Grand National is common place and costs us no more than a few pounds. Yet, for some people gambling can quickly spiral out of control landing them in thousands of pounds worth of debt. As with other forms of addiction, the anticipation and thrill of risk can create a buzz or a high for the gambler that can quickly become addictive. The ease and accessibility of playing gambling websites online has also increased the numbers of people gambling substantially. However, an addiction to gambling is also linked to other further addictions and conditions such as alcohol and depression, and attempted suicide rates are double the national average.

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Events such as redundancy or relationship breakdown can impact substantially on our sense of self-worth and confidence. By constantly thinking negatively about ourselves, we can induce further negativity through depression, hopelessness and drug or alcohol abuse. Common signs of low self-esteem include exhaustion, little motivation, feeling like you are a failure and wishing your life was better. If you suffer from low self-confidence you may feel shy, unsure of who you are or what your needs are and have a negative view of your own abilities. High levels of self-confidence and self-esteem can bring huge benefits to all areas of an individual’s life.

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition characterised by thoughts that make you feel anxious (obsessions) and behaviours you employ to reduce this anxiety (compulsions). Anxiety-provoking thoughts may preoccupy the sufferer's mind and will not go away even when they try not to think about them. These thoughts could centre on contamination by germs, or that someone will be harmed because of the sufferer's negligence. They may see pictures in their mind of violent or sexual images which is completely out of character; however, they do not act upon these images. To help reduce the anxiety caused by these negative thoughts the individual may have rituals such as washing hands repeatedly, constant checking, avoidance of anything concerning the thoughts and constantly asking for reassurance from others that everything is okay.

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Panic disorder is a condition characterised by recurring and regular panic attacks, which often happen for no apparent reason. These panic attacks are an exaggeration of the body’s normal response to exciting or fearful situations. The individual may feel an overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety, as well as symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, nausea, feeling suffocated and dizziness. These experiences can be incredibly frightening and intense; however, they are not life-threatening and cannot cause you any physical harm.

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As human beings we each have our own unique ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. For example, some people are shy and reserved, whilst others are more lively and outgoing. However, for some of us, parts of our personality develop in such a way that makes it difficult for us to live with ourselves and other people and these are termed personality disorders. These disorders can be highly distressing for both the individual and their loved ones who may find the subsequent behaviour unusual, and perhaps even offensive. Consequently, as someone with a personality disorder you may find it difficult to make or keep relationships, control your behaviour or keep out of trouble. As such, having a personality disorder can make life incredibly difficult and isolating and so other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or drug and alcohol problems are also very common.

Like generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic attacks, a phobia is an anxiety disorder. It is characterised by an extreme or irrational fear of an animal, object, place or situation. Phobias are more than simple fears; however, they can completely dominate the life of an individual who reorganises their whole life around avoiding the particular thing they fear and the very thought of coming into contact with it, will lead to intense feelings of anxiety and panic. In more complex phobias such as agoraphobia (fear of open spaces and public places) and social phobias the individual may find it very difficult to lead a normal life, as these situations are not easily avoided. Individuals suffering from a phobia are similarly likely to suffer with depression and panic attacks are common.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological and physical condition that is caused by very frightening or distressing events such as wars, natural disasters and violent personal assaults such as rape or being mugged. It is characterised by the individual reliving the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks causing disabling anxiety. The individual may also find sleeping difficult and may be withdrawn, hypervigilant and prone to emotional outbursts. Alcohol and drug use are also prevalent, as the individual tries to block out the memory. This condition can have substantial implications on the life of the individual with relationship breakdown and problems at work being common place.

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The arrival of a new baby is one of life’s happiest moments, yet it can also be associated with a huge amount of anxiety, exhaustion and stress. Almost half of new mothers can go through a period of feeling very emotional and tearful after the arrival of a child (the ‘baby blues’) and an estimated one in ten can go on to develop more intense and long-term symptoms, known as postnatal depression (PND). These symptoms usually develop in the first four to six weeks after giving birth and can result in overwhelming feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness. Postnatal depression can affect individuals in many different ways. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last from a few months to, in severe cases, well over a year. Symptoms include, feelings of irritability, loss of libido, anxiety, tearfulness, feelings of hopelessness and guilt, and disturbed appetite and sleeping patterns.

The term psychosexual describes such issues as sexual dysfunction and emotional blocks within relationships. This could include erectile failure, premature ejaculation and retarded ejaculation for men and conditions such as vaginismus, painful penetration and orgasmic dysfunction for women. It can also look at issues within relationships such as anger, resentment and jealousy, and how these issues translate into your sexual relationship.

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Psychosis is a condition that affects an individual's mind and causes changes to the way they think, feel and behave. For example, the individual may be unable to distinguish between reality and their imagination. Psychosis is not necessarily a condition itself, but is a symptom of other conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. An individual experiencing psychosis may have hallucinations - which are when you see and hear things that are not there, and delusions - which are when you believe things that are not true. The individual may also experience symptoms such as confused and disturbed thoughts and a lack of insight and self-awareness. Experiencing these symptoms for a length of time is known as a psychotic episode.

Relationships are complex and there are many situations and problems that can affect them. They can be triggered by unexpected events such as redundancy, illness or death and even expected changes such as moving house, a new baby or having parents move into the same home. Additionally, some relationships are highly stressful, for example, when a partner is abusive or an alcoholic, has affairs or may be suffering from a long-term illness. All of these issues can put substantial pressure on the relationship and can lead to each partner feeling stressed, anxious and depressed.

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition which is described as a psychotic illness. This means that the individual may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and imagination from reality. The condition has a range of symptoms which can be classified into positive symptoms and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms are those that most individuals do not normally experience but are present in people with schizophrenia such as hallucinations and delusions. Negative symptoms, in contrast, are deficits of normal responses such as appearing emotionless, flat and apathetic. Episodes of acute schizophrenia are characterised by severe positive symptoms, followed by periods where they experience few or no positive symptoms.

Like with other addictions such as alcohol, drugs and gambling, sex addiction is characterised by the individual being driven by a compulsion to seek out and engage in behaviour that brings them benefits, or a ‘high’, even though it may have severely negative consequences. In sex addiction, the individual is driven to pursue a markedly increased amount of sex in order to feel satisfied and fulfilled. This may lead them to engage in risky sexual behaviour, multiple affairs, and excessive use of pornography. The individual may spend large amounts of time planning or engaging in sex and missing important social events or work in order to pursue sex. Sex addiction is also characterised by emotional high and low mood swings. Following sex, and the high that fulfilling that need brings, the individual may then suffer from an emotional low such as shame, regret and remorse. The only way to relieve these feelings is to pursue another sexual encounter. As a result this can lead to great interference in employment, hobbies and relationships.

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There are several issues that come within the bracket of ‘sexuality’. For example, it could be issues to do with love and sex, sexual performance or sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is a term used to indicate to whom an individual is sexually and emotionally attached. This can mean to members of the same sex, opposite sex or both sexes. Many people feel confused about their sexual orientation and are sometimes scared about the reaction they may receive from those close to them.

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Most of us will have experienced the strains and difficulties of stress. Stress is the feeling of being under pressure and in some cases it can actually be quite beneficial leading to increased motivation and performance. However, too much stress or stress over a prolonged period of time can cause substantial psychological and physical problems. Symptoms may include a lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping, anger, depression and exhaustion. Suffering from stress for a long time can lead to more severe consequences such as high blood pressure (hypertension) which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

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Many of us suffer from the pressures and strains associated with our chosen careers and employment. However, work and occupational stress describes a situation where the demands of work exceed the person’s capacity and capability to cope. This affects a large number of people and is linked to high levels of sickness absence, staff turnover and other problems such as human error. The symptoms of work and occupational stress can be both physical and psychological and can include headaches, muscle tension, exhaustion, feelings that you cannot cope, irritability and mood swings and finding it hard to concentrate.

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Many people would assume that being a compulsive worker is a positive attribute and is associated with higher pay, promotions and bonuses. However, an unhealthy ability to stop working can lead to numerous personal and social problems. It can put considerable strain on relationships, and can lead to severe problems with health such as sleep disorders, gastric problems and chronic fatigue. It is usually associated with a long-standing feeling of inadequacy.

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Dr. Sheri Jacobson


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