The first week of October is National Mental Health Awareness week and understanding the differences between mental health disorders and the signs and symptoms associated with each disorder can not only raise awareness but also shed light on the importance of seeking professional help.

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are considered the most common type of psychiatric disorders in the general population. The most commonly recognized anxiety disorders according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), range from generalized anxiety (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), and specific phobias to panic disorder and agoraphobia. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worry over everyday occurrences that usually do not produce worry in the general population. The worrying is almost impossible to control and must occur the majority of days for at least a six-month duration. The following are diagnostic symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder:

  • Restlessness
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance

Mood disorders: depression and bipolar disorder

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a type of depressive disorder that affects more than 15 million adults in the United States and is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for individuals 15-44 years of age. Children who have lost a parent before 10 years of age have an increase risk of depression later in life. Although major depressive disorder is the most well known depressive disorder, there are other depressive disorders such as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, substance/medication-induced depressive disorder, and persistent depressive disorder, formerly referred to as dysthymic disorder. Persistent depressive disorder differs from major depressive disorder in that the symptoms usually wax and wane over a period of years. Symptoms of depressive disorders include the following:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Loss of energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Suicidal ideations

Bipolar affective disorder or manic-depressive illness is a mood disorder characterized by periods of profound depression that alternate with periods of excessive elation and irritable mood known as mania. Symptoms of mania include racing thoughts, pressured speech, irritability, distractibility; thoughts of grandiosity, appetite changes with weight loss, and erratic uninhibited behavior. Individuals will suffer from extreme mood swings that interfere with personal relationships, occupational function, and daily activities. Bipolar disorder can be characterized into three types: bipolar disorder type I (BPI), bipolar disorder type II (BPII) and cyclothymia and differences depend on the frequency, duration and severity of the alternating symptoms.


Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that is characterized by psychotic symptoms and greatly affects how an individual feels, thinks, behaves and perceives reality. Auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) and delusions (false beliefs) are the hallmark of this disorder. Unfortunately like many other mental health disorders, there is severe stigma associated with schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia can demonstrate such bizarre behavior that often frightens others around them. This mental health disorder can affect anyone regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity and it important that awareness is raised in order to eliminate the stigma associated with this disabling mental health illness. Other disorders that fall within the schizophrenia spectrum but differ by duration and characteristics include schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and brief psychotic disorder.

Personality disorders

Personality disorders present with a wide spectrum portraying maladaptive characteristics associated with inflexible patterns of thought, interpersonal relationships, and mood regulation. These maladaptive patterns often will carry into every aspect of one’s life creating havoc in their personal relationships, home life and occupational functioning. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are a total of ten personality disorders that are broken up into three clusters or categories kn. Examples of common personality disorders include:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Histrionic personality disorder
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

Eating disorders

The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, binge eating and bulimia nervosa and affect 30 million adults in the United States. Although eating disorders are usually considered a separate component from mental health disorders in terms of treatment and their awareness campaigns, eating disorder, specifically anorexia has the highest mortality rate out of any mental health disorder. Eating disorder often co-occur with mental health disorders and sign and symptoms associated with an eating disorder include the following:

  • Binging and purging
  • Excessive exercise
  • Laxative or diuretic use
  • Obsessive thoughts about calorie counting, diet planning and weight loss.
  • Low self esteem
  • Abnormal eating habits such as hiding food or refusing to eat in public