Psychological Disorders: Types Explained

Medically Reviewed By Jeffrey Ditzell, DO
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Psychological disorders can be related to depression, anxiety, stress, psychosis, sleep, and more. They can vary in severity and affect people differently. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience a mental health condition each year.

If you think that you might have a psychological disorder, you are not alone. Many people with psychological conditions can recover, especially if they begin treatment early and play an active role in their recovery.

Below are the signs, symptoms, and treatments associated with some common psychological disorders.

Depressive disorders

an older woman is talking to a therapist on a sofa
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Symptoms of depression can include:

  • changes in sleep
  • changes in appetite
  • loss of energy
  • lack of concentration
  • lack of interest in activities
  • changes in movement
  • a feeling of hopelessness or guilt
  • physical aches and pains
  • suicidal thoughts

If you have a combination of any of these symptoms and they have lasted for longer than 2 weeks, you should seek treatment from a doctor.

Other forms of depression can stem from unique circumstances, including:

Learn about treatments for depression here.

Bipolar disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can include depressive episodes and mania. Mania may involve manic or hypomanic episodes. For example:

  • Manic episodes: These last for at least 1 week. A person may be extremely high spirited or irritable for most of the day, possess more energy than usual, and notice a decreased need for sleep, increased activity, and increased risky behavior.
  • Hypomanic episodes: These involve less severe symptoms of mania, and they usually only last for around 4 days.

There are three types of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar I disorderManic episodes may last for at least 1 week. They usually occur along with major depressive episodes typically lasting for up to 2 weeks. Most people with bipolar I disorder will also experience times of neutral moods.
Bipolar II disorderThis can involve a pattern of hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes, usually with less severe symptoms than with bipolar I disorder.
Cyclothymic disorderThis milder form of bipolar disorder still involves periods of hypomania and depressive symptoms but is much less severe than bipolar I or II disorder.

Treatments for bipolar disorder include medications and psychotherapy. Doctors generally recommend a combination of the two.

Anxiety disorders

Occasional anxiety is a natural part of life and is to be expected in certain situations.

However, for those with anxiety disorders, those feelings of worry and fear are not just temporary. A person with an anxiety disorder experiences anxiety that simply will not go away and that can grow worse over time.

The symptoms can, and often do, interfere with elements of daily life, such as job performance, schoolwork, and personal relationships.

The most common types of anxiety disorders include the following:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: The symptoms of this condition can include:
  • Panic disorder: Symptoms can include panic attacks, which are periods of sudden and intense fear that come on quickly and generally reach their peak within minutes.
  • Phobias: This term describes an intense fear of a specific object or situation. The fear that people with phobias experience is generally out of proportion with the actual risk of danger from the object or situation.
  • Social anxiety disorder: This can involve intense anxiety and discomfort over the idea of being embarrassed, rejected, humiliated, or looked down on in social situations.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: A person with separation anxiety disorder has an excessive fear of being separated from people they feel close to.

Get 10 tips on easing anxiety here.

Stress disorders

Stress disorders may include the following conditions.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a long lasting condition wherein a person has recurring and obsessive thoughts or behaviors that they feel the need to repeat over and over again. These thoughts and behaviors can disrupt day-to-day life, including relationships, work, and school.

The symptoms of OCD may come and go over time, and they may improve or worsen. A person with OCD may try to avoid the triggers that bring on their obsessive thoughts and compulsions.

Treatments for OCD include:

Learn how to talk with your doctor about OCD here.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition that some people may experience after living through a shocking, dangerous, or scary event.

People with PTSD have intense and disturbing thoughts and feelings relating to an experience that persist long after the event itself.

The symptoms of PTSD generally fall into four categories:

Symptom categoryExamples
reexperiencinghaving flashbacks and nightmares
avoidanceavoiding thoughts, places, events, and objects that remind you of an event
arousal and reactivityexperiencing hypervigilance, feeling on edge, feeling anger, and having difficulty sleeping
cognitive and moodhaving difficulty remembering the event, experiencing negative thoughts, and having feelings of guilt or blame

Treatments for PTSD include:

  • cognitive processing therapy
  • prolonged exposure therapy
  • stress inoculation therapy
  • group therapy
  • medication

Learn more about PTSD here.

Schizophrenia and other psychoses

Symptoms of schizophrenia can fall into three categories:

Symptom typeExamples
psychoticexperiencing hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thoughts
negativehaving reduced motivation, fewer feelings of pleasure, and reduced expression of emotions
cognitivehaving difficulty processing and using information and having difficulty focusing

Treatments for schizophrenia include:

  • antipsychotic medications
  • psychotherapy
  • self-management strategies
  • education

Similar conditions to schizophrenia include the following.

Schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder can cause symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania or depression.

Treatment for schizoaffective disorder includes:

Psychosis

Psychosis describes conditions that affect the mind and alter a person’s perception of reality. During a period of psychosis, a person experiences disturbed thoughts and perceptions, and they may have a difficult time distinguishing what is real and what is not.

Symptoms of psychosis include hallucinations and delusions. They can also include incoherent or nonsense speech, anxiety, depression, and difficulty functioning overall.

Sleep disorders

Sleep disorders involve disruptions in the quality, timing, and amount of sleep, resulting in distress during the day and impairment in functioning. Sleep is critical to both physical and mental health.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of sleep disorders here.

Some examples of sleep disorders include the following.

Insomnia

Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder. It involves problems getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Your doctor may want to do a comprehensive assessment in order to diagnose insomnia. This may involve:

  • taking a medical history
  • performing a physical exam
  • interpreting your sleep diary
  • conducting a sleep study

Chronic insomnia usually improves with a combination of behavioral therapy and sleep medications.

Read an expert’s perspective on treating chronic insomnia here.

Sleep apnea

Types of sleep apnea include:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by breathing interruptions during sleep. A person who is experiencing sleep apnea may have repeated episodes of airway obstruction while they sleep. This causes snoring, snorting, gasping, or pauses in breathing.
  • Central sleep apnea: With central sleep apnea, the brain does not properly control your breathing during sleep. This causes breathing to start and stop.
  • Sleep-related hypoventilation: A person with sleep-related hypoventilation experiences episodes of shallow breathing, elevated blood carbon dioxide levels, and low oxygen levels during sleep. This frequently occurs alongside other medical issues, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and medication or substance misuse.

Learn how to find the right treatment for sleep apnea here.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions that can cause persistent and often severe disturbances in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and feelings.

The following are some examples of eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a condition wherein a person may avoid food, severely restrict food intake, or eat extremely small quantities of certain foods.

There are two subtypes of anorexia nervosa:

  • Restrictive: This involves severely limiting the amount and type of food you consume.
  • Binge-purge: This involves restricting foods and experiencing binge eating and purging episodes. This can lead to the consumption of large amounts of food in a short time, followed by vomiting or using laxatives.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a condition in which a person has persistent and repeated episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food. They often feel a complete lack of control over such episodes.

These periods of binge eating are generally followed by behaviors that compensate for the overeating. These behaviors can include one or a combination of the following:

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is a condition in which a person loses control over their eating and has repeated episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food.

Unlike bulimia nervosa, these episodes do not cause episodes of purging, excessive exercise, or fasting. Because of this, people with binge eating disorders may be overweight.

Learn when to get help for eating disorders here.

Dissociative disorders

Dissociative disorders can involve issues with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior, and sense of self.

Symptoms include:

  • significant memory loss regarding people, times, or events
  • out-of-body experiences
  • mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide
  • a sense of detachment from your emotions or emotional numbness
  • lack of a sense of self-identity

Types of dissociative disorders include:

  • Dissociative amnesia: Dissociative amnesia can cause difficulty remembering important information about yourself. It may be due to a specific traumatic or stressful event.
  • Depersonalization disorder: Depersonalization disorder involves ongoing or recurring experiences of one or both of these conditions:
    • Depersonalization: This is an experience of unreality or detachment from your mind, self, or body. A person may feel that they are outside their body and watching things happen to them.
    • Derealization: This is an experience of unreality or detachment from your surroundings. You may feel as if things or people in the world around you are not real.
  • Dissociative identity disorder: Dissociative identity disorder was formerly known as “multiple personality disorder.” It can cause a person to alternate between multiple identities.

Treatment for dissociative disorders generally involves therapy to help the person gain control over the dissociative process and the symptoms it causes.

Dementia

Dementia involves a loss of one’s ability to think. It may lead to difficulty remembering and reasoning.

The five most common types of dementia are:

Symptoms of dementia vary but can include:

  • memory loss, poor judgment, or confusion
  • difficulty speaking, understanding, expressing thoughts, or reading and writing
  • wandering and getting lost, even in what should be a familiar neighborhood
  • repeating questions
  • using unusual words to refer to familiar objects
  • taking longer than usual to complete daily tasks
  • losing balance and having issues with movement

No treatment currently exists to stop or slow dementia.

Learn more about dementia here.

Neurodevelopmental disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The sections below look at these conditions in more detail.

ADHD

ADHD is one of the most common psychological conditions to affect children. However, it can also affect adults.

ADHD can cause inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. For instance:

Symptom typeExamples
inattentionbeing easily distracted or bored, having difficulty focusing, not paying attention, having a lack of motivation, and having difficulty processing information
hyperactivityhaving difficulty sitting still, talking excessively, and having difficulty doing quiet tasks
impulsivityexhibiting impatience or recklessness, having difficulty sharing, and interrupting others

There is no single test that can lead to a diagnosis of ADHD. Talk with a doctor to gather all the necessary information.

Treatments include:

  • medication
  • behavioral therapy
  • self-management
  • education

ASD

ASD is a developmental condition that involves continuing challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. For example:

Symptom typeExamples
social communication deficitsbeing less likely to share interests with others, having difficulty appreciating emotions, having an aversion to eye contact, having difficulty with nonverbal gestures, and interpreting abstract ideas literally
restricted interests and repetitive behaviorshaving difficulty coping with change, experiencing sensory hypersensitivity, arranging things in a particular way, and making repetitive movements

Concerns about a child’s behavior should lead to an evaluation by a medical specialist. The evaluation may include conducting an interview with the parent or caregiver, observing and interacting with the child in a structural manner, and carrying out additional tests to rule out other conditions.

Management options for ASD include:

  • social skills training
  • speech or language therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • behavioral therapy
  • medication

Risk factors for psychological disorders

Although risk factors can vary within psychological disorders, there are a few factors that are common among most conditions.

These factors include:

  • genetics
  • environment
  • trauma
  • life circumstances
  • brain changes
  • drug or alcohol misuse

What should you expect during your first appointment?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of these or other psychological disorders, it is important that you talk with your doctor.

It is understandable that this might be daunting or worrying. Knowing what to expect from your first appointment can help ease any worries you may have about discussing this topic with your doctor.

Your initial appointment may include:

  • questions about your medical history
  • questions about your family history
  • questions about your symptoms and concerns
  • blood tests
  • additional medical tests to rule out any other health conditions
  • a referral to a mental health specialist

Summary

Psychological disorders are conditions that affect your moods, behaviors, or thoughts. These disorders can, and often do, have a major effect on day-to-day living, relationships, and other elements of functioning.

Psychological disorders are more common than most people think, but the majority of them are highly treatable. People have made great strides in recent years to help break the stigma around mental ill-health.

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Medical Reviewer: Jeffrey Ditzell, DO
Last Review Date: 2022 Feb 23
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.