Mental health terminology A-Z

Acute mental health

Acute mental illness is characterised by significant and distressing symptoms of a mental illness requiring immediate treatment.


A psychological need and reliance on either a substance or behaviour, such as a drugs or sex.

Affective disorders

Also known as mood disorders. The main types of affective disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia is a general term which is used to describe the deterioration of mental functionality such as memory, language and judgement.

Anger management

The process of learning to understand signs that you're becoming angry and taking the necessary action to calm down and react appropriately.

Anorexia Nervosa

An eating disorder where individuals will starve themselves, often becoming dangerously thin. It is associated with immoderate restriction and irrational fear of gaining weight, alongside a distorted body self-perception.


Medication that is usually prescribed to treat psychosis. Sometimes they are used to treat other mental health conditions.


Anxiety is a broad term for many underlying disorders and phobias, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP)

I.e. Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Community Mental Health Nurses. These professionals are responsible for organising and coordinating assessments under the Mental Health Act.

Art therapy

A form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of communication.

Assertive Outreach Team (AOT)

The team which may work with an individual outside of the hospital if they have found it difficult to engage with mental health services previously.

Attachment disorder

Attachment disorder is a mental and emotional condition brought on as a result of failure to form an appropriate bond with parents or guardians in early childhood. Children with attachment disorder have difficulty trusting others.

Autism and Asperger’s syndrome

Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) are both Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC). They are best viewed, as are those people with these conditions, as appearing along a severity scale that runs from profound to very mild.


Bereavement, or grief, is a response to loss. While it is traditionally centred on emotional responses, it also includes physical, cognitive, behavioural and social elements.

Binge eating disorder (BED)

BED is an eating disorder characterised by overeating in binges, often when you are not hungry.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis describing a variety of mood disorders. This is defined by mood swings, from excessive energetic highs to depressive and extreme lows.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is where an individual becomes particularly self-conscious and believes that they have a problem with the appearance of a specific feature of their body.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by binge-eating, often eating three or four times a normal amount. This is followed by self-induced vomiting or taking laxatives to try and avoid putting on weight.

Care coordinator

The care coordinator is the main point of contact and support if you require ongoing mental health care. Under the care programme approach (CPA) they are responsible for carrying out an assessment to work out your health and social care requirements.

Care plan

A plan which details how you individuals will receive care. This should be done in collaboration with yourself and your therapist/consultant.

Care programme approach (CPA)

CPA allows mental health professionals to assess a patient’s needs to be pulled together in on singular plan.


A Carer is anybody who looks after a person who they know that needs help because of their condition. In most cases, this is an unpaid voluntary position.


A clinician is somebody that provides care and treatment to patients, such as a Nurse, Psychiatrist or Psychologist.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is a structured, action-oriented and problem solving approach which helps people to manage their thoughts, behaviour and mood more effectively.

Community mental health team (CMHT)

Community mental health teams offer continuous support or emergency intervention if necessary. This can include the input from several professionals including psychologists, nurses and social workers.

Community psychiatric nurse (CPN)

Registered nurses who are trained in mental health and can give long-term support to those living in the community.

Consultant psychiatrist

Consultant psychiatrists have the overall responsibility for diagnosing a mental health condition and prescribing treatment. Psychiatrists are qualified medical doctors who specialise in mental health conditions.


Psychiatric crisis describes the situation where a person with a mental illness or severe mental disorder experiences thoughts, feelings or behaviours which cause severe distress to him/her and those around him/her.

Dementia/early onset dementia

Dementia is a term to describe the deterioration of mental functionality, such as memory, language and judgement.


Depression is a normal emotion, which can lead to a very serious illness (often called major depression, clinical depression or depressive illness).

Early intervention

When the first stages of a mental health condition are spotted, beginning treatment as early as possible to aid recovery is called early intervention.

Gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is a recognised medical condition where you feel confused or distressed because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and your gender identity.

Group psychotherapy

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy where a carefully selected group of individuals meet regularly with a therapist to help each other to discuss their individual struggles and ways to tackle them.


Someone who stays in hospital for a given amount of time to receive care and treatment.


A ward nurse who is responsible for implementing the care plan and often develops reports regarding your progress.

Manic episode

A manic episode is not a disorder in but rather is a part of a type of bipolar disorder. A manic episode is characterized by period of at least one week where an elevated, or unusually irritable mood, as well as notably persistent goal-directed activity is present.

Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA)

The legal act which governs the treatment of people with mental conditions in England and Wales.

Mental Health Tribunal

Independent bodies that make decisions on whether someone can be discharged from hospitals. Those involved in a mental health tribunal must look to protect the public, balance the freedom of the individual and consider what is best for the patient.

Multi-disciplinary team

A team of health and social care staff including nurses, psychologists, doctors and social workers.

Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)

ME is also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). ME usually starts very suddenly and is accompanied by flu-like symptoms.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD causes a person to have irrational thoughts known as ‘obsessions’. To try and deal with the anxiety associated with the obsession, repetitive actions or ‘compulsions’ are performed. Some people can only suffer from obsessions, whilst others suffer from a mixture of both obsessions and compulsions.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational Therapists help people of all ages who have physical, psychological or social problems. This could be help with shopping, brushing their teeth, or helping to assist with a person’s child care, professional development or attending social activities.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a psychiatric disorder. This is a disorder which is typically characterised by hostile behaviour towards figures of authority - and of a far more severe nature than what can usually be expected from normal childhood behaviour.


Someone who comes into hospital, or an equivalent site, for an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Panic attack

Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense anxiety which appear to have no obvious triggers or reasoning. They can happen when a person least expects it and can be very distressing and frightening for the sufferer.

Personality disorder

A personality disorder is a mental health problem often characterised by rigid, structured, and repeated patterns of feeling, thinking and behaviour. The inflexible nature of these patterns can cause serious personal and social difficulties for the person and also those close to them.


Phobias are characterised by feelings of fear or anxiety triggered by particular situations or objects.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric condition that may be suffered if you experience or are witness to a life-threatening event or a particularly traumatic occurrence. PTSD is a condition which can affect both men and women, regardless of their age.

Postnatal depression (PND)

Postnatal depression affects around 10% of mothers. This is much more serious than the period post birth known as ‘baby blues’ which usually lasts between one to three days. PND can develop slowly and may not be noticeable until several weeks after the baby’s birth, or may continue on from the baby blues period.


Schizophrenia is a name that defines a group of mental illnesses with several shared symptoms. Schizophrenia usually affects people for the first time when they reach early adulthood - from their late teens to early thirties. It is equally common in men and women, with the nature of the illness varying greatly between each person affected.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Many people can experience low periods during the autumn and winter months which coincides with daylight hours becoming shorter. However, for some people, these feelings can develop into seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that affects people due to reduced daylight.

Self harm

Self harm, which is also referred to as self injury, occurs when an individual inflicts injury upon themselves to help them deal with stressful situations or periods of angst. The most common form of self harming involves the cutting of skin on arms, legs and abdominal area.

Service user

A person who uses mental health services. They can also be referred to as clients or patients.

Sleep disorders

Sleep disorders (insomnia) are clinically defined as the ‘inability to initiate or maintain sleep or to obtain good sleep quality despite adequate opportunity to do so, accompanied by significant daytime consequences of poor sleep’ (American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 2005). It’s worth noting that insomnia is highly subjective and individual sleep requirements vary considerably.

Somatoform disorder

Somatoform disorder is a syndrome of multiple, and recurring symptoms that are medically unexplained. These occur over a prolonged period of time, in which emotional distress is often experienced through physical symptoms which are known as somatisation.

Social worker

A professional who can help to assist with practical aspects of life and may have had training in providing psychological assistance. Social workers work collaboratively with various organisations, such as local authorities and the NHS, who provide support.


Stress can be defined as the way you feel when you’re under extensive pressure. Many situations can cause stress including relationships, work demands, financial worries and so on.


Trauma is a term which is often used in the context of major physical damage to the body or in connection with significant psychological events that can lead to symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Examples of PTSD can include car crashes or life-threatening events.