A- Z

No-one likes to be labelled, but sometimes we have to use names of conditions to describe different behaviour. It may also enable us to help you find the best solutions for you, by using evidence we already have from working with young people with similar problems.

Young people may experience symptoms that fall within the range of a specific mental health disorder, but this does not mean that they will have this disorder for life, or that this will change the way others experience you. You are still you, and are much more than a label. Here is an A-Z list of some mental health disorders and some useful online resources for you to learn more about what can help.


Anorexia Nervosa is a type of eating disorder. People with Anorexia Nervosa don't eat enough. They may feel that their problems are associated with what they look like. By controlling their weight, they feel they can control other aspects of their lives too, but losing weight does not solve the problem, it just creates more problems. Not everyone who has problems with eating enough has anorexia. Anxiety can cause loss of appetite, some medications or physical health problems can too. 

Beat is the leading charity for eating disorders and their website can give you more information. www.b-eat.co.uk/


Anxiety can also be classed as worries, fears and phobias. Everyone gets worried and frightened by things from time to time, but sometimes these concerns start to take over everyday life.  Some anxiety is necessary in life, it is the feeling of fear we all experience when faced with threatening or difficult situations and the release of adrenalin can give us extra motivation to accomplish a goal.  It also helps us to avoid dangerous situations. Sometimes anxiety levels can get out of control, making us perceive everyday worries as over- threatening. We all learn through life what our personal anxiety cycle is - what things that tend to catch us out and make us extra anxious.  Sometimes people need help with this as they have lost, or not found, thinking patterns that help reduce or soothe excessive anxiety.    Panic is defined as a sudden unexpected surge of anxiety which makes you want to leave the worrying situation.

Anxiety UK has lots of useful information on its website about Agoraphobia and other anxiety disorders. www.anxietyuk.org.uk/

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

ADHD is a pattern of problems which is usually picked up in childhood. Parents and teachers may notice that a child is unusually over-active, gets distracted all the time, cannot stick to doing something for any length of time, is impulsive, and does things on the spur of the moment without thinking and has great difficult in concentrating.

Many of us have at least some of these problems, but do not have the diagnosis. To have the diagnosis of ADHD, these problems must be bad enough to interfere with how you get on with other people or with how you perform at work or school. ADHD is a condition that affects how well someone can sit still, focus, and pay attention. People with ADHD have differences in the parts of their brains that control attention and activity. This means that they may have trouble focusing on certain tasks and subjects, or they may act impulsively, and get into trouble. In Hertfordshire there are ADHD clinics where children are assessed to see if they reach a diagnosis and offered treatment options. For more information on ADHD visit youth info at www.rpsych.ac.uk

Asperger's Syndrome

Asperger's syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Autism is often described as a 'spectrum disorder' because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees.

The National Autistic Society website has lots of useful information on Asperger's Syndrome and autism what it's like to have it www.autism.org.uk/  and the local branch HARC. http://www.harc-online.org.uk/


People with autism have said that the world, to them, is a mass of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of, and which can cause them considerable anxiety. In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family and social life may be harder for them. Other people appear to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, and some people with autism may wonder why they are 'different'.  The National Autistic Society website has lots of useful information www.autism.org.uk/  and the local branch HARC. http://www.harc-online.org.uk/

Alcohol misuse

Alcoholism describes the condition where people get addicted to alcohol, and use it to escape other problems in their lives. Alcoholism is when social drinking changes into more regular, addictive patterns.

Drink Aware has loads of information on alcohol and how to help someone who you think may be drinking too much. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder can also be known as manic depression. People with the disorder can swing between feeling very depressed, to being very happy and excited, which is also known as "mania". In between this they can seem relatively calm. A prolonged period of staying awake (not sleeping at all for a few days) is a key feature of bi-polar disorder.  www.mind.org has an entire section of its website dedicated to Bipolar disorder. www.moodscope  has a useful tool for tracking your mood daily, helping you to build up a picture as to what might be influencing it, which can be useful for general depression or bi-polar type symptoms.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

Body dysmorphic disorder affects people and the way they view themselves. It can lead people to become obsessed and preoccupied with their appearance, focusing on minor imperfections they may feel they have. They have a distorted view of how they appear. Exaggerating some features in an over- critical and unrealistic way is a key feature of this disorder, as is excessive appearance checking. The psychological explanation relates BDD to low self-esteem and the way a person judges themselves almost exclusively by their appearance. They may fear being alone and isolated all their life, or believe that they are worthless if they cannot correct the aspect of their appearance that causes distress (the perceived defect). They demand perfection, or an impossible ideal, in their appearance. Once the disorder has developed, it is then maintained by excessive self-focused attention and behaviour, such as checking the perceived defect, making comparisons with other people, avoiding social situations and seeking reassurance. Whilst many aspects of BDD can be experienced by all young people, for example a preoccupation with appearance and close scrutiny of the self , it is only judged to be a disorder if symptoms are distressing and significantly getting in the way of daily living for the young person. 


Bulimia Nervosa is a type of eating disorder. People with Bulimia Nervosa find it really hard to stick to a healthy, balanced eating pattern. They may constantly think of calories, dieting and ways of getting rid of excess food. Many people will binge (over eat) and then feel guilty so will make themselves sick, starve themselves, take laxatives or over-exercise. www.b-eat.co.uk  is a good website to visit for more information on bulimia.

Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is a serious behavioural and emotional disorder that can occur in children and teens. A child with this disorder may display a pattern of disruptive and violent behaviour and have problems following rules. It is not uncommon for children and teens to have behaviour-related problems at some time during their development. However, the behaviour is considered to be a conduct disorder when it is long-lasting and when it violates the rights of others, goes against accepted norms of behaviour and disrupts the child's or family's everyday life.

Symptoms of conduct disorder vary depending on the age of the child. In general, symptoms of conduct disorder fall into four general categories:

  • Aggressive behaviour that threatens or causes physical harm
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Deceitful behaviour
  • Violation of rules (going against accepted rules of society or engaging in behaviour that is not appropriate for the person's age).

Many children with conduct disorder are irritable, have low self-esteem, and tend to throw frequent temper tantrums. Children with conduct disorder often are unable to appreciate how their behaviour can hurt others and generally have little awareness, guilt or remorse about hurting others. See www.choosing.org for what can help in treating conduct disorder.


Most people feel sad or unhappy from time to time, however people suffering from depression feel very down for prolonged periods, or episodes. Sometimes there is clear link to an event in their lives that has made them feel down - we call this a reactive depression. Sometimes there does not appear to be a link, which can leave someone feeling scared and bewildered about why they are feeing low. In teenage years young people can describe intense emotions and reactions to things around them, which may be linked to the demands placed on young people at school (where there is lots of pressure to do well), at home (as they seek more independence from parents) and with peers (as friendships can be intense or awkward). Everything can feel like too much effort and there can be a feeling that they cannot shake off the constant feeling of unhappiness. Irritability, insomnia, tearfulness, loss of energy, and a feeling that life is not worth living anymore are all symptoms of depression.

It is important to work out what is usual teenage adjustment and what might be depression, which is an illness.  Sometimes when people feel stressed they may start to think that they are useless and no good, which can then cause their mood to spiral down and get stuck. Things that they may once have found fun, no longer make them happy and they can't seem to laugh anymore.

There are lots of ways to help people with depression. See our "top tips" section for some advice on how you can help yourself.  Prescribed medication such as anti-depressants can help some people also, as well as talking therapy to help people develop better links between their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. www.youngminds  has lots of good information about depression on its website, also the youth info section at www.rpsych.ac.uk . Also visit www.moodscope.co.uk for a useful tool for tracking your moods and helping you to make links about what may be affecting your mood.

OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be a serious anxiety-related condition. OCD can take many forms, but, in general, sufferers experience repetitive, intrusive and unwelcome thoughts, images, impulses and doubts which they find hard to ignore. These thoughts form the obsessional part of 'Obsessive-Compulsive' and they usually (but not always) cause the person to perform repetitive compulsions to try to relieve themselves of the obsessions and neutralise anxiety feelings. www.ocdyouthinfo and www.ocdaction.org are both useful websites. There are some useful talking therapies for OCD see www.choosing.org and sometimes people find medication is helpful as part of a combined approach.


Phobias are fears of a situation or thing that isn't dangerous and which most people don't find troublesome. A phobia is described as an irrational or excessive fear of an object or a situation. So whilst we may all be scared of some things, which maybe seem irrational, it would not be judged to be a phobia unless it is significantly interfering with our daily life ( eg getting in the way of going to school, or being content in everyday situations). 

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder describes symptoms people may experience after a traumatic event takes place. It can also be described as a delayed reaction to the trauma of going through a bad experience. Symptoms can include

  • vivid flashbacks (feeling as if the trauma is happening all over again)
  • intrusive thoughts and images
  • nightmares
  • intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
  • repressing memories (being unable to remember aspects of the event)
  • feeling detached, cut off and emotionally numb
  • being unable to express affection
  • feeling there's no point in planning for the future

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following a traumatic event that threatens your safety or makes you feel helpless. Any overwhelming life experience can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can affect those who personally experience a catastrophe, trauma, or unpredictable event, or those who witness it, and/or those who pick up the pieces afterwards. It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma.

PTSD develops differently from person to person. While the symptoms of PTSD most commonly develop in the hours or days following the traumatic event, it can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before they appear.

What is the difference between PTSD and a normal response to trauma?

The traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder are usually so overwhelming and frightening that they would upset anyone. Following a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. When your sense of safety and trust are shattered, it's normal to feel disconnected, or numb. It's very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. These are normal reactions to abnormal events.

For most people, however, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks but they gradually lift. But if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms don't decrease. You don't feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse. It is important to get help if symptoms are becoming worse. There are some talking therapies that have a good evidence base for PTSD - trauma focussed CBT and EMDR.  See www.choosing.org


Psychosis symptoms can vary greatly from person to person and a number of symptoms can be experienced, such as: hallucinations, confused thoughts and trouble knowing what is real and what is not.

Hertfordshire has a specific team who can help if you think you or someone you know is suffering from psychosis, called EIIP (Early Intervention in Psychosis).

Self-Injury/Self Harm (cutting)

People have many different coping strategies to deal with the stress that they experience.  Some of these are positive (eg hobbies, relaxation, socialising).  Some are negative and are known as self-harm. Self-injury is a negative form of self-harm, which involves cutting or scratching. It can be described as an "inner scream" - a way of expressing painful feelings that are hard to communicate.  Some young people engage in cutting or scratching briefly, before finding other ways of dealing with emotions. For others it can develop into a longer term coping strategy. The important things to think about are

  1. How often does it happen?
  2. How severe is the cutting?
  3. How safe are you?
  4. How in control do you feel of the behaviour?
  5. Do you want to stop?

Young people can get support with helping to reduce or stop cutting. It is best to do this gradually, to gain confidence in managing feelings in other ways.  

Substance misuse

Drug addiction can relate to the excessive use of illegal drugs such as Cannabis, Cocaine and Heroin, or legal drugs that you would find on prescription.

Talk to Frank is a national service for young people who are worried about drug addiction, it has an A - Z of drugs and a confidential helpline. www.talktofrank.com/

A-z _icon


A - Z of mental health conditions.

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CAMHS Dictionary

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