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What Are the Different Types of Psychiatric Symptoms?

By Franklin Jeffrey
Updated May 17, 2024
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Psychiatrists generally classify mental disorders into five broad categories. The precise psychiatric symptoms a patient might display depends in large part on the patient's exact illness as each general category contains more than one mental health problem. Doctors, however, recognize that psychiatric symptoms typically include inappropriate fears, depression, sudden changes in mood, an inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, improper attitudes toward food, an inability to control one's behavior and an inability to deal with normal interpersonal relations.

Anxiety disorders include conditions such as post-traumatic stress and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Patients may develop a baseless fear or phobia, such as having an irrational fear of a certain number, or they may be unable to board an airplane. Psychiatric symptoms of an anxiety disorder include avoiding certain situations most people would consider routine, an insistence on performing rituals or an excessive reaction to commonplace incidents. Symptoms may be so severe that the patient cannot hold a job or maintain a normal lifestyle, resulting in symptoms that could be confused for a mood disorder.

Patients suffering from a mood disorder experience abnormal emotional conditions. They may become severely depressed and feel sad even when everything is going well for them. Those with bipolar disorder may display sudden changes in mood, going from deep depression to an abnormally happy state and back again with no obvious trigger. In addition to mood changes, patients may be unable to sleep or they may sleep excessively. They may withdraw from social activities or avoid contact with family and friends.

Avoidance can also be one of the psychiatric symptoms of a psychotic disorder of perception, in which the patient has difficulty identifying reality. Patients may experience hallucinations, both visual and auditory, in which they see or hear things that no one else experiences. In some cases, symptoms may include delusional beliefs, such as the certainty that others are plotting against them. The most well-known psychotic disorder is schizophrenia, which may or may not involve paranoid thinking and behavior.

Paranoia can also be experienced by those with certain personality disorders. Patients with personality disorders can display a variety of psychiatric symptoms, including an inability to form or maintain any type of relationship. Identity confusion, such as the delusion that he or she is actually a famous person, the belief that multiple personalities inhabit the same body and, in some cases, memory loss can all be symptoms of a personality disorder. Some patients may appear unable to think beyond momentary desires to determine the consequences of their actions. This focus on self-gratification can sometimes be mistaken for an impulse disorder.

Patients with impulse disorders are unable to control their urges to perform certain actions. Some actions may be destructive, such as an urge to set fires, known as pyromania; or take things that belong to others, also called kleptomania. Tourette's syndrome, which includes an inability to censor one's speech, is another impulse disorder. Psychiatric symptoms of impulse disorders are typically the actions that patients perform, but the knowledge of their out-of-control behavior may also manifest as depression.

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Discussion Comments

By burcinc — On May 03, 2014

@ysmina-- People can have more than one psychiatric diagnosis. This is called psychiatric comorbidity, when two different mental disorders coexist in an individual. So someone can be diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder.

You are right in the sense that some psychiatric conditions may have common symptoms. But diagnostic evaluations are usually successful in diagnosing someone with the right condition. And it may just be that the person has more than one condition.

By ysmina — On May 02, 2014

Psychiatric symptoms are confusing. They seem to cross over into each other's territory. I mean someone with paranoia could also have anxiety and someone with phobia may also have depression. So then how is a diagnosis made?

By candyquilt — On May 01, 2014

I didn't even know what obsessive compulsive disorder was until I started watching the TV series, Monk. The Adrian Monk character has obsessive-compulsive disorder. He pays attention to details and he is obsessed with hygiene and order. Everything has to be in the right place and he has to wipe his hands after shaking hands with someone! He even organizes the food on his plate.

I have no idea if these symptoms really portray the symptoms of someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have not met anyone with this disorder before. It might be a bit cliched, but I think many people learned about this psychiatric condition from the show.

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