Health Topics

Mental health and behavior

Child Behavior Disorders
National Library of Medicine
Conduct Disorder
Conduct disorders

All kids misbehave some times. And some may have temporary behavior problems due to stress. For example, the birth of a sibling, a divorce, or a death in the family may cause a child to act out. Behavior disorders are more serious. They involve a pattern of hostile, aggressive, or disruptive behaviors for more than 6 months. The behavior is also not appropriate for the child's age.

Warning signs can include

  • Harming or threatening themselves, other people or pets
  • Damaging or destroying property
  • Lying or stealing
  • Not doing well in school, skipping school
  • Early smoking, drinking or drug use
  • Early sexual activity
  • Frequent tantrums and arguments
  • Consistent hostility toward authority figures

If you see signs of a problem, ask for help. Poor choices can become habits. Kids who have behavior problems are at higher risk for school failure, mental health problems, and even suicide. Classes or family therapy may help parents learn to set and enforce limits. Talk therapy and behavior therapy for your child can also help.


Adolescent Behavior
Child Behavior Disorders
Children and Teenagers
Mental Health and Behavior
All kids misbehave some times. And some may have temporary behavior problems due to stress. For example, the birth of a sibling, a divorce, or a death in ...
Self-Harm
National Library of Medicine
Cutting
Hair Pulling
What is self-harm?

Self-harm, or self-injury, is when a person hurts his or her own body on purpose. The injuries may be minor, but sometimes they can be severe. They may leave permanent scars or cause serious health problems. Some examples are

  • Cutting yourself (such as using a razor blade, knife, or other sharp object to cut your skin)
  • Punching yourself or punching things (like a wall)
  • Burning yourself with cigarettes, matches, or candles
  • Pulling out your hair
  • Poking objects through body openings
  • Breaking your bones or bruising yourself

Self-harm is not a mental disorder. It is a behavior - an unhealthy way to cope with strong feelings. However, some of the people who harm themselves do have a mental disorder.

People who harm themselves are usually not trying to kill themselves. But they are at higher risk of attempting suicide if they do not get help.

Why do people harm themselves?

There are different reasons why people harm themselves. Often, they have trouble coping and dealing with their feelings. They harm themselves to try to

  • Make themselves feel something, when they feel empty or numb inside
  • Block upsetting memories
  • Show that they need help
  • Release strong feelings that overwhelm them, such as anger, loneliness, or hopelessness
  • Punish themselves
  • Feel a sense of control
Who is at risk for self-harm?

There are people of all ages who harm themselves, but it usually starts in the teen or early adult years. Self-harm is more common in people who

  • Were abused or went through a trauma as children
  • Have mental disorders, such as
    • Depression
    • Eating disorders
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder
    • Certain personality disorders
  • Misuse drugs or alcohol
  • Have friends who self-harm
  • Have low self-esteem
What are the signs of self-harm?

Signs that someone may be hurting themselves include

  • Having frequent cuts, bruises, or scars
  • Wearing long sleeves or pants even in hot weather
  • Making excuses about injuries
  • Having sharp objects around for no clear reason
How can I help someone who self-harms?

If someone you know is self-harming, it is important not to be judgmental. Let that person know that you want to help. If the person is a child or teenager, ask him or her to talk to a trusted adult. If he or she won't do that, talk to a trusted adult yourself. If the person who is self-harming is an adult, suggest mental health counseling.

What the treatments are for self-harm?

There are no medicines to treat self-harming behaviors. But there are medicines to treat any mental disorders that the person may have, such as anxiety and depression. Treating the mental disorder may weaken the urge to self-harm.

Mental health counseling or therapy can also help by teaching the person

  • Problem-solving skills
  • New ways to cope with strong emotions
  • Better relationship skills
  • Ways to strengthen self-esteem

If the problem is severe, the person may need more intensive treatment in a psychiatric hospital or a mental health day program.


Self-Injurious Behavior
Mental Health and Behavior
What is self-harm? Self-harm, or self-injury, is when a person hurts his or her own body on purpose. The injuries may be minor, but sometimes they can ...
Eating Disorders
National Library of Medicine
Anorexia Nervosa
Binge Eating
Bulimia
Pica
What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders. They involve severe problems with your thoughts about food and your eating behaviors. You may eat much less or much more than you need.

Eating disorders are medical conditions; they are not a lifestyle choice. They affect your body's ability to get proper nutrition. This can lead to health issues, such as heart and kidney problems, or sometimes even death. But there are treatments that can help.

What are the types of eating disorders?

Common types of eating disorders include

  • Binge-eating, which is out-of-control eating. People with binge-eating disorder keep eating even after they are full. They often eat until they feel very uncomfortable. Afterward, they usually have feelings of guilt, shame, and distress. Eating too much too often can lead to weight gain and obesity. Binge-eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.
  • Bulimia nervosa. People with bulimia nervosa also have periods of binge-eating. But afterwards, they purge, by making themselves throw up or using laxatives. They may also over-exercise or fast. People with bulimia nervosa may be slightly underweight, normal weight, or overweight.
  • Anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia nervosa avoid food, severely restrict food, or eat very small quantities of only certain foods. They may see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. Anorexia nervosa is the least common of the three eating disorders, but it is often the most serious. It has the highest death rate of any mental disorder.
What causes eating disorders?

The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. Researchers believe that eating disorders are caused by a complex interaction of factors. These include genetic, biological, behavioral, psychological, and social factors.

Who is at risk for eating disorders?

Anyone can develop an eating disorder, but they are more common in women. Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood. But people can also develop them during childhood or later in life.

What are the symptoms of eating disorders?

The symptoms of eating disorders vary, depending on the disorder:

The symptoms of binge-eating include

  • Eating unusually large amounts of food in a specific amount of time, such as a 2-hour period
  • Eating even when you're full or not hungry
  • Eating fast during binge episodes
  • Eating until you're uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret to avoid embarrassment
  • Feeling distressed, ashamed, or guilty about your eating
  • Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss

The symptoms of bulimia nervosa include the same symptoms as binge-eating, plus trying to get rid of the food or weight after binging by

  • Purging, making yourself throw up or using laxatives or enemas to speed up the movement of food through your body
  • Doing intensive and excessive exercise
  • Fasting

Over time, bulimia nervosa can cause health problems such as

  • Chronically inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands in the neck and jaw area
  • Worn tooth enamel and increasingly sensitive and decaying teeth. This is caused by the exposure to stomach acid every time you throw up.
  • GERD (acid reflux) and other gastrointestinal problems
  • Severe dehydration from purging
  • Electrolyte imbalance, which could be too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals. This can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

The symptoms of anorexia nervosa include

  • Eating very little, to the point of starving yourself
  • Intensive and excessive exercise
  • Extreme thinness
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Distorted body image - seeing yourself as overweight even when you are severely underweight

Over time, anorexia nervosa can cause health problems such as

  • Thinning of the bones (osteopenia or osteoporosis)
  • Mild anemia
  • Muscle wasting and weakness
  • Thin, brittle hair and nails
  • Dry, blotchy, or yellowish skin
  • Growth of fine hair all over the body
  • Severe constipation
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing and pulse.
  • Feeling cold all the time because of a drop in internal body temperature
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, or weak
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Infertility
  • Damage to the structure and function of the heart
  • Brain damage
  • Multiorgan failure

Anorexia nervosa can be fatal. Some people with this disorder die of complications from starvation, and others die of suicide.

Some people with eating disorders may also have other mental disorders (such as depression or anxiety) or problems with substance use.

How is eating disorders diagnosed?

Because eating disorders can be so serious, it is important to seek help if you or a loved one thinks that you might have a problem. To make a diagnosis, your health care provider

  • Will take a medical history and ask about your symptoms. It is important to be honest about your eating and exercise behaviors so your provider can help you.
  • Will do a physical exam
  • May do blood or urine tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms
  • May do other tests to see whether you have any other health problems caused by the eating disorder. These can include kidney function tests and an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG).
What are the treatments for eating disorders?

Treatment plans for eating disorders are tailored to individual needs. You will likely have a team of providers helping you, including doctors, nutritionists, nurses, and therapists. The treatments may include

  • Individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy. Individual therapy may include cognitive behavioral approaches, which help you to identify and change negative and unhelpful thoughts. It also helps you build coping skills and change behavioral patterns.
  • Medical care and monitoring, including care for the complications that eating disorders can cause
  • Nutrition counseling. Doctors, nurses, and counselors will help you eat healthy to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Medicines, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers, may help treat some eating disorders. The medicines can also help with the depression and anxiety symptoms that often go along with eating disorders.

Some people with serious eating disorders may need to be in a hospital or in a residential treatment program. Residential treatment programs combine housing and treatment services.

NIH: National Institute of Mental Health


Feeding and Eating Disorders
Mental Health and Behavior
Food and Nutrition
What are eating disorders? Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders. They involve severe problems with your thoughts about food and your eating behaviors. You may eat much less or much more ...
Child Mental Health
National Library of Medicine
Mental Health, Child

It's important to recognize and treat mental illnesses in children early on. Once mental illness develops, it becomes a regular part of your child's behavior. This makes it more difficult to treat.

But it's not always easy to know when your child has a serious problem. Everyday stresses can cause changes in your child's behavior. For example, getting a new brother or sister or going to a new school may cause a child to temporarily act out. Warning signs that it might be a more serious problem include

  • Problems in more than one setting (at school, at home, with peers)
  • Changes in appetite or sleep
  • Social withdrawal or fear of things he or she did not used to be not afraid of
  • Returning to behaviors more common in younger children, such as bedwetting
  • Signs of being upset, such as sadness or tearfulness
  • Signs of self-destructive behavior, such as head-banging or suddenly getting hurt often
  • Repeated thoughts of death

To diagnose mental health problems, the doctor or mental health specialist looks at your child's signs and symptoms, medical history, and family history. Treatments include medicines and talk therapy.

NIH: National Institute of Mental Health


Mental Disorders
Mental Health
Psychology, Child
Child Psychiatry
Children and Teenagers
Mental Health and Behavior
... and talk therapy. NIH: National Institute of Mental Health
Dementia
National Library of Medicine
Senility
What is dementia?

Dementia is a loss of mental functions that is severe enough to affect your daily life and activities. These functions include

  • Memory
  • Language skills
  • Visual perception (your ability to make sense of what you see)
  • Problem solving
  • Trouble with everyday tasks
  • The ability to focus and pay attention

It is normal to become a bit more forgetful as you age. But dementia is not a normal part of aging. It is a serious disorder which interferes with your daily life.

What are the types of dementia?

The most common types of dementia are known as neurodegenerative disorders. These are diseases in which the cells of the brain stop working or die. They include

  • Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common form of dementia among older people. People with Alzheimer's have plaques and tangles in their brain. These are abnormal buildups of different proteins. Beta-amyloid protein clumps up and forms plaques in between your brain cells. Tau protein builds up and forms tangles inside the nerve cells of your brain. There is also a loss of connection between nerve cells in the brain.
  • Lewy body dementia, which causes movement symptoms along with dementia. Lewy bodies are abnormal deposits of a protein in the brain.
  • Frontotemporal disorders, which cause changes to certain parts of the brain:
    • Changes in the frontal lobe lead to behavioral symptoms
    • Changes in the temporal lobe lead to language and emotional disorders
  • Vascular dementia, which involves changes to the brain's blood supply. It is often caused by a stroke or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in the brain.
  • Mixed dementia, which is a combination of two or more types of dementia. For example, some people have both Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

Other conditions can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms, including

  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare brain disorder
  • Huntington's disease, an inherited, progressive brain disease
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), caused by repeated traumatic brain injury
  • HIV-associated dementia (HAD)
Who is at risk for dementia?

Certain factors can raise your risk for developing dementia, including

  • Aging. This is the biggest risk factor for dementia.
  • Smoking
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Having close family members who have dementia
What are the symptoms of dementia?

The symptoms of dementia can vary, depending on which parts of the brain are affected. Often, forgetfulness is the first symptom. Dementia also causes problems with the ability to think, problem solve, and reason. For example, people with dementia may

  • Get lost in a familiar neighborhood
  • Use unusual words to refer to familiar objects
  • Forget the name of a close family member or friend
  • Forget old memories
  • Need help doing tasks that they used to do by themselves

Some people with dementia cannot control their emotions and their personalities may change. They may become apathetic, meaning that they are no longer interested in normal daily activities or events. They may lose their inhibitions and stop caring about other peoples' feelings.

Certain types of dementia can also cause problems with balance and movement.

The stages of dementia range from mild to severe. In the mildest stage, it is just beginning to affect a person's functioning. In the most severe stage, the person is completely dependent on others for care.

How is dementia diagnosed?

To make a diagnosis, your health care provider

  • Will ask about your medical history
  • Will do a physical exam
  • Will check your thinking, memory, and language abilities
  • May do tests, such as blood tests, genetic tests, and brain scans
  • May do a mental health evaluation to see whether a mental disorder is contributing to your symptoms
What are the treatments for dementia?

There is no cure for most types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease and Lewy body dementia. Treatments may help to maintain mental function longer, manage behavioral symptoms, and slow down the symptoms of disease. They may include

  • Medicines may temporarily improve memory and thinking or slow down their decline. They only work in some people. Other medicines can treat symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and muscle stiffness. Some of these medicines can cause strong side effects in people with dementia. It is important to talk to your health care provider about which medicines will be safe for you.
  • Occupational therapy to help find ways to more easily do everyday activities
  • Speech therapy to help with swallowing difficulties and trouble speaking loudly and clearly
  • Mental health counseling to help people with dementia and their families learn how to manage difficult emotions and behaviors. It can also help them plan for the future.
  • Music or art therapy to reduce anxiety and improve well-being
Can dementia be prevented?

Researchers have not found a proven way to prevent dementia. Living a healthy lifestyle might influence some of your risk factors for dementia.


Dementia
Mental Health and Behavior
Older Adults
Brain and Nerves
... swallowing difficulties and trouble speaking loudly and clearly Mental health counseling to help people with dementia and their families learn how to manage difficult emotions and behaviors. It can also help them plan for the ...
Panic Disorder
National Library of Medicine

Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger. You may feel as if you are losing control. You may also have physical symptoms, such as

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Feeling hot or a cold chill
  • Tingly or numb hands

Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere, and without warning. You may live in fear of another attack and may avoid places where you have had an attack. For some people, fear takes over their lives and they cannot leave their homes.

Panic disorder is more common in women than men. It usually starts when people are young adults. Sometimes it starts when a person is under a lot of stress. Most people get better with treatment. Therapy can show you how to recognize and change your thinking patterns before they lead to panic. Medicines can also help.

NIH: National Institute of Mental Health


Panic Disorder
Mental Health and Behavior
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It causes panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror when there is no real danger. You may feel as if ...
Coping with Chronic Illness
National Library of Medicine
Chronic Illness, Coping

Having a long-term, or chronic, illness can disrupt your life in many ways. You may often be tired and in pain. Your illness might affect your appearance or your physical abilities and independence. You may not be able to work, causing financial problems. For children, chronic illnesses can be frightening, because they may not understand why this is happening to them.

These changes can cause stress, anxiety, and anger. If they do, it is important to seek help. A trained counselor can help you develop strategies to regain a feeling of control. Support groups might help, too. You will find that you are not alone, and you may learn some new tips on how to cope.

You may be able to manage your illness better if learn more about it. It is important to evaluate the information that you find, to make sure that it is reliable. It is also important to find a health care provider that you can trust.


Chronic Disease
Mental Health and Behavior
Having a long-term, or chronic, illness can disrupt your life in many ways. You may often be tired and in pain. Your illness might affect your appearance or ...
Mental Health
National Library of Medicine
Emotional Health
What is mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

What are mental illnesses?

Mental illnesses are serious disorders which can affect your thinking, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting. They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day. Mental disorders are common; more than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental disorder at some time in their life. But there are treatments. People with mental health problems can get better, and many of them recover completely.

Why is mental health important?

Mental health is important because it can help you to

  • Cope with the stresses of life
  • Be physically healthy
  • Have good relationships
  • Make meaningful contributions to your community
  • Work productively
  • Realize your full potential
How can I improve my mental health?

There are steps you can take to help you improve your mental health. They include

  • Staying positive
  • Being physically active
  • Connecting with others
  • Developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Developing coping skills
  • Meditating
  • Getting professional help if you need it

Mental Health
Mental Health and Behavior
Wellness and Lifestyle
... stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every ... mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting. They ...
Compulsive Gambling
National Library of Medicine
Gambling
Pathological Gambling
Gambling addiction

Many people enjoy gambling, whether it's betting on a horse or playing poker on the Internet. Most people who gamble don't have a problem, but some lose control of their gambling. Signs of problem gambling include

  • Always thinking about gambling
  • Lying about gambling
  • Spending work or family time gambling
  • Feeling bad after you gamble, but not quitting
  • Gambling with money you need for other things

If you have concerns about your gambling, ask for help. Your health care provider can work with you to find the treatment that's best for you.

NIH: National Institutes of Health


Gambling
Mental Health and Behavior
Many people enjoy gambling, whether it's betting on a horse or playing poker on the Internet. Most people who gamble don't have a problem, but some lose control ...
Mental Disorders
National Library of Medicine
Psychiatric Disorders
Mental illness
What are mental disorders?

Mental disorders (or mental illnesses) are conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day.

What are some types of mental disorders?

There are many different types of mental disorders. Some common ones include

  • Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias
  • Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia
What causes mental disorders?

There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as

  • Your genes and family history
  • Your life experiences, such as stress or a history of abuse, especially if they happen in childhood
  • Biological factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain
  • A traumatic brain injury
  • A mother's exposure to viruses or toxic chemicals while pregnant
  • Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Having a serious medical condition like cancer
  • Having few friends, and feeling lonely or isolated

Mental disorders are not caused by character flaws. They have nothing to do with being lazy or weak.

Who is at risk for mental disorders?

Mental disorders are common. More than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental disorder at some time in their life.

How are mental disorders diagnosed?

The steps to getting a diagnosis include

  • A medical history
  • A physical exam and possibly lab tests, if your provider thinks that other medical conditions could be causing your symptoms
  • A psychological evaluation. You will answer questions about your thinking, feelings, and behaviors.
What are the treatments for mental disorders?

Treatment depends on which mental disorder you have and how serious it is. You and your provider will work on a treatment plan just for you. It usually involves some type of therapy. You may also take medicines. Some people also need social support and education on managing their condition.

In some cases, you may need more intensive treatment. You may need to go to a psychiatric hospital. This could be because your mental illness is severe. Or it could be because you are at risk of hurting yourself or someone else. In the hospital, you will get counseling, group discussions, and activities with mental health professionals and other patients.


Psychiatric Rehabilitation
Mental Disorders
Mental Health and Behavior
... get counseling, group discussions, and activities with mental health professionals and other patients.