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Psychological Signs and Symptoms

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Here's a list of the signs and symptoms a mental health professional looks for when diagnosing a psychological (mental health) problem.

The first encounter between psychiatrist or therapist and patient (or client) is multi-phased. The mental health practitioner notes the patient's history and administers or prescribes a physical examination to rule out certain medical conditions. Armed with the results, the diagnostician now observes the patient carefully and compiles lists of signs and symptoms, grouped into syndromes.

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Symptoms are the patient's complaints. They are highly subjective and amenable to suggestion and to alterations in the patient's mood and other mental processes. Symptoms are no more than mere indications. Signs, on the other hand, are objective and measurable. Signs are evidence of the existence, stage, and extent of a pathological state. Headache is a symptom - short-sightedness (which may well be the cause of the headache) is a sign.

Here is a partial list of the most important signs and symptoms in alphabetical order:

Affect

We all experience emotions, but each and every one of us expresses them differently. Affect is HOW we express our innermost feelings and how other people observe and interpret our expressions. Affect is characterized by the type of emotion involved (sadness, happiness, anger, etc.) and by the intensity of its expression. Some people have flat affect: they maintain "poker faces", monotonous, immobile, apparently unmoved. This is typical of the Schizoid Personality Disorder Others have blunted, constricted, or broad (healthy) affect. Patients with the dramatic (Cluster B) personality disorders - especially the Histrionic and the Borderline - have exaggerate and labile (changeable) affect. They are "drama queens".

In certain mental health disorders, the affect is inappropriate. For instance: such people laugh when they recount a sad or horrifying event or when they find themselves is morbid settings (e.g., in a funeral). Also see: Mood.

Read about inappropriate affect in narcissists

Ambivalence

We have all come across situations and dilemmas which evoked equipotent - but opposing and conflicting - emotions or ideas. Now, imagine someone with a permanent state of inner turmoil: her emotions come in mutually exclusive pairs, her thoughts and conclusions arrayed in contradictory dyads. The result is, of course, extreme indecision, to the point of utter paralysis and inaction. Sufferers of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders and the Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder are highly ambivalent.

Anhedonia

When we lose the urge to seek pleasure and to prefer it to nothingness or even pain, we become anhedonic. Depression inevitably involves anhedonia. the depressed are unable to conjure sufficient mental energy to get off the couch and do something because they find everything equally boring and unattractive.

Anorexia

Diminished appetite to the point of refraining from eating. Whether it is part of a depressive illness or a body dysmorphic disorder (erroneous perception of one's body as too fat) is still debated. Anorexia is one of a family of eating disorders which also includes bulimia (compulsive gorging on food and then its forced purging, usually by vomiting).

Learn more about comorbidity of eating disorders and personality disorders

Anxiety

A kind of unpleasant (dysphoric), mild fear, with no apparent external reason. Anxiety is akin to dread, or apprehension, or fearful anticipation of some imminent but diffuse and unspecified danger. The mental state of anxiety (and the concomitant hypervigilance) has physiological complements: tensed muscle tone, elevated blood pressure, tachycardia, and sweating (arousal).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is sometimes misdiagnosed as a personality disorder

Autism

More precisely: autistic thinking and inter-relating (relating to other people). Fantasy-infused thoughts. The patient's cognitions derive from an overarching and all-pervasive fantasy life. Moreover, the patient infuses people and events around him or her with fantastic and completely subjective meanings. The patient regards the external world as an extension or projection of the internal one. He, thus, often withdraws completely and retreats into his inner, private realm, unavailable to communicate and interact with others.

Asperger's Disorder, one of the spectrum of autistic disorders, is sometimes misdiagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Automatic obeisance or obedience

Automatic, unquestioning, and immediate obeisance of all commands, even the most manifestly absurd and dangerous ones. This suspension of critical judgment is sometimes an indication of incipient catatonia.