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Glossary of Terms

Mental disorder

General public definition

  • A mental disorder is a type of mental health condition that meets the criteria for a diagnosis published in the DSM-5-TR or ICD-11 or other equivalent revisions.
  • A health care practitioner will diagnose a mental disorder if the person’s history and clinical examination meet diagnostic criteria that best explain the person’s current condition.
  • Mental disorders are often caused by mechanisms other than exposure to a potentially psychologically traumatic event. Mental disorders may be caused by the interactions of many factors—family and childhood history, recent experiences or stressors, genetics, biology, socioeconomic factors, physical health problems, and physical environmental factors.
  • Examples of mental disorders include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.
  • You can have more than one mental disorder at a time, and these disorders may interact with each other.
  • Usual responses to common stressors, such as the death of a loved one, usual workplace pressures, or living with a physical health condition or chronic pain are not mental disorders—unless these responses continue for a long period of time, cause very high levels of distress, or cause symptoms from which the person cannot recover.

Academic definition

  • A mental disorder is a clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, and/or behaviour that reflects dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning, where the person’s condition meets DSM-5-TR or ICD-11 diagnostic criteria.
  • A mental disorder is associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other activities.
  • Causes of mental disorders are thought to be multiple and interlinked, not linear, and related to various combinations of physically or psychologically traumatic events, genetics, biology, diet, socioeconomic factors, physical health conditions, physical environmental factors, and other factors.
  • The symptoms and signs of a mental disorder are not better explained by another mental disorder, a physical health condition or the effects of a substance.
  • Common culturally consistent responses to a stressor or loss that do not meet accepted diagnostic criteria, such as the death of a loved one, are not mental disorders.
  • Socially deviant behaviour (e.g. political or sexual) and conflicts that are primarily between the individual and society are not necessarily mental disorders, unless the behaviour(s) results from a dysfunction in the individual caused by a mental or physical health condition.

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