The ABC’s of Mental Illness (and health)

A is for Anxiety.  There are different types of anxiety disorders, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorders are a few examples.

Allison was afraid to go to her sister’s wedding because there would be so many people there; typically Allison skips social events to avoid feeling anxious, but she knows it would be hard to get out of this event.  Allison works with her psychiatrist and therapist to come up with a plan to get through her sister’s big day.

B is for Bipolar Disorder.  Bipolar disorder is characterized with depressive lows and manic (or hypomanic) highs experienced separately or occasionally as a mixed state.

Bill hasn’t slept in several nights and just purchased a car that he didn’t need.  Bill has been diagnosed in the past with bipolar disorder.  Bill’s family believes bill is manic and they try to get him to get help.

C is for Counseling.  Counseling, a service by a professional, helps a person deal with and overcome personal, social, and/or psychological difficulties.

Cathy recently started to live alone.  Her husband had died years ago and their only child just started college in a different state; Cathy is having trouble coping with her new solo lifestyle.  Cathy starts going to counseling and quickly learns skills to help navigate her life changes.

D is for Depression.  There are different types of depression two types are major depressive disorder, dysthymia,

Dave’s mom and sister are both being treated for depression.  Dave starts to feel down and has little motivation, he also starts to sleep a lot.  Dave is depressed, and since his family is as well, he is quick to identify his need for treatment.

E is for Eating Disorder.  Examples of eating disorders include bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating.

Eve is constantly exercising and often refuses food.  Eve is very thin, but believes she is fat.  After ending up in the ER for starving herself, Eve is admitted to an eating disorders treatment program.

F is for Functioning.  Many mental illness diagnoses have a criterion concerning how well a person is functioning in their daily life.

Frank is missing work due to a low mood and low motivation.  Fred is skipping class due to anxiety.  Frank and Fred are not functioning well in their daily lives and should seek the help of a professional.

G is for Group Therapy.  Group therapy is when a trained mental health professional guides discussions among a group of individuals with similar concerns to help them achieve a therapeutic goal.

Gabrielle is relieved to find that her experiences of social anxiety are not unique to her.

H is for Help.  When a person is experiencing the pain of their mental illness, they may feel alone and/or hopeless.  But help is out there.

Hank has been raised to believe that asking for help is a weakness.  It takes all of Hanks courage to reach out to a friend when he begins having suicidal thoughts.

I is for Insomnia.  Sleep is very important for a person’s health.  Many mental illnesses carry with them insomnia.

Irene can’t sleep, as soon as her head hits her pillow, her brain goes on overdrive.  Irene is eager for her sleep test later that day.

J is for Johns Hopkins.  Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD has a consistently top 20 rating for both adult and pediatric psychiatry.

Joel went to the Johns Hopkins mood disorder clinic and after several tries, was able to find the best medications for his mood disorder.

K is for Klonopin.  As a benzodiazepine, the anti-anxiety medication Klonopin has a high potential for dependence and therefore needs to be prescribed with caution.  Many people have been greatly helped by Klonopin.

Karen was starting to feel particularly anxious, so she took one of her prescribed Klonopin.

L is for Lithium.  Lithium is a natural occurring mineral and is a highly effective medication for many patients mood disorders.

Larry feels strongly that taking Lithium saved his life.

M is for Mood Disorder.  Mood disorder is a class of mental illnesses that encompasses depression and bipolar disorder.

Mary navigates her life with a mood disorder, with treatment she is able to live a fairly normal life.

N is for Night.  Nighttime can be a difficult time for people with various mental illnesses.  Due to insomnia, many people lay in bed ruminating or worrying.

Nate’s least favorite time is night.  His depression drains him of energy, but it also keeps him from sleeping.

O is for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  OCD is characterized by recurrent, uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors.  Author John Green describes his OCD as a thought spiral.

Olivia is worried that her house will burn down.  She constantly checks the stove and outlets and often misses out on meeting up with her friends because she can’t stop worrying and checking for signs of a fire.  With support from her mental health team and friends, Olivia is able to start joining activities.

P is for Psychiatrist.  Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, study, and prevention of mental disorders.

Paul is a psychiatrist, he has an older brother with a panic disorder, which inspired him to choose psychiatry as his specialty in medical school.

Q is for Quetiapine.  The generic name for Seroquel, Quetiapine is used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and depression.

Quinn takes Quetiapine every night, it helps her fall asleep and also helps with her mental illness.

R is for Racing Thoughts. The rapid thought patterns of racing thoughts are seen during mania/hypomania, in those with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and in those using and abusing amphetamines; as well as in a handful of other conditions.

Ronald has a paper to write, but he can’t get his mind to slow down, Ronald was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and was hoping to complete college without medication.  Once Ronald accepted that ADHD is an illness, he sought help from a treatment team and was able to concentrate and write amazing papers.

S is for Schizophrenia.  Those with Schizophrenia may experience thoughts and experiences that seem out of touch with reality as well as disorganized speech and behavior.  Rachel Star explains three things to know about Schizophrenia here.

Stephanie has auditory hallucinations that tell her she is a terrible person and that she should kill herself.  Stephanie is receiving treatment for her Schizophrenia, but often stops taking her medication once she begins to feel better; Stephanie and her treatment team are working on methods to keep her taking her medication.

T is for Trauma.  Trauma is, according to Psychology Today, something that can set in “after a distressing or life-threatening event”.  After trauma, someone may develop anxiety, PTSD, or general difficulty with everyday events.  It’s important to know that it is possible for two or more people to experience the same event, with only a fraction of those present experiencing trauma symptoms after the event.

Tommy was abused as a child and often witnessed his father beating his mother.  Tommy is now an adult, but has recently been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of his childhood trauma.  This diagnosis is the first step in being well.

U is for Using.  In substance abuse, someone who is not in active recovery is known to be “using” their drug of choice.

Ugna’s drug of choice is alcohol, she was in recovery, but recently relapsed; Ugna’s husband told her parents she is using again and an intervention is being planned.

V is for Various.  There are various ways in which a person can experience the same mental health condition.

Victor sleeps all the time when he is depressed, Valerie can’t sleep a wink when she’s depressed

W is for Weather.  The weather can play a role in a persons depression.  When it is cold and rainy, many people experience a lower mood than when it is 75 and sunny.

Wendy hates the winter.  She gets cold easily and has to stay inside, but staying inside depresses Wendy.  She has just purchased a mood light and is optimistic it will work.

X is for Xanax.  A well-known anti-anxiety medication, Xanax is a benzodiazepine.

Xavier was prescribed Xanax for his anxiety, but his doctor suspected he had begun to abuse it, so she is taking Xavier off Xanax to save him from a life of addiction.

Y is for Young.  Mental illness doesn’t only exist in adults, but in children and teens as well.

Yolanda is in third grade and has been acting out in class, her teacher is concerned that she is depressed and has scheduled a parent-teacher conference to discuss her concerns.

Z is for Zen.  Finding a feeling of zen through mindfulness practices can benefit everyone’s mental health.

Zach has found that mindfulness and meditation have helped him to begin to feel a sense of zen.


  1. I think it is ironic that you used in example A, about anxiety and needing coached to attend her sister’s wedding. I have GAD and Social Anxiety, and the same scenario just recently happened to me. I did get through it, and actually enjoyed seeing a couple of relatives I hadn’t seen in ages.


  2. I have a DUI for driving under the influence of alcohol. At the time I had been sober 2 years. I blew a zero, counted backwards from 20 but then I went in to a major panic attack and couldn’t say the alphabet. I was then arrested and taken to the walk in clinic, in handcuffs to get a blood test. Then transported jail where I had to spend 8 hours in the drunk tank. The blood test showed klonopin taken the night before as prescribed. In Michigan it’s illegal to drive with any controlled substance in your blood. I had no idea it was illegal at the time. It wasn’t illegal in Florida where I had been dx’d. I’m finally am moving out of this state but the DUI will follow me forever. The cops are so ignorant here. It’s a small town and to the local cops stigma I’m just a nut case. I feel I have no protection here because of it. Feel myself slipping back in to some old behaviors although I haven’t cut or drank. Next month I’ll have 11 years sober. It’s the debilitating depression I’m dealing with now. Sleeping for hours, can’t eat. Really thought the anxiety problems were gone for good but have had to take vallium a few times this last week. I need to get working on packing and making this move. I just feel paralyzed by my emotions right now. It feels like such a setback after finally finding mental health. Have actually upped 2 meds. Don’t really feel this is from the bipolar. This is still the borderline that started when I was 8. After 4 years of therapy I thought it was gone. Once again though I let my mother trigger it but this time I finally got her out of my life. Could never do it before so maybe it is progress.


    • Congratulations on 11 years next month! That is an amazing accomplishment and no one can take that from you. I’ve heard that moving is one of the top 5 stressful events in life; even when it’s a positive step. It sounds like moving is going to be good for you – getting out of that stigmatizing small town. While that likely won’t make it easier in the moment, it sounds like you are doing something positive for you and despite the stress of it, you are getting through. Thank you for sharing your story and struggle! Remember that there is always help out there and if you need it, there is no shame in asking for that help.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s