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Glossary of Psychiatry

Psychiatry is full of unusual and unfamiliar terms. This psychiatric glossary explains the most common of these terms used in psychiatry.


Addiction: Adjustment Disorder: Affect: Agnosia :Agoraphobia: Akathisia: Amnesia: Anorexia nervosa : Anxiety : Asthenia

Bulimia nervosa

Compulsion : Confabulation : Cyclothymia
Dejà vu : Delirium : Delusion : Delusional Mood : Delusional Perception : Dementia : Depersonalisation : Depression : Derealisation : Dyskinesia: Dyspraxia
Echolalia : Echopraxia
First Rank Symptoms : Flight of Ideas : Frontal Lobe Syndrome
Hallucination : Hypomania
Illusion : Insight
Jamais vu
Korsakoff's Syndrome
Made phenomena : Mania
Neologism : Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome
Parietal lobe signs : Passivity phenomena : Perseveration
Schizophasia : Seasonal Affective Disorder
Tardive dyskinesia : Thought blocking : Thought broadcasting : Thought disorder : Thought echo : Thought insertion : Thought withdrawal
Word Salad



An organism's psychological or physical dependence on a drug, characterised by tolerance and withdrawal.

Adjustment disorder

A pathological psychological reaction to trauma, loss or severe stress. Usually these last less than six months, but may be prolonged if the stressor e.g. pain or scarring is enduring.


A person's affect is their immediate emotional state which the person can recognise subjectively and which can also be recognised objectively by others. A person's mood is their predominant current affect.


An inability to organise sensory information so as to recognise objects (e.g. visual agnosia) or sometimes even parts of the body, (e.g. hemisomatoagnosia).


Fear of the marketplace literally; taken now to be a fear of public of public places associated with panic disorder.


An inner feeling of excessive restlessness which provokes the sufferer to fidget in their seat or pace about.


A partial of complete loss of memory. Anterograde amnesia is a loss of memory subsequent to any cause e.g. brain trauma. Retrograde amnesia is a loss of memory for a period of time prior to any cause.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by excess control - a morbid fear of obesity leads the sufferer to try and limit or reduce their weight by excessive dieting, exercising, vomiting, purging and use of diuretics. Sufferers are typically more than 15% below the average weight for their height/sex/age. Typically they have amenorrhoea (if female) or low libido (if male). 1-2% of female teenagers are anorexic.


Anxiety is provoked by fear or apprehension and also results from a tension caused by conflicting ideas or motivations. Anxiety manifests through mental and somatic symptoms such as palpitations, dizziness, hyperventilation, and faintness.


Asthenia is a weakness or debility of some form, hence neurasthenia, a term for an illness seen by dctors around the turn of the century, a probable precursor to chronic fatigue syndrome and myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

Bulimia nervosa

Described by Russell in 1979, bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by lack of control. Abnormal eating behaviour including dieting, vomiting, purging and particularly bingeing may be associated with normal weight or obesity. The syndrome is associated with guilt, depressed mood, low self-esteem and sometimes with childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism and promiscuity. May be asociated with oesophageal ulceration and parotid swelling (Green's chubby chops sign).


The behavioural component of an obsession. The individual feels compelled to repeat a behaviour which has no immediate benefit beyond reducing the anxiety associated with the obsessional idea. For instance for a person obsessed by the idea that they are dirty, repeated ritual handwashing may serve to reduce anxiety.


Changing, loosely held and false memories created to fill in organically-derived amnesia


A variability of mood over days or weeks, cycling from positive to negative mood states. The variability is not as severe in amplitude or duration as to be classified as a major affective disorder.

Dejà vu

Haven't you been here before?
An abnormal experience where an individual feels that a particular or unique event has happened before in exactly the same way.


An acute organic brain syndrome secondary to physical causes in which consciousness is affected and disorientation results often associated with illusions, visual hallucinations and persecutory ideation.


An incorrect belief which is out of keeping with the person's cultural context, intelligence and social background and which is held with unshakeable conviction.

Delusional mood

Also known as wahnstimmung, a feeling that something unusual is about to happen of special significance for that person.

Delusional perception

A normal perception which has become highly invested with significance and which has become incorporated into a delusional system, e.g. 'when I saw the traffic lights turn red I knew that the dog I was walking was a Nazi and a lesbian Nazi at that'.


An chronic organic mental illness which produces a global deterioration in cognitive abilities and which usually runs a deteriorating course.


An experience where the self is felt to be unreal, detached from reality or different in some way. Depersonalisation can be triggered by tiredness, dissociative episodes or partial epileptic seizures.


An affective disorder characterised by a profound and persistent sadness.


An experience where the person perceives the world around them to be unreal. The experience is linked to depersonalisation.


Abnormal movements as in tardive dyskinesia a late onset onet of abnormal involuntary movements. Tardive dyskinesia is conventionally thought a late side effect of first generation antipsychotics, but some abnormal movements were seen in schizophrenia before the introduction of antipsychotics.


A dyspraxia is a difficulty with a previously learnt or acquired movement or skill. An example might be a dressing dyspraxia or a constructional dyspraxia. Dyspraxias tend to indicate cortical damage, particularly in the parietal lobe region.


A speech disorder in which the person inappropriately and automatically repeats the last words he or she has heard. Palilalia is a form of echolalia in which the last syllable heard is repeated endlessly.


A movement disorder in which the person automatically and inappropriately imitates or mirrors the movements of another.

First rank symptoms

Schneider classified the most characteristic symptoms of schizophrenia as first-rank features of schizophrenia. These included third person auditory hallucinations, thought echo, thought interference (insertion, withdrawal, and broadcasting), delusional perception and passivity phenomena.

Flight of ideas

In mania and hypomania thoughts become pressured and ideas may race from topic to topic, guided sometimes only by rhymes or puns. Ideas are associated though, unlike thought disorder.

Frontal lobe syndrome

This follows frontal lobe damage or may be consequent upon a lesion such as a tumour of infarction. There is a lack judgement, a coarsening of personality, disinhibition, pressure of speech, lack of planning ability, and sometimes apathy. Perseveration and a return of the grasp reflex may occur.


An abnormal sensory experience that arises in the absence of a direct external stimulus, and which has the qualities of a normal percept and is experienced as real and usually in external space. Hallucinations may occur in any sensory modality.


An affective disorder characterised by elation, overactivity, an insomnia.


An abnormal perception caused by a sensory misinterpretation of and actual stimulus, sometimes precipitated by strong emotion, e.g. fear provoking a person to imagine they have seen an intruder in the shadows.


In psychotic mental disorders and organic brain syndromes a patient's insight into whether or not they are ill and therefore requiring treatment may be affected. In depression a person may lack insight into their best qualities and in mania a person may overestimate their wealth and abilities.

Jamais vu

An abnormal experience where an individual feels that a routine or familiar event has never happened before. (See Dejà vu).

Korsakoff's Syndrome

A syndrome of amnesia and confabulation following chronic alcoholism. Short-term memory is particularly affected.Named after the Russian psychiatrist Korsakoff.

Made experiences

See 'Passivity phenomena'.


An affective disorder characterised by intense euphoria, overactivity and loss of insight.


A novel word often invented and used in schizophrenic thought disorder.

Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome

A syndrome ascribed to neuroleptics. The syndrome includes hyperpyrexia (temperature over 39 degrees Celsius), autonomic instability and muscular rigidity. The syndrom is not dose related and appears to be related to a very wide variety of substances including antidepressants, antipsychotics and lithium. There is a significant risk of mortality. Whether the syndrome is a variant of the lethal catatonia syndrome (described before the advent of modern neuroleptics) is a debated point.


An unpleasant or nonsensical thought which intrudes into a person's mind, despite a degree of resistance by the person who recognises the thought as pointless or senseless, but nevertheless a product of their own mind. Obsessions may be accompanied by compulsive behaviours which serve to reduce the associated anxiety.

Parietal Lobe signs

Parietal lobe signs include various agnosias (such as visual agnosias, sensory neglect, and tactile agnosias), dyspraxias (such as dressing dyspraxia), body image disturbance, and hemipareses or hemiplegias.

Passivity phenomena

In these phenomena the individual feels that some aspect of themselves is under the external control of another or others. These may therefore include 'made acts and impulses' where the individual feels they are being made to do something by another, 'made movements' where their arms or legs feel as if they are moving under another's control, 'made emotions' where they are experiencing someone else's emotions, and 'made thoughts' which are categorised elsewhere as thought insertion and withdrawal.


Describes an inappropriate repetition of some behaviour or thought or speech. Echolalia is an example of perseverative speech. Talking exclusively on one subject might be described as perseveration on a theme. Perseveration of thought indicates an inability to switch ideas, so that in an interview a patient may continue to give the same responses to later questions as he did to earlier ones. Perseveration is sometimes a feature of frontal lobe lesions.


A severe form of thought disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

A form of depressive illness only occurring during winter months, associated with overeating and sleepiness. Responsive to antidepressants and phototherapy. Little researched and scientifically controversial.

Tardive dyskinesia

An abnormal involuntary movement disorder which may manifest as lipsmacking bucco-lingual movements or grimacing, truncal movements or athetoid limb movements.

Thought blocking

The unpleasant experience of having one's train of thought curtailed absolutely, often more a sign than a symptom.

Thought broadcasting

The experience that one's thoughts are being transmitted from one's mind and broadcast to everyone.

Thought disorder

A disorder of the form of thought, where associations between ideas are lost or loosened.

Thought echo

Where thoughts are heard as if spoken aloud, when there is some delay these are known as echo de la pensée and when heard simultaneously, Gedankenlautwerden.


Thought insertion

The experience of alien thoughts being inserted into the mind.

Thought withdrawal

The experience of thoughts being removed or extracted from one's mind.

Word salad

A severe form of thought disorder.


Copyright Material
Psychiatry On-Line, 1995-2007.
Version 6.0 Amended: 2007

First Published 1995

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