Center for Mental Health in Schools
Continuing Education

Addressing Barriers to Learning:
New Directions for
Mental Health in Schools

Key Terms Related to Mental Health and Psychosocial Problems
E - M


eating disorder
Marked disturbance in eating behavior. In DSM-IV, this category includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorder not otherwise specified.
Parrot-like repetition of overheard words or fragments of speech. It may be part of a developmental disorder, a neurologic disorder, or schizophrenia. Echolalia tends to be repetitive and persistent and is often uttered with a mocking, mumbling, or staccato intonation.
Insightful awareness, including the meaning and significance of the feelings, emotions, and behavior of another person. Contrast with sympathy.
encopresis, functional
An elimination disorder in a child who is at least 4 years of age, consisting of repeated passage of feces into inappropriate places (clothing, floor, etc.) and not due to a general medical condition.
enuresis, functional
An elimination disorder in a child who is at least 5 years of age, consisting of repeated voiding of urine into bed or clothing, and not due to any general medical condition.


fetal alcohol syndrome
A congenital disorder resulting from alcohol teratogenicity (i.e., the production, actual or potential, of pathological changes in the fetus, most frequently in the form of normal development of one or more organ systems; commonly referred to as birth defects), with the following possible dysmorphic categories: central nervous system dysfunction, birth deficiencies (such as low birth weight), facial abnormalities, and variable major and minor malformations. A safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy has not been established, and it is generally advisable for women to refrain from alcohol use during pregnancy.


One of the paraphilias, characterized by marked distress over, or acting on, sexual urges involving the use of nonliving objects (fetishes), such as underclothing, stockings, or boots.
Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder or posthallucinogen perception disorder; reexperiencing, after ceasing the use of a hallucinogen, one or more of the perceptual symptoms that had been part of the hallucinatory experience while using the drug.
flight of ideas
An early continuous flow of accelerated speech with abrupt changes from one topic to another, usually based on understandable associations, distracting stimuli, or playing on words. When severe, however, this may lead to disorganized and incoherent speech. Flight of ideas is characteristic of manic episodes, but it may occur also in organic mental disorders, schizophrenia, other psychoses, and, rarely, acute reactions to stress.
A behavior therapy procedure for phobias and other problems involving maladaptive anxiety, in which anxiety producers are presented in intense forms, either in imagination or in real life. The presentations, which act as desensitizers, are continued until the stimuli no longer produce disabling anxiety.


gender identity disorder
One of the major groups of sexual and gender identity disorders, characterized by a strong and persistent identification with the opposite sex (cross-gender identification) and discomfort with one's assigned sex or a sense of inappropriateness in that gender role. Although onset is usually in childhood or adolescence, the disorder may not be presented clinically until adulthood. Manifestations include a repeated desire to be of the opposite sex, insistence that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the opposite sex, a belief that one was born the wrong sex, and transsexualism or preoccupation with one's primary and secondary sex characteristics in order to simulate the opposite sex.


A sensory perception in the absence of an actual external stimulus; to be distinguished from an illusion, which is a misperception or misinterpretation of an external stimulus. Hallucinations may involve any of the senses.
auditory hallucination
Perception of sound, most frequently of voices but sometimes of clicks or other noises.
olfactory hallucination
Perception of odor such as of burning rubber or decaying fish.
Perception of a physical sensation within the body such as a feeling of electricity running through one's body.
visual hallucination
Perception of being touched or of something being under one's skin such as the sensation of pins being stuck into one's finger. The sensation of something crawling under one's skin is called formication; it occurs most frequently in alcohol withdrawal syndrome and in cocaine withdrawal.
visual hallucination
Perception of an image such as people (formed) or a flash of light (unformed).
Excessive motor activity that may be purposeful or aimless; movements and utterances are usually more rapid than normal. Hyperactivity is a prominent feature of attention-deficit disorder, so much so that in DSM-IV the latter is called attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Overbreathing sometimes associated with anxiety and marked by a reduction of blood carbon dioxide, producing complaints of light-headedness, faintness, tingling of the extremities, palpitations, and respiratory distress.
A psychopathological state and abnormality of mood falling somewhere between normal euphoria and mania. It is characterized by unrealistic optimism, pressure of speech and activity, and a decreased need for sleep. Some people show increased creativity during hypomanic states, whereas others show poor judgment, irritability and irascibility.


identity crisis
A loss of the sense of the sameness and historical continuity of one's self and an inability to accept or adopt the role one perceives as being expected by society. This is often expressed by isolation, withdrawal, extremism, rebelliousness, and negativity, and is typically triggered by a sudden increase in the strength of instructional drives in a milieu of rapid social evolution and technological change.
impulse control disorders
Failing to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation to perform some act that is harmful to oneself or to others. The impulse may be resisted consciously, but it is consonant with the person', immediate, conscious wish. The act may be premeditated or unplanned. The person may display regret or guilt for the action or its consequences.

In DSM-IV, this category includes pathological gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, intermittent explosive disorder, and trichotillomania.

inhalant use disorders
In DSM-IV, this group includes inhalant dependence, inhalant abuse, inhalant intoxication, inhalant delirium, inhalant persisting dementia, inhalant psychotic disorder with delusions or hallucinations, inhalant mood disorder, and inhalant anxiety disorder.


Rapidly shifting (as applied to emotions); unstable.


Bipolar disorder; a mood disorder characterized by excessive elation, inflated self-esteem and grandiosity, hyperactivity, agitation, and accelerated thinking and speaking. Flight of ideas may be present. A manic syndrome may also occur in organic mental disorder,.
Formerly used as a nonspecific term for any type of "madness." Currently used as a suffix to indicate a morbid preoccupation with some kind of idea or activity, and/or a compulsive need to behave in some deviant way. Some examples are as follows:
Pathological preoccupation with self.
The delusion that one is loved by a particular person.
Compulsion to steal.
Grandiose delusions of power, wealth, or fame.
Pathological preoccupation with one subject.
Pathological preoccupation with dead bodies.


Abnormal and excessive need or desire in the woman for sexual intercourse; see satyriasis.
Compulsion to set fires; an impulse control disorder.
Compulsion to pull one's own hair out; an impulse disorder.
manic episode
A distinct period of time (usually lasting at least 1 week) of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood accompanied by such symptoms as inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, overtalkativeness or pressured speech, flight of ideas or feeling that thoughts are racing, inattentiveness and distractibility, increased goal-directed activity (e.g., at work or school, socially or sexually), and involvement in pleasurable activities with high potential for painful consequences (e.g., buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, foolish business ventures). See bipolar disorders.
manic-depressive illness
A term often used synonymously with bipolar disorder, as defined in DSM-IV.
mental health
A state of being that is relative rather than absolute. The best indices of mental health are simultaneous success at working, loving, and creating, with the capacity for mature and flexible resolution of conflicts between instincts, conscience, important other people, and reality.
mental status examination
The process of estimating psychological and behavioral function by observing the patient, eliciting his or her self-description, and using formal questioning. Included in the examination are 1) evaluation and assessment of any psychiatric condition present, including provisional diagnosis and prognosis, determination of degree of impairment, suitability for treatment, and indications for particular types of therapeutic intervention; 2) formulation of the personality structure of the subject, which may suggest the historical and developmental antecedents of whatever psychiatric condition exists; and 3) estimation of the subject's ability and willingness to participate appropriately in treatment. The mental status is reported in a series of narrative statements describing such things as affect, speech, thought content, perception, and cognitive functions. The mental status examination is part of the general examination of all patients, although it may be markedly abbreviated in the absence of psychopathology.
mood disorders
In DSM-IV, this category includes depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, mood disorder due to a general medical condition, and substance-induced (intoxication/withdrawal) mood disorder.
mood swing
Fluctuation of a person's emotional tone between periods of elation and periods of depression.
mutism, selective
Elective mutism; a disorder of infancy, childhood, or adolescence characterized by persistent failure to speak in specific social situations by a child with demonstrated ability to speak. The mutism is not due to lack of fluency in the language being spoken or embarrassment about a speech problem.