Top Misunderstood Mental Health Conditions

Ever feel like someone just throws around words but doesn’t know what they really mean?
That’s how I feel about certain mental health disorders mentioned in the news or pop psychology articles. Let’s talk about the top five -in an unscientific poll- misunderstood mental health disorders .


What people think it means: It’s a mental health disorder in itself, where someone wants to kill or cause violence.

What it really is: Psychosis is a symptom of other diseases, and not a disease in and of itself. Psychotic thinking COULD involve violence, but it’s a group of symptoms that are virtually separating someone from what’s actually happening in their world. This involves hallucinations, delusions, extreme suspicion, and paranoid thinking.

Norman Bates from “Psycho”

Bipolar Disorder

What people think it means: Really fast mood changes. Being really happy one moment, really sad the next. Being really friendly one minute, really angry the next.

What it really is: a mood disorder that’s characterized by MONTHS of either really elevated mood called mania  (think of the happiest moment in your life and not being able to tame that energy), a period of “normal” mood, and a period of clinical depression.  The extreme moods last over months at a time before switching to the opposite mood. There’s Bipolar 1, where the manic phase and depressive phase are relatively equal in length and extremity. With Bipolar 2, the manic phase is hypomanic, which is elevated in energy but not as extreme as full blown mania. The depression phase also lasts longer.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What people think it means: obsessing over a specific detail or ritual because not doing so makes someone feel uncomfortable. “I need to make my bed before I leave the house. I am OCD about it.”  

What it really means: A cognitive disorder where a specific ritual must be completed or the person feels that his or her life is severely endangered to a degree. Imagine having a panic attack, profusely sweating and crying on the inside because you were forced to leave the house without making your bed. Or you made it six times but not the required seven.


What people think it means: having different personalities or really opposite behaviors that make no sense. “Congress is schizophrenic: one day they want a wall, the next day they don’t care about border security!”

What it really means: A thought processing disorder that can involve numerous symptoms to a degree, to include auditory hallucinations, delusions of grandeur (being an expert or #1 in an area where they have no formal training or experience), confusing sentence structure, and extreme paranoia. The behavior can be so bizarre it can be confused with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), where a person has different, separate personalities that take over, often as a means of protection for the original person.

Recommended Movie: The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx as a master violinist who becomes homeless when his schizophrenia goes untreated. Check out the trailer at this link on Amazon. If you have Prime, it’s include in your membership.


What people think it means: being obsessed or extremely proud of one’s self to where no one else really matters.

What it really means: it’s much, much more involved than self-liking to a point of arrogance. There’s a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, lack of empathy for other people, and  a need to be constantly admired. True narcissists tend to exaggerate accomplishments and feel entitled to whatever they want based on his or her greatness. They have a hard time accepting someone is better than them at something. Even when they are “friends” with that person, it only lasts until the narcissist believes he has become better. Extreme vengeance is also something narcissists will obsess over if they are proven wrong or feel publicly insulted.

Recommended Reading: Re-thinking Narcisissm by Craig Malkin

My next few podcasts-titled “Inconceivable”- will focus on a few of these misunderstood disorders, treatment options, and how you can provide support if you know someone with the actual diagnosis.

Less Stress/More Success,


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