Guide to Mental Health Acronyms

scrabble letters

Sometimes mental health acronyms can seem like a bowl of alphabet soup. OCD and ADHD. BPD and PTSD. It can be difficult to keep them all straight. Many mental health disorders have long, complicated names that are much easier to refer to once shortened, but this can cause difficulties for those who aren’t sure exactly what each acronym entails. We’ve created a guide to help you better understand what some of the many mental health acronyms stand for and what they mean.

ADD: Attention deficit disorder

ADD is now an outdated term. Doctors have moved toward the term ADHD to describe individuals with ADD.

ADHD: Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder

ADHD is a brain disorder characterized by consistent inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity that causes disruptions in an individual’s school or work activities. In regard to ADHD, inattention refers to difficulty maintaining focus on the task at hand; hyperactivity refers to an inability to sit still, and impulsivity refers to actions taken without consideration or second thought.

BP: Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is often a misunderstood mental disorder. Some people refer to themselves as bipolar when they experience extreme bouts of anger or sadness, but bipolar disorder by definition is much more complex. There are four types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I disorder: Manic episodes that last at least seven days, sometimes so severe they require hospitalization, followed by a depressive episode that lasts generally two weeks. Mixed episodes (experiencing depression and manic symptoms simultaneously) are also possible.
  • Bipolar II disorder: A pattern of depressive and manic episodes, but not as severe as those experienced by individuals with bipolar I disorder.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Numerous periods of mania and depressive symptoms lasting at least two years, but episodes do not fit the severity to be categorized as a hypomanic or depressive episode.
  • Other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders: Bipolar disorder symptoms that do not fit any of the above three categories.

BPD: Borderline personality disorder

BPD is a mental disorder exhibited through extreme instability in mood, behavior, self-image and ability to function. Often this instability is accompanied by impulsivity and tumultuous relationships. Individuals with BPD oftentimes experience severe anger, anxiety and depression.

MDD: Major depressive disorder

MDD is also known simply as depression or as clinical depression and is an all-too-common mood disorder. MDD is diagnosed after two consistent weeks of low mood affecting a person’s self-image, self-esteem and outlook on life. Oftentimes this results in difficulties sleeping, eating and performing basic daily functions.

OCD: Obsessive-compulsive disorder

OCD is a disorder comprised of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are pervasive thoughts, images or ideas that cause extreme anxiety, and compulsions (or rituals) are actions that must be completed in order to reduce the feelings of anxiety. OCD is an extremely debilitating disorder that, when left untreated, can lead to major disruptions in an individual’s life.

PTSD: Post-traumatic stress disorder

PTSD occurs in individuals who have experienced a shocking, dangerous or terrifying event, such as active duty combat or sexual abuse. Fear is common during these events and generally subsides with time, but in individuals with PTSD, the extreme “fight-or-flight” response continues to kick in every time a reminder of the event occurs. Symptoms generally begin within three months of the traumatic event but sometimes do not occur until years later.



National Institute of Mental Health

“ADHD and ADD: Differences, Types, Symptoms and Severity” Healthline

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