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Psychiatric diagnosis is divided into five parts, called axes.  They are the following:


  • Axis I is the acute diagnosis (such as Major Depression, Schizoaffective Disorder, etc.).

  • Axis II is an underlying personality disorder (such as Paranoid Personality, Antisocial Personality, etc.).

  • Axis III includes any relevant medical non-psychiatric diagnoses.

  • Axis IV describes the patient’s social functioning and the impact of symptoms on the patient’s life.

  • Axis V describes the level of function of the patient.

 Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illnesses.  The main types are phobias, panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  People who suffer from phobias experience extreme fear or dread from a particular object or situation.   Panic disorders involve sudden, intense feelings of terror for no apparent reason and symptoms similar to heart attacks.  People with obsessive-compulsive disorder try to cope with anxiety by repeating words or phrases or by repeating ritualistic behavior (such as constant hand washing).  Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor (sexual assault, physical attack, robbery, and natural disasters) and causes the patient to constantly re-experience the traumatic event (through dreams, flashbacks, etc.).

 Mood Disorders include depression and bipolar disorder (or manic depression).  Symptoms may include mood swings such as extreme sadness or elation, sleep and eating disturbances, and changes in activity and energy levels.  Suicide may be a risk with these disorders.

Schizophrenia is a serious disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts.  It is believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that produces a variety of symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, withdrawal, incoherent speech and impaired reasoning.

Dementias include diseases like Alzheimer’s which lead to loss of mental functions, including memory loss and a decline in intellectual and physical skills.

Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa and bulimia which involve serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses.  People with these disorders have a preoccupation with food and an irrational fear of being fat.

Personality Disorders, Axis II diagnoses, are defined as inflexible and maladaptive patterns of behavior.  They include such disorders as borderline personality (instability in relationships, moods, and self image), dependent personality (complete lack of self-confidence), narcissistic disorder (grandiose view of themselves and what they are able to accomplish), antisocial personality (chronic antisocial behavior and violation of the law and rights of others), and many others.

Substance Abuse Disorders include the uncontrolled use of alcohol and other substances (illicit drugs, prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications).  Substance abuse and/or dependence can affect job performance, cause relationship problems, and lead to legal problems.  Treatment facilities for substance abuse disorders operate on both an inpatient and outpatient basis.  Self-help programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are also available.

To research information on a specific diagnosis, go to and enter “disorders” in the search engine.  This site contains information from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

For question, comments and/or suggestions, email NMSH .
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