Mental health glossary

The Tell-Tale Brain has an excellent glossary at the back. Here are a few of the terms he defines:

AGNOSIA A rare disorder characterized by an inability to recognize and identify objects and people even though the specific sensory modality (such as vision or hearing) is not defective nor is there any significant loss of memory or intellect.

ALIEN-HAND SYNDROME The feeling that one’s hand is possessed by an uncontrollable outside force resulting in its actual movement. The syndrome usually stems from an injury to the corpus collosum or anterior cingulate.

AMNESIA A condition in which memory is impaired or lost. Two of the most common forms are anterograde amnesia (the inability to acquire new memories) and retrograde amnesia (the loss of preexisting memories).

ANOSOGNOSIA A syndrome in which a person who suffers a disability seems unaware of, or denies the existence of, the disability. (Anosognosia is Greek for “denial of illness.”)

APHASIA A disturbance in language comprehension or production, often as a result of a stroke. There are three main kinds of aphasia: anomia (difficulty finding words), Broca’s aphasia (difficulty with grammar, more specifically the deep structure of language), and Wernicke’s aphasia (difficulty with comprehension and expression of meaning).

APOTEMNOPHILIA A neurological disorder in which an otherwise mentally competent person desires to have a healthy limb amputated in order to “feel whole.” The old Freudian explanation was that the patient wants a large amputation stump resembling a penis. Also called body integrity identity disorder.

APRAXIA A neurological condition characterized by an inability to carry out learned purposeful movements despite knowing what is expected and having the physical ability and desire to do so.

ASPERGER SYNDROME A type of autism in which people have normal language skills and cognitive development but have significant problems with social interaction.

AUTISM One of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders that appear early in life, usually before age three. While symptoms and severity vary, autistic children have problems communicating and interacting with others. The disorder may be related to defects in the mirror-neuron system or the circuits it projects to, although this has yet to be clearly established.

BIPOLAR DISORDER A psychiatric disorder characterized by wild mood swings. Individuals experience manic periods of high energy and creativity and depressed periods of low energy and sadness. Also called manic depressive disorder.

BLINDSIGHT A condition in some patients who are effectively blind because of damage to the visual cortex but can carry out tasks which would ordinarily appear to be impossible unless they can see the objects. For instance they can point out an object and accurately describe whether a stick is vertical or horizontal, even though they can’t consciously perceive the object. The explanation appears to be that visual information travels along two pathways in the brain: the old pathway and the new pathway. If only the new pathway is damaged, a patient may lose the ability to see an object but still be aware of its location and orientation.

CAPGRAS SYNDROME A rare syndrome in which the person is convinced that close relatives—usually parents, spouse, children or siblings—are imposters. It may be caused by damage to connections between areas of the brain dealing with face recognition and those handling emotional responses. Someone with Capgras syndrome might recognize the faces of loved ones but not feel the emotional reaction normally associated with that person. Also called Capgras delusion.

COTARD SYNDROME A disorder in which a patient asserts that he or she is dead, even claiming to smell rotting flesh or worms crawling over the skin (or some other equally absurd delusion). It may be an exaggerated form of the Capgras syndrome, in which not just one sensory area (such as face recognition) but all sensory areas are cut off from the limbic system, leading to a complete lack of emotional contact with the world and with oneself.

KORO A disorder that purportedly afflicts young Asian men who develop the delusion that their penises are shrinking and may eventually drop off. The converse of this syndrome—aging Caucasian men who develop the delusion that their penises are expanding—is much more common (as noted by our colleague Stuart Anstis). But it has not been officially given a name.

PHANTOM LIMB The perceived existence of a limb lost through accident or amputation.

SYNESTHESIA A condition in which a person literally perceives something in a sense besides the sense being stimulated, such as tasting shapes or seeing colors in sounds or numbers. Synesthesia is not just a way of describing experiences as a writer might use metaphors; some synesthetes actually experience the sensations.

TEMPORAL LOBE EPILEPSY (TLE) Seizures confined mainly to the temporal lobes and sometimes the anterior cingulate. TLE may produce a heightened sense of self and has been linked to religious or spiritual experiences. The person may undergo striking personality changes and/or become obsessed with abstract thoughts. People with TLE have a tendency to ascribe deep significance to everything around them, including themselves. One explanation is that repeated seizures may strengthen the connections between two areas of the brain: the temporal cortex and the amygdala. Interestingly, people with TLE tend to be humorless, a characteristic also seen in seizure-free religious people.


2 Responses to Mental health glossary

  1. Alberto says:

    The Stroke entry has somehow been cut.

  2. molivam42 says:

    Thanks, Alberto. I hadn’t meant to include stroke in the glossary.

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