Glossary of Definitions
The human services profession uses many terms and definitions. It is essential that the individuals we serve and their families, as well as our staff and partners, share a mutual understanding of these terms. The following definitions are drawn from a standard dictionary:
Mental Illness: Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors. Also called emotional illness, mental disease, or mental disorder.
Developmental Disability: Subnormal intellectual development as a result of congenital causes, brain injury, or disease and characterized by any various cognitive deficiencies, including learning, social, and vocational deficiency.
Autism: A complex developmental disability that typically appears within the first three years of life. The neurological disorder is characterized by marked deficits in communication and social interaction, preoccupation with fantasy, language impairment, and abnormal behavior, such as repetitive acts and excessive attachment to certain objects. Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls and knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries.
Schizophrenia: A chronic and often disabling brain disease characterized by distorted perceptions of reality; hallucinations and illusions; delusions; disordered thinking; and/or flat emotional expression. There is no known cause for schizophrenia, though it has been found to run in families. It is likely, though not proven, that schizophrenia is associated with some imbalance of the interrelated chemical system of the brain.
Bipolar Disorder: A psychiatric disorder marked by alternating episodes of mania and depression. Also called bipolar illness or manic-depressive illness.
Paranoia: A psychotic disorder characterized by delusions of persecution with or without grandeur, often strenuously defended with apparent logic and reason. Extreme, irrational distrust of others.