4 mental-health disorders you probably don’t know much about — and one that will shock you

There are no flashy education campaigns or celebrities talking about these lesser known mental-health disorders, but they're very real to many people. Getty Images

The conversation around mental-health disorders has been more vocal in recent years and it’s not a moment too soon. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will experience a mental-health issue in any given year, and 8 per cent of adults will experience an episode of major depression in their lifetime.

We have education on the importance of mental health to thank for giving the conversation a voice, as much as we do pop culture, social media and celebrities — just look at Kanye West’s latest album.

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But while depression, suicide and bipolar disorder are well-known terms and their symptoms relatively well-documented, there is a host of other illnesses that go largely unmentioned and misunderstood.

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Here are five notable mental-health disorders that you may not know much about, but that can come with real repercussions.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder affects an estimated two per cent of the population, 75 per cent of whom are women. Its name derives from the early belief that this disorder was on the border of psychosis and neurosis.

This illness is characterized primarily by a pattern of volatile moods and self-image that results in impulsive behaviours, unstable relationships and seeing things in extremes. People with borderline personality disorder may experience intense bouts of anger, depression and anxiety that could last for days. They also have high rates of self-harming behaviours, like cutting, and have high suicide risk, especially in their teens to early adulthood.

Complex PTSD

Most of us are familiar with the acronym PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which is attributed to people who experience a stressful or traumatizing event that leaves them feeling, among other things, depressed, aggressive and emotionally detached. The difference with Complex PTSD is that it’s the result of being exposed to chronic trauma over months or even years.

These people report the same symptoms as those diagnosed with PTSD, in addition to others including an inability to regulate emotions (they may feel persistent sadness or explosive anger), and having a distorted perception of their perpetrator that can lead to becoming preoccupied with their relationship or with revenge.

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Examples of experiences that could cause Complex PTSD include time spent as a prisoner of war, or extended domestic or child sexual abuse.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, DID is the result of a person’s personality being split into two or more distinct states, and is largely associated with people who have undergone severe abuse.

Much in the way that an ordinary person might dissociate from a moment by getting caught up in a daydream, this is a severe form of the process that allows the person to distance themselves from a situation or experience that’s too traumatic or violent to cope with in their conscious state. One of its most defining traits is the propensity for amnesia that goes beyond forgetfulness.

“It’s common [for people with DID] to find they’ve hurt themselves but don’t remember doing that,” Bethany Brand, a professor of psychology at Towson University in Maryland said to Psych Central. “They have different ways of being themselves, which we all do to some extent, but people with DID cannot always recall what they do or say while in their different states.”
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DID is considered a controversial diagnosis for a number of reasons, including that since it is thought to stem from early abuse, it’s unknown how much of what the victim remembers is true or fabricated.

Auditory hallucinations

More commonly known as hearing voices, it is estimated that anywhere from five to 28 per cent of the population experiences this disorder. While it is usually associated with schizophrenia, it can also occur in people who are otherwise healthy.

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The voices have been described as sounding like someone standing nearby or thought-like musings, and are associated with both positive and negative feelings.

In a small study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the majority of respondents associated fear, depression, anxiety and stress with the voices, but 31 per cent reported positive emotions. The study also found that auditory hallucinations can have a physical manifestation.

Two-thirds of respondents reported changes in bodily experiences when they heard voices, Angela Woods, senior lecturer in medical humanities at Durham University (which co-produced the study with Stanford University) wrote in The Conversation.

“My body and brain felt like they were on fire when I heard the voices,” one participant wrote. “I had constant tingling sensations throughout my extremities and shock-like sensations in my solar plexus.”

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These voices were more likely to be violent and linked to past abuse. The study authors used this as a basis to conclude that auditory hallucinations are not always a result of an underlying mental disorder, which could help shape treatment for people who suffer from them.

Paris Syndrome

This is probably the most bizarre and seemingly unbelievable mental-health issue you’ve never heard of — yet, it’s very real to the roughly 20 Japanese people who suffer from it every year.

It’s called Paris Syndrome and is considered a case of extreme culture shock experienced largely by Japanese people who travel to the city and are disappointed that it didn’t live up to their expectations. Symptoms include severe delusion, hallucinations, dizziness, sweating and feelings of persecution.

It’s an insular affliction that affects a small handful of people per year, but a study was conducted on the condition and published in the French journal Nervure in 2004. Led by Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France at the time, it was concluded that much of this “delusion” was attributable to exhaustion from the long-haul flight.

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“It is clear that some people who have travelled long distances may not cope particularly well with both the travel itself and the change in cultural, social and physical environment,” Dr. Nicolas Geeraert, a psychologist at the University of Essex in the U.K., told IFL Science. “It is not inconceivable that such an event may be the trigger or the onset of a previously undetected latent mental disorder.”

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In fairness, nowhere in the tourism brochures is it guaranteed that a visit to Paris will automatically result in joie de vivre.

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