Mental Illness: Health condition involving changes in emotions, thinking, or behavior – or all three – that lead to impaired functioning in daily living

Anosognosia: Neurological condition characterized by lack of awareness of one’s neurological deficit or psychiatric condition

Consumer, Person with Lived Experience: Individual with diagnosis who uses mental health services

Psychosis: State of not being able to distinguish reality from fantasy, involving presence of hallucinations and delusions

Rapid Cycling: In Bipolar Disorder, four or more episodes of mood disturbance within one year

Relapse: Return of symptoms after period of stability

Stigma: Set of negative and unfair beliefs that society or a group holds in relation to others or others’ circumstances.

Serious Mental Illness (SMI):  A term to describe the Axis 1 mental illnesses (see DSM, below) that cause prolonged instability and other states such as paranoia and that prevent the sufferer from taking part in normal life


Anosognosia: Neurological condition characterized by lack of awareness of one’s neurological deficit or psychiatric condition  

Anxiety disorder: Condition where worries and fears lead to nervousness and unease and which interfere with daily activities…often exacerbated by presence of imminent event where there is an uncertain outcome.

Bipolar disorder: Cyclic mood disorder with episodes of mania and depression. Bipolar 1 is differentiated from Bipolar 2 in that mania is associated with Bipolar 1, whereas both variations include depression and hypomania.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD): Disorder characterized by emotional dysregulation resulting in unstable interpersonal relationships, strong emotional affect, and a distorted sense of self

Comorbidity: Presence of two or more illnesses

Delusion: False belief which dominates individual’s thinking despite evidence to the contrary.

Depression: Mood disorder with pessimistic sense of inadequacy and despondent lack of activity

DSM: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, produced by the American Psychiatric Association, lists symptoms and diagnoses of mental illnesses. Medical professionals must use its definitions for insurance billing purposes. Certain diagnoses (Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Depression) are considered Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI).

Evidence-Based Practice (EBP): Guidelines based on clinical research 

Hallucination: Perception in which things are seen or heard which are not seen nor heard.

Hypomania: Episode of increased energy, lasting for hours or days, in which there is no loss of being in touch with reality.

Mania: Period of increased excitement or euphoria, delusions and high activity…often with decreased need for sleep, inflated self esteem, more talkativeness.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead to compulsive, often repetitive behaviors

Paranoia: Condition of thinking where individual judges other persons or situations as personally threatening.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Physiological, mental or behavioral disturbances as a result of experiencing life-threatening, traumatizing event or events. 

Schizoaffective Disorder: Condition with symptoms of both a mood and a thought disorder.

Schizophrenia: Thought disorder with difficulties differentiating reality from fantasy. Common symptoms can include delusions, aural and visual hallucinations, disordered language/thinking, paranoia, and often withdrawal

Substance Use Disorder (SUD): Impairment in social and acceptable functioning resulting from psychological and compulsive use of a legal or illegal substances.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Result of traumatic force that injuries the brain.


Psychiatrist: Medical Doctor with specialized training and legal ability to prescribe psychoactive medications. 

Psychologist: Mental health professional with specialized training in the study of mind and emotions 

LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker 

LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor 


Psychotherapy: Traditional talk therapy, which is an exploration of life events and their impact on present day coping with goals of improving that functioning

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Talk therapy used with depression and anxiety issues 

Behavior Modification: Treatment intended to reduce or eliminate negative habits and behaviors through reinforcements and rewards

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A psychosocial intervention that stresses challenging cognitive distortions, with a problem- and action-oriented focus

Crisis Residential Treatment Services: Short-term treatment in a non-hospital setting

Day Treatment: Part-time daily program involving partial hospitalization  

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): A CBT variation with a focus on emotional and cognitive regulation through a process of identifying triggers and choosing productive coping skills. Used frequently with clients diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): A therapy involving moving eyes in specific ways while processing traumatic memories

Hearing Voices Network: A global organization raising awareness of a range of ways to manage internal distressing, confusing, or difficult voices for individuals who hear voices, see or sense things that others don’t, or have other extreme or unusual beliefs. HVN encourages a more positive response to voice-hearing and related experiences in healthcare settings and wider society. It stresses working partnerships with families, professionals, community allies. They provide local resources and support meetings.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP): structured program of outpatient psychiatric services as alternative to inpatient care


Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): Non-intrusive brain stimulation using electromagnetic induction to stimulate nerve cells to improve symptoms of depression. Clinical trials are sometimes available at Stanford and perhaps at other research sites as well.

ElectroConvulsive therapy (ECT): Use of a medically-supervised electric current to induce a seizure for mental illness management.


Refractory/Treatment-Resistant: Nonresponse to therapeutic effects of a drug.

Atypical Antipsychotics: Second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) with fewer side effects than the first anti-psychotics.

Extrapyramidal Symptoms (EPS): Involuntary physical movements which may appear as side effect of meds.

Half-Life: The time it takes for half of a drug, once absorbed, to be eliminated from the body.

Long-Acting Injectables: Psychopharmaceutic medication that is taken on an other-than-daily basis, eliminating the need to make a daily decision to take a medication.

Maintenance Drug Therapy: Continuing use of therapeutic drug after it has reached maximum efficiency and is at level effective to prevent relapse.

Neurotransmitters: Nervous system chemicals that facilitate transmission of impulses across nerve synapses.

Over the Counter (OTC): over the counter medications that don’t need prescription.


AB 1424: A form that family members complete giving information about an individual’s illness history, medications, behavior, contact information, etc. Can be downloaded from site or online. It is useful to have this complete written description for medical and clinical personnel.

Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP): A downloadable document completed by an individual in a stable state which, in the possibility of an unstable episode, describes early warning signs, medication history, contact information, etc. Both the consumer and family members can keep a copy.


Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS): Law named for the California legislators who, in 1972, wrote mental health protocols that enable involuntary commitment of individuals demonstrating symptoms of mental illness. The law is now considered to be in serious need of updating.

5150 HOLD: Legal term (California Welfare and Institutions Code) authorizing involuntary 72-hour commitment on the basis of an individual being a danger to oneself or to others, or being gravely disabled.  The hold must be initiated by designated authorities.

5250 (or Riese Hearing): A 14-day extension drawn up at end of 5150 hold to determine an individual’s ability to exercise informed consent to decline or accept medication.

Child/Adult Protective Services (CPS/APS): Government agencies which are involved when there is a report of abuse or neglect.

Civil/Involuntarily Commitment: A legal process that determines that individual needs mental health services against their will.

Conservatorship: The process by which an individual is deemed unable to competently make decisions for oneself and is thus placed under the legal protection of a guardian.

Parity: Coverage for mental health services is legally mandated to be equivalent in benefits, costs and restrictions with other health services.

Special Needs Trust (SNT): A type of trust that allows a disabled individual to maintain eligibility for public benefits despite having assets that would otherwise make him or her ineligible.

Temporary Restraining Order (TRO):  A legal document prohibiting the presence of individual on designated site.


504: Rehabilitation Act document pertinent to all public education. It specifies accommodations to be made for a child with a legally-defined disability to ensure learning success.

Individual Education Plan (IEP): A document prepared by school team to define a student’s present functioning status and lay out steps to meet educational goals.

Seriously Emotionally Disturbed (SED): Term used in IEP to reflect behavioral and emotional problems that meet eligibility criteria.


ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act): The 1990 national mandate to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996): Law that set national standards to protect an individual’s medical records and other personal health information. It gives people more control over their health information and sets boundaries on use and release of health records.

HUD (Housing and Urban Development): A federal department for housing assistance, including Section 8 application for low income individuals and families.

Mental Health Services Act (MHS): California legislation (Proposition 63) passed in 2004 to expand community mental health services, with a focus on prevention, treatment, and innovation. Funded by a 1% tax on personal incomes over $1 million.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration): A department established by Congress in 1992 to improve accessibility to services through information, services and resources.

Veterans Affairs (VA): A U.S. cabinet-level department.


Disability Benefits: under age 18, medically determinable physical or mental impairment which results in marked limitations in functioning that will persist for over 12 months.  Over age 18, same definition but impairment results in inability to do substantial general activity.

Medicare: Health insurance for individuals over 65, or for those with end stage renal disease or ALS, or for individuals below age 65 who have received SSDI for 24 months

Medi-Cal: California’s Medicaid program for public health benefits, dependent on income requirements (0:138% of Federal Poverty Level)

Medi-Medi: Term used to describe dual eligibility for both Medicare and Medicaid, the joint state and federal medical payment programs: 

SSI (Supplemental Security Income): Funding source with eligibility determined by age, disability, limited means and resources

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Social Security Disability Insurance is a payroll tax-funded federal insurance program of the United States government. Funding source with eligibility determined by disability and work credits.


Services offered by Alameda County generally reflect those found in other California counties

ACBHCS (Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services): The county department dealing with issues of mental illness and substance abuse disorder (SUD)

ACCESS: County access line 1-800-491-9099, gives an overview of ACBHCS services with eligibility information.

AOT (Assisted Outreach Team): Established by Laura’s Law. If an individual meets certain eligibility requirements, a judge will compel compliance with outpatient treatment, preferably on a voluntary basis.

Family Education resource Center (FERC): An agency operated by the Alameda County Mental Health association and funded through MHSA fund. Its purpose is to provide support, education, and resources to families with a member who has a mental illness.

FSP (Full Service Partnership): Wraparound case management services for clients who have been assessed and found to need that level of support.

IHOT (In Home Outreach Team): Offers short-term outreach and engagement with the goal of providing linkage to mental health services.

Mobile Crisis Team: A multi-disciplinary team that responds to crisis and 911 calls. Depending on the jurisdiction, may or may not include law enforcement. Both county and municipal teams serve the community.