Mental Illness: Health condition involving changes in emotions, thinking, or behavior – or all three – that lead to impaired functioning in daily living, and cause clinically significant distress.

Serious Mental Illness: A term to describe symptoms of mental illnesses (see DSM, below) that cause prolonged instability and other states such as disorganized thinking, paranoia, treatment refractory depression, and that prevent the individual from often having insight into their symptoms.  

Anosognosia: Neurological condition characterized by lack of awareness of one’s neurological deficit or psychiatric condition that often presents a serious barrier to consenting to needed treatment.

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 the resence of hallucinations (e.g., hearing voices) and delusions (e.g., maintaining a firmly held false belief).

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.


Anxiety disorder: Condition in which worries and fears lead to nervousness and unease and which interfere with daily activities, and cause clinically significant distress. Often exacerbated by the presence of an imminent event where there is an uncertain outcome.

Bipolar disorder: Cyclic mood symptoms with episodes of mania and depression. Bipolar I is differentiated from Bipolar II in that mania is associated with Bipolar I, whereas both variations include depression and hypomania (see below).

Borderline personality disorder (BPD): Disorder characterized by emotional dysregulation resulting in unstable interpersonal relationships, strong emotional affect, attention-seeking behaviors, fear of abandonment, 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 a pessimistic sense of inadequacy and despondent lack of activity. There are different types of depression, and the symptoms can mildly, moderately, or severely impact the individual.

DSM: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, produced by the American Psychiatric Association, lists symptoms and diagnoses of mental illnesses. 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 in ordinary reality.

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 an individual judges other persons or situations as personally threatening.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Physiological, mental, or behavioral disturbances that result from 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 thinking and speech, paranoia, and often, social withdrawal.

Substance Use Disorder (SUD): Excessive use of substances that result in an increase in tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

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


Interdisciplinary Team: Typically includes a psychiatric prescriber, social worker, clinical psychologist, nurse, dietician, medical prescriber, recreation therapist, chaplain, and trainees.

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

Clinical Psychologist: Mental health professional with specialized training in the study of mind and emotions who is able to perform psychological testing.

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

Day Treatment: Part-time daily program involving partial hospitalization. 

Nurse: Assists with dispensing medications, taking vital signs, and monitoring of individuals.

Occupational Therapist: A health professional who specializes in helping individuals who have an injury, illness or disability that affects their ability to undertake tasks of everyday life, such as eating showering, shopping, and going to work. 

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP): A structured program of outpatient psychiatric services that can serve as an alternative to inpatient care.

Recreational Therapist: Plans, directs, and coordinates recreation-based medical treatment programs to help maintain or improve patients’ physical, social, and emotional well-being. Engages patients in therapeutic leisure activities, such as swimming.

Social Worker: Mental health professional who assists with evaluating the psychosocial needs of the individual, and helps with discharge planning.

Chaplain: Non-denominational spiritual leader who assists with meeting an individual’s spiritual needs.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Talk therapy commonly used with depression and anxiety issues to help identify and clarify someone’s values. Can include learning how to practice mindfulness.

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

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

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. Frequently used with clients diagnosed as having Borderline Personality Disorder.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): A therapy involving processing disturbing images and memories to help the individual move past stuck points in their life.  

Psychotherapy: Talk therapy, which is an exploration of life events and their impact on present-day coping with the goal of improving that functioning.


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

Esketamine: Intranasal medication used to treat treatment refractory depression.

Ketamine: Intravenous medication used to treat treatment refractory depression.

Repeated Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS): Non-invasive brain stimulation using electromagnetic induction to stimulate nerve cells in order to improve symptoms of depression. 

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


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

Extrapyramidal Symptoms (EPS): Involuntary physical movements which may result from taking antipsychotic medication.

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

Long-Acting Injectables (LAI): Psychotropic medication that is taken by injection 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 require a prescription.

Refractory/Treatment-Resistant: Nonresponse to a therapeutic dose of a medication.


AB 1424: A form that family members can complete that gives 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 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 concerning involuntary commitment of individuals who demonstrate symptoms of mental illness and require emergent evaluation to determine if they are in need of acute hospitalization. 

5150 HOLD: Legal term (California Welfare and Institutions Code) authorizing an involuntary 72-hour commitment on the basis of an individual being a danger to themself  or to others, gravely disabled, or unable to care for themself due to substance use.  The hold must be initiated by law enforcement or other designated authorities.

5250 (or Riese Hearing): A 14-day extension drawn up at end of 5150 hold, if needed, to determine an individual’s ability to remain in the treatment facility.  

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

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

Conservatorship: The process by which an individual is deemed unable to competently make decisions for themselves due to an underlying medical or mental health condition. If granted, a guardian is able to make some medical and legal decisions on behalf of the individual.  

Temporary Conservatorship (T-Con): Typically appointed for a short period of time (30-60 days) giving a legal guardian the ability to make decisions for the individual’s living arrangements, and/or their finances.

Laura’s Law: A California state law that allows for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment. Laura’s Law is designed specifically to help individuals with mental illness who suffer from a condition known as anosognosia, a complete lack of awareness of their mental illness. To qualify for the program, the person must have a serious mental illness plus a recent history of psychiatric hospitalizations, jailings, or acts, threats or attempts of serious violent behavior towards self or others.

Parity: Legal mandate requiring coverage for mental health services to be equivalent in benefits, costs, and restrictions with other types of 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 or in proximity to a particular person.


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

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

Seriously Emotionally Disturbed (SED): Term used 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 Department): A federal department that oversees 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.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): A U.S. cabinet-level department to help military veterans and their families receive medical, mental health, housing, and other benefits.


Disability Benefits: For those under age 18, eligibility depends on findings of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that results in marked limitations in functioning that will persist for over 12 months. For those over age 18, eligibility depends on findings of an impairment that 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 (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.  Eligibility is 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.

CARE Court: Provides the ability for a loved one, friend, mental health professional, or first responder to request that the court mandate treatment for an individual with severe and persistent mental illness who otherwise refuses treatment.

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

FSP (Full Service Partnership) / Assertive Community Treatment: 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.