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Decoding your mental health placement

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Like all hospital settings, mental health units are full of jargon. Feeling confused? Let us help

Some of the words you come across on your mental health placement you might have already heard on TV or through the media but be unsure of the clinical meaning.

It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with common mental health terms before your placement starts. This will help you feel more confident when working with this client group.

What are delusions?

A delusion is an irrational belief that is not true. Somene experiencing delusions cannot be persuaded that they are mistaken, even when they are shown evidence. Common delusions include:

  • Grandiose delusions (aka grandiosity or delusions of grandeur). A person believes himself or herself to be more important in some way than they actually are. They may believe that they are a religious figure; a celebrity or that they have powers.
  • Paranoid delusions (aka persecutory delusions). Beliefs that others are taking an abnormal amount of interest in them. They may feel they are being watched or followed or that others are talking about them.

What are hallucinations?

People experience hallucinations when one or more senses cause them to misinterpret reality. Although the person may be aware that the hallucination is not real, they appear is if they are really happening. This can affect any or all senses:

  • Auditory. Hearing sounds or voices that others cannot hear.
  • Visual. Seeing things, such as shadows or figures, which are not there.
  • Olfactory. Smelling something not present.
  • Gustatory. Tasting something you are not eating.
  • Tactile. Feeling sensations without stimulus.

What is psychosis?

Psychosis and schizophrenia are not the same thing. Psychosis is used to describe symptoms someone with schizophrenia, or other mental health problems, may experience; such as those described above. Generally speaking, psychosis is experienced as a distortion of reality. A person is described as psychotic when their perception of the world is altered.

What does “responding” mean?

Nurses and doctors will often describe a patient’s behaviour as responding. In full this is ‘responding to unseen (or internal) stimuli”. It can be difficult to tell if a person is having psychotic experiences but often their behaviour will indicate when they are. This could be watching something that others cannot see, speaking or laughing when no-one else is around or even a behaviour you might not expect such as walking backwards.

What is thought disorder?

A person is described as being thought disordered when they are not able to keep their train of thought. This can make conversation very difficult and be frustrating for the person affected. Often you can judge if this is happening to a person by the way they interact. Common examples of thought disorder include:

  • Flight of ideas. A person’s thoughts jump from one subject to another very quickly.
  • Tangential thinking. They are unable to stay on the same train of thought and “drift off” on tangents.
  • Word salad. Their thinking includes apparently random words.
  • Thought blocking. A thought is suddenly disrupted and the person cannot remember what they were thinking about.

What is “insight”?

A person is said to have insight when they have an understanding of their illness. One of the symptoms associated with acute mental illness is a lack of insight. Although it is clear to an outside observer that a person is unwell, they may not recognise this themselves. When someone gets better they may or may not be able to see that their experiences were due to illness.

Learning the lingo

There will be lots of new words being used when you arrive on the unit. It can be easy to forget that students are unfamiliar with some of the terms used.

However, if the basics haven’t been explained to you, you won’t get as much out of your placement.

A basic understanding of these terms will be useful but don’t be afraid to ask if anything comes up you’re not sure of.

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