Lately, there has been frequent use of the word “narcissist” in news related to politicians and election reporting. However, the use of the word to describe someone is different than a diagnosis for a personality disorder.

Merriam-Webster dictionary calls a diagnosis “a concise technical description” that pulls together into a group a bunch of single behaviors or attributes. For example, it is not possible to diagnose heart attack using only one symptom (chest pain). Many symptoms have to be present in order for the doctor to see that a person is having a heart attack (chest pain, pain in the left arm, sweating, a heavy feeling in the chest, shortness of breath, pain in the jaw or neck, and others that are not named here). The same is true for mental health or substance abuse diagnosis. A person who has some narcissistic traits may not meet the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A person who has wine every night with dinner is not necessarily an alcoholic.

A person may say that she is OCD, or obsessive compulsive. However, the presence of traits that are related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) does not necessarily mean a person has the disorder itself. The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders requires four major criteria to be met to diagnose OCD and includes a judgment about the person’s knowledge of having the disorder (does the person understand that s/he has the disorder?) and the presence of tics (involuntary movements over which the person has no control). Finally, there is a question of impairment. Does the presence of the symptoms make life hard or impossible to live? A person who likes order, structure, and color-codes canned foods may have traits related to OCD, but not the disorder itself.

In the event that a person with certain traits is having difficulty living a regular life (missing work, missing school, sleeping more or less than usual, showing an increase or decrease in appetite, losing or gaining weight, feeling increased levels of anxiety, acting out, becoming more isolated, etc.), that person should seek mental health care.