What is Comorbidity? - Definition & Examples in Psychology

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  • 0:01 What Is Comorbidity?
  • 1:04 Common Examples
  • 3:01 Comorbidity in Children
  • 3:41 Diagnosing Comorbidity
  • 4:52 Comorbidity Treatment
  • 5:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Comorbidity is the existence of more than one disorder or disease at the same time. In this lesson, you will follow a fictional psychologist who explains what comorbidity is and when it is likely to occur.

What Is Comorbidity?

Comorbidity is a term you might hear pretty frequently in psychology as well as in medicine more broadly. Its important to understand comorbidity and how it works so that you can evaluate and help comorbid patients, or patients that are suffering from multiple, related diseases or disorders at the same time. In psychology, comorbidity refers to more than one disorders or diseases that exist alongside a primary diagnosis, which is the reason a patient gets referred and/or treated.

You can remember the word because the prefix, co-, indicates that things go together, and when we think of serious illnesses, it can sometimes make us feel morbid. Sometimes, the additional disorders are psychological, and sometimes they are more purely physiological in nature. There are some diseases and disorders that are more likely than others to be comorbid with one another.

In this lesson, you will follow along with fictional psychologist Dr. Brady, who specializes in comorbidity in mental health. Dr. Brady will offer up some common examples of comorbidity. Then, he'll discuss issues in diagnosis and treatment of comorbid patients.

Common Examples

Dr. Brady is accustomed to treating disorders and mental health issues that are comorbid with one another. He has noticed and confirmed, via following relevant research, that the following examples are commonly comorbid:

Depressive Disorders

Major depressive disorder often coexists with other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorders, and serious physical illnesses or disabilities. Dr. Brady has a patient named Steve who is diagnosed with depression. Steve also suffers from PTSD due to an abusive childhood, and he has multiple sclerosis. Dr. Brady focuses on treating the depression but keeps the other disorders close in mind.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are often comorbid with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse, to name a few. Dr. Brady's patient, Mary, has an anxiety disorder. She spent a great deal of time self-medicating with painkillers, so she now has a substance abuse problem as well.


Schizophrenia is often comorbid with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other addictions. Dr. Brady notes that this is a particularly complex example because patients with schizophrenia are likely to resist treatment, and when schizophrenia remains untreated, there is comorbidity with other psychological and physical diseases. Dr. Brady's patient, Susan, has schizophrenia. Susan also suffers from anxiety, which Dr. Brady has to remember when treating the schizophrenia, her primary condition.

Substance Abuse and Addiction

Dr. Brady treats many patients who suffer from substance abuse and other addictions. Unfortunately, these patients very often have other disorders as a result of the behaviors engendered by their addictions. Dr. Brady notes that treatment of comorbid substance abuse patients is complicated because it can be difficult to determine which aspect of their suffering should be addressed first. Dr. Brady's patient, Mike, has an alcohol addiction. The alcohol has caused liver problems and sleeping difficulties, which Dr. Brady must address alongside the addiction.

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