A mental disorder or mental illness is a mental health state that alters your thinking, feelings, or behavior (all or a combination of any of these). Such changes result in mental distress and pose challenges in your routine functioning.
Further, mental illness can range from mild to severe in certain cases. Also, individuals with mild mental illness may not show obvious signs of mental illness. However, people suffering from severe mental conditions may show signs of mental illness explicitly. Some of them include social withdrawal and losing interest in others, confusion, issues with concentrating, memorizing, etc.
As per American Psychiatric Association, 19% of U.S. adults face some form of mental illness. Likewise, 24% experience a serious mental illness and 12% suffer from a diagnosable substance use disorder.
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Now, there is a wide range of mental disorders or illnesses that people suffer from. Some of the common mental disorders include ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, etc. Each of these mental illnesses has their own symptoms and alter an individual’s thinking, feelings, and behavior in various ways.
Similarly, all mental health conditions cannot be outrightly categorized as mental illnesses or mental disorders. This is because they are neurological disorders although the research is still ongoing. Such studies point to the reducing difference between neurological disorders and mental illness.
In this article, we will discuss what is mental illness, the obvious signs of mental illness, and mental illness tests.
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness is a health condition that includes changes in thinking, emotion, or behavior (all or a combination of some of these.) These mental illnesses lead to distress and cause issues with daily functioning such as work, family, or social activities.
Individuals who have sound mental health:
- experience healthy relationships,
- are productive at work, school, and other life activities, and
- share wholesome relationships with family and friends.
Why is Mental Health Important?
Mental health is the basis of your thought process, feelings, learning, confidence, and the ability to adapt and cope with challenges. It is also important for sharing healthy relationships and one’s personal and emotional health.
However, individuals suffering from mental illness or severe mental conditions face challenges in daily functioning. Further, they go through changes in their thinking, feelings, or behavior which impact their relationships, work, and personal and emotional health.
In addition to this, people with mental illness feel shameful to come out and discuss these issues with family and friends. All thanks to the mental stigma attached with such health conditions, which if left undiagnosed or untreated can prove to be life-threatening.
Also, mental illness can impact anyone irrespective of gender, age, or background location, etc. Despite such facts and statistics, few seek professional help or receive the requisite treatment at the right time.
According to studies, two-thirds of young people do not get the help they desperately need. Similarly, one-third of the children below 18 suffering from severe mental health conditions do not get the requisite mental health care.
One must remember that mental illness is just like any other health condition like blood pressure, diabetes, etc. And just like them, mental disorders are curable.
In fact, there are obvious symptoms of mental illness which if identified can help people seek help at the right time. The following section informs you about some of the warning signs of mental illness.
Obvious Signs of Mental Illness
Some of the significant mental disorders like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia hardly occur suddenly. There may be situations where people showing signs of these mental illnesses might ask themselves ‘Do I have a mental illness or am I overreacting?’
In fact, people closer to such individuals like friends, family, co-workers, teachers, etc play a critical role here. This is because they may be able to identify something unusual in the feelings, thinking, and behavior of individuals who show initial signs of a mental illness.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the obvious signs of mental illness. Knowing these early symptoms can help seek intervention at the right time so as to avoid the mental illness from getting severe.
Thus, if you see the following warning signs of mental illness, take them as signs of persons losing their minds.
This refers to a condition where you lose interest in activities which you use to enjoy previously. Further, you just feel like sitting for hours together, doing absolutely nothing. You also withdraw socially and lose interest in people.
2. Problems with Concentrating
You find it extremely challenging to focus or concentrate and have issues with memorizing, thinking, and speaking. And this becomes challenging to spell out to others.
3. Increased Sensitivity to Overwhelming
Another obvious sign of mental illness is that you become extremely sensitive to external stimuli. For instance, you would avoid places with too much light, loud sounds, strong smells, or touch. Basically, you avoid situations that act as triggers.
4. Lack of Initiative
Another critical warning sign of mental illness is that you display apathy. In other words, you don’t feel like participating in any events. That is, you lose interest and the feeling low on energy that holds you back from participating in events.
5. Excessive Fear and Restlessness
When suffering from a mental illness, you experience feelings of nervousness, fear, anxiety, panic attack. Further, you also experience fear of suspiciousness of others.
6. Mood Swings
Another peculiar warning sign of mental illness is the dramatic shift in feelings or mood swings. In this, one may experience extreme sadness, feelings of hopelessness, incapacity to show happiness, alienation from situations, suicidal thoughts, laughter at odd timings without any reason, etc.
7. Sudden Sleep and Appetite Changes
This includes a dramatic shift in eating and sleeping patterns. That is, increased or reduced eating or sleeping than normal. This may also include a sudden increase or loss of weight.
Types of Mental Illness or Mental Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5) includes a number of mental illnesses. The DSM – 5 is the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association that lists mental disorders based on diagnostic parameters.
Accordingly, there are different types of mental disorders that a person may experience. These are categorized as follows:
1. Anxiety Disorders
People suffering from anxiety disorders experience the issue of a fear response going out of control. In other words, Anxiety Disorders include fear response that is disproportionate to the danger involved in the situation in reality.
Further, people facing anxiety understand that their fear is unreasonable but are unable to control such a response. This makes them overlook or avoid circumstances, people, or events that interfere with their normal functioning and trigger such a response.
Some of the commonly occurring anxiety disorders include:
Agoraphobia relates to the fear of a marketplace. In other words, it includes the fear of being at someplace or circumstance, isolated from the safety zone. Apart from being away from safety, one is not able to run away from the situation in case they face too much panic. Basically, individuals become crippled in some way or the other.
b. Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is when someone insults you in front of other people in any social situation.
c. Specific Phobia
This relates to an unreasonable phobia of a particular object, event, or circumstance.
d. Panic Disorder
This relates to a person showing a sudden fear response to a situation that is not threatening in reality. Such serious fear responses or panic attacks occur dramatically for a short period of time. Further, these leave individuals crippled and result in the worry of facing more of them in the future.
e. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD includes fear of too many things at one point in time. For instance, a person with GAD may be fearful of financial position, the health of a loved one, weather conditions, etc. Such a worry is non-stop and impacts an individual’s routine functioning.
2. Obsessive-Compulsive and Associated Disorders
Some of the obsessive-compulsive and associated disorders include:
a) Obsessive-compulsive Disorder
This includes repeated thoughts, impulses, or depictions that come uninvited, make you anxious, and are difficult to control. Likewise, it includes uncontrollable repeated behaviors that help in reducing anxiety.
b) Body Dysmorphic Disorder
In this, the individual is preoccupied with a supposed defect in his/her appearance which seems unimportant to others. The person reacts to such a preoccupation by engaging in repetitive behaviors. These may include grooming, comparing himself/herself to others, etc.
c) Hoarding Disorder
In this disorder, the individual has a problem getting rid of certain possessions irrespective of their real value. Such actions may result in a collection of items that impact routine functioning.
3. Depressive Disorders
Some of the common depressive disorders are as follows:
a) Major Depressive Disorder
This is marked by loss of delight in activities, melancholy, difficulty in sleeping, feeling worthless, and demotivation that persists for at least two weeks.
b) Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
This disorder is characterized by major mood swings or depressive signs. These are experienced in the week which is immediately before the beginning of the chumming. However, these reduce to a large extent or are completely absent in the week after menses.
c) Persistent Depressive Disorder
This is marked by some major mood swings or depressive signs that an individual has faced for at least 2 weeks.
4. Bipolar and Related Disorders
Some of the commonly occurring Bipolar and associated disorders include:
a) Bipolar Disorder
A person suffering from bipolar disorder experiences a manic episode. Such an episode is marked by a continuously uplifted, rolling, or irritated mood. Further, it also includes issues like boosted self-esteem, reduced need for sleep, a distraction that stays for a minimum of 1 week, and flight of ideas.
b) Manic Episodes
These consist of delusions and fantasies. Further, this may or may not include depressive episodes.
5. Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders
The types of schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders include:
This is a mental disorder that is marked by a host of issues related to a number of psychological processes. These include hallucinations, delusions, negative signals, confused speech, unorganized behavior, etc. All of these issues must continuously exist for six months and the person must experience issues with his routine functioning.
b) Delusional Disorder
This is a type of disorder where individuals have a tone or more flawed beliefs despite having proof to the contrary and irrespective of what others believe.
6. Personality Disorders
These disorders include abnormal cognitions and thoughts which remain for life. In addition to this, the behavioral patterns of such individuals remain stable and coherent over time. Such abnormal behavioral patterns begin either in childhood or early adolescence.
Some of the common personality disorders are as follows:
a) Antisocial Personality Disorder
This is a type of disorder in which an individual disrespects and goes against the rights of other individuals. This includes issues like impulsiveness, aggressiveness, deceitfulness, irresponsibility, absence of conscience, seeing others as a target, etc. Such a disorder also involves issues like psychopathy and sociopathy.
b) Borderline Personality Disorder
This includes unstable mood, identity, and relationships. Further, it also involves challenges like impulsiveness, suicidal thoughts, feeling empty, thoughts regarding self-harm, etc.
7. Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders
Some of the common trauma and stressor-related disorders include:
a) Adjustment Disorder
This is a type of disorder in which an individual develops behavioral or emotional issues. Further, such issues are faced within a period of three months after facing a stressful event.
b) Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
This includes an abnormal response to an actual or feared death, a severe injury, or sexual abuse. Further, such a disorder is marked by issues like flashbacks, repetitive memories of the event, fear of triggers related to the event, unhealthy changes in mood, feelings of detachment, irritation, and issues with focusing.
8. Feeding and Eating Disorders
Some of the common feeding and eating disorders include:
a) Anorexia Nervosa
This is marked by an unreasonable threat of becoming obese and thus involves refusal on the part of the individual to maintain a normal body weight.
b) Binge-eating Disorder
This involves binge-eating but no compensatory behavior.
c) Bulimia Nervosa
This eating disorder includes binge-eating together with compensatory behavior. Now there are two types of such behavior. First is the purging-type that involves self-induced vomiting. The second one is the non-purging type that involves excessive fasting and exercising.
9. Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Neurodevelopmental disorders are mental disorders that develop early on in life and are mostly categorized during early childhood. Some of the common neurodevelopmental disorders are as follows:
a) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
This is characterized by a critical and continuous pattern of inattention and impulsive behavior. Therefore, this can be either an issue of hyperactivity, inattention or both.
b) Intellectual Disability
This disability involves a lack of intellectual and adaptive functioning.
c) Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism is a disorder that involves major issues with social communication across a host of social circumstances.
10. Substance-related and Addictive Disorders
These mental disorders involve a continuous, abnormal use of certain substances. Thus, all the following disorders involve the use of some substance or the other.
a) Gambling Disorder
This is characterized by critical gambling behavior that results in the devastation of an individual’s life.
b) Alcohol Use Disorder
This involves abnormal consumption of alcohol and is marked by certain behaviors. These include social issues, craving, negatively impacting work and responsibilities, physical challenges, issues leaving alcohol use, etc.
11. Dissociative and Somatic Symptom Disorders
Some of the common dissociative and somatic symptom disorders include:
a) Dissociative Identity Disorder
The individual with this disorder has two different personality states. Further, each of these states appears at distinct times and have their respective behavior, cognition, and affect.
b) Conversion Disorder
This involves physical signs that lead to losing functioning altogether. However, such a loss does not occur because of the physical symptoms.
c) Illness Anxiety Disorder
This involves the individual being preoccupied with possessing or gaining a particular illness without facing any somatic symptoms.
d) Somatic Symptom Disorder
This is a disorder in which an individual experiences somatic symptoms that are stressful and lead to the devastation of the individual’s life.
e) Factitious Disorder
This disorder involves the generation of physical issues so as to receive medical attention.
Causes of Mental Illness
There is not a full comprehension of what causes mental illness. Well, this is not unusual given the complexity of brain functioning and the effects of various mental illnesses on one’s feelings and behavior.
However, scientists consider the following as some of the likely causes of mental illness.
a) Brain’s Biology
As per scientists, mental illnesses are related to alterations in the brain’s neurochemicals.
Scientists are of the view that mental disorders are the outcome of issues neurotransmission or interaction between neurons in the brain.
For instance, the neurotransmitter serotonin is produced less in people having depression as compared to those who don’t. This resulted in the coming up of certain medications for treating depression.
SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are the most common form of antidepressants given for treating depression. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for uplifting mood, emotions, and inducing sleep. And neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry messages between the nerve cells in the brain.
Accordingly, once the serotonin carries a message, the serotonin is typically absorbed by the nerve cells. This is called the reuptake of serotonin into the presynaptic neuron. SSRIs inhibit or prevent such reuptake of the serotonin by the nerve cells so that more serotonin is available in the synaptic region for carrying messages between the nerve cells.
Thus, more serotonin is available in the synaptic region for binding with the receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. Thus, alterations in the neurotransmitters apart from serotonin can take place in depression. This further worsens the condition.
Likewise, there can be alterations in other neurotransmitters like glutamate, dopamine, etc which may impact mental health.
Genes of an individual also have a critical part in deciding if someone may have a mental illness. Some of the mental disorders that may have a genetic element include ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.
For instance, it has been observed that children with ADHD have a higher probability to have a sibling or parent suffering from ADHD. This observation holds up the part genetics play in deciding if an individual is at the risk of having ADHD.
c) Environmental Risk Factors
Certain environmental factors also play an important role in deciding if an individual will suffer from mental illness. These include poor nutrition, being vulnerable to toxic elements like tobacco smoke or lead, a head injury, etc
d) Social Factors
There are a number of social factors that can put individuals at risk of mental illness. Some of these factors are as follows:
- economic difficulties
- the mental disorder of parents
- criminal acts of parents
- a serious parental conflict
- losing a family member or a dear friend
- are evident and if you are routine functioning.
Treatment of Mental Illness
When it comes to mental illnesses, the majority of them can’t be cured. However, there are certain means through which the underlying symptoms can be healed so as to reduce them.
Minimizing symptoms of mental illness can help the individual to function well at work, in school, or in society in general.
However, the person going through a mental illness must visit a medical professional so as to start his treatment. This is because the mental health professional will first communicate with the person with mental illness and try to find out the underlying symptoms.
Further, he also tries to understand the period for which such symptoms have existed and in what way have they influenced a person’s life.
In addition to this, the medical professional undertakes physical examination to identify if there exist other health issues. This is because, at times, certain symptoms like mood swings can be the outcome of emotional and neurological symptoms associated with other diseases like terminal illness, etc.
Further, these symptoms can also be the ill effects of certain medications. Thus, after studying the patient fully, the physician charts out a plan for the treatment of mental illness.
Such a treatment can include both psychotherapy and medications depending on the patient’s symptoms and condition.
a) Psychotherapy as a Mental Illness Treatment
Psychotherapy is a mental illness treatment in which a mental health professional communicates with the patient and tries to understand his feelings or issues.
Such dialogue helps the patients in understanding the root cause of the problem and search for solutions. Such therapy may exist in different forms and helps the patients in:
- resolving their issues in a particular way
- identify the unusual behavioral patterns, thoughts and alter them
- acknowledge how their past is influencing their present behaviors
- learn skills to manage themselves
Further, psychotherapy may take place with the patient, his family, or in a group. Also, it is most effective when combined with medication.
b) Medications for the Treatment of Mental Illness
Medications are another way of treating the symptoms of mental illness. Medications are taken for a specific period, as suggested by the physician., During such times, the health professional keeps a check on the health conditions of the patient.
In case of any side effects, the physician changes the medication which leads to lesser side effects. One must keep in mind that medications do have ill effects and this typically stops people from taking proper medication.
However, be it antibiotics or medications for psychiatric illnesses, each of them has side effects. Therefore, one must consult the physician and understand what medications are they consuming, why are they being given these, and how they will treat their medical condition.
Mental Illness Stigma
One of the greatest sigmas of the current times is the stigma around mental health. Stigma is nothing but when people with certain characteristics are disrespected or disapproved by society due to people having such characteristics.
Accordingly, someone suffering from a mental illness is typically discredited by society and results in their rejection. Statements like “mentally ill people are crazy” or “mentally ill people are dangerous and should be avoided” are all coming out the society’s negative perception of mentally ill people.
Common Stigmas Around Mental Health
Some of the common stigmas around mental health are as follows:
- people with mental illness are dangerous and must be ignored
- mentally ill people cannot take their responsibilities and make decisions in their life.
- such people should try and pull through the mental illness
- mentally ill people must be taken care of by parents as they are incapable to care for themselves.
All these stigmas are founded on incorrect details. Not all people suffering from a mental illness are a threat to society. In fact, very few people with mental illness pose a danger to society at large.
Therefore, the majority of them can undertake routine tasks like holding a job, attending school, live the way they want to, etc.
You must understand that mental illness is not something one can decide to get rid of. It is much like other diseases like heart disease, diabetes, etc where individuals go through a physical issue in the body.
The stigma around mental health must be overcome for it is more impairing than the illness.
Outcomes of No Mental Illness Treatment
Many people suffering from mental illness do not get the treatment at the right time due to these stigmas. This leads to aggravating or worsening of their mental health conditions.
As per research, 2/3rds of young individuals are not receiving the mental health treatment they need. Likewise, less than 1/3rds of children below 18 years suffering from a serious mental illness do not receive the requisite treatment.
The majority of people are experiencing challenges with regard to mental health because of a number of factors. These include not grabbing the chance at the right time for early identification and prevention, improper medical services, not giving preference to keep resources for such treatments.
All thanks to the stigmas that are attached to mental illness. Not treating mental illness in children can have severe consequences.
- it impacts their ability to learn
- adolescents suffer and find it difficult to cope with the study pressure
- increased school drops outs in adolescents which results in them becoming less functional citizens when reaching adulthood
- interpersonal and psychosocial challenges in young adults post overcoming the illness
- adults have roots of such illnesses in childhood
- youth suffering from depression may have a serious illness during adulthood
- ADHD may continue to exist in adulthood posing legal, social, and occupational challenges
- mental illness results in premature death or disability