Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. Mental illness is treatable. The vast majority of individuals with mental illness continue to function in their daily lives.
- Inherited traits. Mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness. Certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and your life situation may trigger it.
- Environmental exposures before birth. Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illness.
- Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that carry signals to other parts of your brain and body. When the neural networks involving these chemicals are impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems change, leading to depression and other emotional disorders.
Mental illnesses take many forms. Some are mild and only interfere in limited ways with daily life, such as certain phobias (abnormal fears). Other mental health conditions are so severe that a person may need care in a hospital.
Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
Examples of signs and symptoms include:
• Feeling sad or down
• Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
• Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
• Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
• Withdrawal from friends and activities
• Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
• Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
• Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
• Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
• Problems with alcohol or drug use
• Major changes in eating habits
• Excessive anger, hostility or violence
• Suicidal thinking
Anxiety disorders: People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or panic, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if the person’s response is not appropriate for the situation, if the person cannot control the response, or if the anxiety interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.
Mood disorders: These disorders, also called affective disorders, involve persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.
Psychotic disorders: Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations – the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices – and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
Eating disorders: Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.
Impulse control and addiction disorders: People with impulse control disorders are unable to resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drug are common objects of addictions. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their addiction that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.
Personality disorders: People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits that are distressing to the person and/or cause problems in work, school, or social relationships. In addition, the person’s patterns of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of society and are so rigid that they interfere with the person’s normal functioning. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes their hands.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event, and tend to be emotionally numb.
Other, less common types of mental illnesses include:
Stress response syndromes (formerly called adjustment disorders): Stress response syndromes occur when a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to a stressful event or situation. The stressors may include natural disasters, such as an earthquake or tornado; events or crises, such as a car accident or the diagnosis of a major illness; or interpersonal problems, such as a divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or a problem with substance abuse. Stress response syndromes usually begin within three months of the event or situation and ends within six months after the stressor stops or is eliminated.
Dissociative disorders: People with these disorders suffer severe disturbances or changes in memory, consciousness, identity, and general awareness of themselves and their surroundings. These disorders usually are associated with overwhelming stress, which may be the result of traumatic events, accidents, or disasters that may be experienced or witnessed by the individual. Dissociative identity disorder, formerly called multiple personality disorder, or “split personality,” and depersonalization disorder are examples of dissociative disorders.
Factitious disorders: Factitious disorders are conditions in which a person knowingly and intentionally creates or complains of physical and/or emotional symptoms in order to place the individual in the role of a patient or a person in need of help.
Sexual and gender disorders: These include disorders that affect sexual desire, performance, and behavior. Sexual dysfunction, gender identity disorder, and the paraphilias are examples of sexual and gender disorders.
Somatic symptom disorders: A person with a somatic symptom disorder, formerly known as a psychosomatic disorder or somatoform disorder, experiences physical symptoms of an illness or of pain with an excessive and disproportionate level of distress, regardless of whether or not a doctor can find a medical cause for the symptoms.
Tic disorders: People with tic disorders make sounds or display nonpurposeful body movements that are repeated, quick, sudden, and/or uncontrollable. (Sounds that are made involuntarily are called vocal tics.) Tourette’s syndrome is an example of a tic disorder.
Other diseases or conditions, including various sleep-related problems and many forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, are sometimes classified as mental illnesses, because they involve the brain.
There’s no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, if you have a mental illness, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost low self-esteem may help keep your symptoms under control.
Follow these steps:
Pay attention to warning signs. Work with your doctor or therapist to learn what might trigger your symptoms. Make a plan so that you know what to do if symptoms return. Contact your doctor or therapist if you notice any changes in symptoms or how you feel. Consider involving family members or friends to watch for warning signs.
Get routine medical care. Don’t neglect checkups or skip visits to your primary care provider, especially if you aren’t feeling well. You may have a new health problem that needs to be treated, or you may be experiencing side effects of medication.
Get help when you need it. Mental health conditions can be harder to treat if you wait until symptoms get bad. Long-term maintenance treatment also may help prevent a relapse of symptoms.
Take good care of yourself. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating and regular physical activity are important. Try to maintain a regular schedule. Talk to your primary care provider if you have trouble sleeping or if you have questions about diet and physical activity.
When to see a doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness, see your primary care provider or a mental health professional. Most mental illnesses don’t improve on their own, and if untreated, a mental illness may get worse over time and cause serious problems.
How are mental disorders diagnosed?
The steps to getting a diagnosis include
• A medical history
• A physical exam and possibly lab tests, if your provider thinks that other medical conditions could be causing your symptoms
• A psychological evaluation. You will answer questions about your thinking, feelings, and behaviors.
What are the treatments for mental disorders?
Treatment depends on which mental disorder you have and how serious it is. You and your provider will work on a treatment plan just for you. It usually involves some type of therapy. You may also take medicines. Some people also need social support and education on managing their condition.
In some cases, you may need more intensive treatment. You may need to go to a psychiatric hospital. This could be because your mental illness is severe. Or it could be because you are at risk of hurting yourself or someone else. In the hospital, you will get counseling, group discussions, and activities with mental health professionals and other patients.
If you have suicidal thoughts
Suicidal thoughts and behavior are common with some mental illnesses. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, get help right away:
• Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
• Call your mental health specialist.
• Call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.
• Seek help from your primary care provider.
• Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
• Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
Suicidal thinking doesn’t get better on its own — so get help.
Certain factors may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, including:
• A history of mental illness in a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling
• Stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one’s death or a divorce
• An ongoing (chronic) medical condition, such as diabetes
• Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury), such as a violent blow to the head
• Traumatic experiences, such as military combat or assault
• Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
• A childhood history of abuse or neglect
• Few friends or few healthy relationships
• A previous mental illness
Mental illness is a leading cause of disability. Untreated mental illness can cause severe emotional, behavioral and physical health problems. Complications sometimes linked to mental illness include:
• Unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life
• Family conflicts
• Relationship difficulties
• Social isolation
• Problems with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs
• Missed work or school, or other problems related to work or school
• Legal and financial problems
• Poverty and homelessness
• Self-harm and harm to others, including suicide or homicide
• Weakened immune system, so your body has a hard time resisting infections
• Heart disease and other medical conditions
- Long-lasting sadness or irritability.
- Extremely high and low moods.
- Excessive fear, worry, or anxiety.
- Social withdrawal.
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits.
- Anxiety & Panic Disorders.
- Bipolar Disorder.
- Eating Disorders.
- Substance Abuse & Addiction.
- News & Features.
Mental illness itself occurs from the interaction of multiple genes and other factors – such as stress, abuse, or a traumatic event – which can influence, or trigger, an illness in a person who has an inherited susceptibility to it.
If you live with someone with a mental illness, you may experience different emotions, including anxiety, anger, shame and sadness. You may also feel helpless in regards to the situation. Everyone reacts differently.
Why Borderline Personality Disorder is considered the most “Difficult” to treat. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as a serious mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning.
Treatment can involve both medications and psychotherapy, depending on the disease and its severity. At this time, most mental illnesses cannot be cured, but they can usually be treated effectively to minimize the symptoms and allow the individual to function in work, school, or social environments.
The term “nervous breakdown” is sometimes used by people to describe a stressful situation in which they’re temporarily unable to function normally in day-to-day life. It’s commonly understood to occur when life’s demands become physically and emotionally overwhelming.
Online screening is one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, are real, common and treatable. And recovery is possible.
Depression may be an inherited condition. You may have a higher likelihood of experiencing a depressive disorder at some point in your life if you have a family member with depression. The exact genes involved are not known. It’s believed that many genes may play a factor in causing depression.
Fifty percent of mental illness begins by age 14, and three-quarters begins by age 24.
Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior.
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