What Is Mental Illness
Page last updated: May 2007
About one in five Australians will experience a mental illness, and most of us will experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives.Mental illness is a general term that refers to a group of illnesses, in the same way that heart disease refers to a group of illnesses and disorders affecting the heart.A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. It is diagnosed according to standardised criteria. The term mental disorder is also used to refer to these health problems.A mental health problem also interferes with how a person thinks, feels, and behaves, but to a lesser extent than a mental illness.Mental health problems are more common and include the mental ill health that can be experienced temporarily as a reaction to the stresses of life.Mental health problems are less severe than mental illnesses, but may develop into a mental illness if they are not effectively dealt with.Mental illnesses cause a great deal of suffering to those experiencing them,as well as their families and friends. Furthermore, these problems appear to be increasing. According to the World Health Organization, depression will be one of the biggest health problems worldwide by the year 2020.
Dissociation And Dissociative Disorders
Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. Dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, depersonalisation disorder and dissociative identity disorder.
For more information see: Dissociation and dissociative disorders
Specific Anxiety Disorders Include:
People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder have chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday routine life events and activities, with symptoms lasting at least six months; almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it. ;People with General Anxiety Disorder have co-occurring physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache, or nausea.
People with phobias have extreme, disabling and irrational fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives.
People with panic disorder have experienced a panic attack. ;The disorder occurs when the person fears having another panic attack. ;Panic disorder is, therefore, characterized by panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of terror that strike repeatedly and without warning. Physical symptoms include: ;chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying.
People with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have anxious impulses to repeat words or phrases or engage in repetitive, ritualistic behavior, such as constant hand washing.
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Specific Mood Disorders Include:
Depression causes people to lose pleasure from daily life, can complicate other medical conditions, and can even be serious enough to lead to suicide. ;;Depression can occur to anyone, at any age, and to people of any race or ethnic group. ;Depression is never a normal part of life, no matter what your age, gender or health situation. ;;Unfortunately, though treatment for depression is almost always successful, fewer than half of those suffering from this illness seek treatment. ;Too many people resist treatment because they believe depression is not serious, that they can treat it themselves or that it is a personal weakness rather than a serious medical illness.
What About Other Mental Illnesses And Depression
ADHD causes high energy and impulsive behavior. You may not be able to focus as well as youâd like. About 1 in 3 people with ADHD also have depression or have had it in the past.
Sometimes it may be that you simply have both conditions. But in other cases, ADHD and its effects on your life are actually a cause of depression. And sometimes health care providers can misdiagnose depression in someone who simply has ADHD.
PTSD is when you have flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts about a terrible event that you experienced. Think of the 9/11 terror attacks or a serious car accident or an act of violence.
Many people get past such events and are able to live healthy lives. People with PTSD may remain anxious and depressed for months or years afterward. Thatâs part of why PTSD often happens along with substance abuse, anxiety, and clinical depression.
Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that makes people more afraid than is helpful in certain situations. You might have symptoms of a panic attack like nausea with fast breathing and heart rate. It can be especially bad in situations where thereâs no clear way to get away such as on public transportation or at a shopping mall. In serious cases, you might find it hard even to leave the house. Without treatment, agoraphobia can lead to depression.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-V.
Fieve, R. Bipolar II, Rodale Books, 2006.
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Depression May Present Differently In Older Adults
Some people may think depression is a normal part of aging. Mayo Clinic says, however, that depression is not a normal part of growing older. The condition can be harder to notice in people who are older because it can look different from depression in children and younger adults. A senior-age adult may exhibit:
- Memory problems
- Physical aches, pains
- Lack of interest in leaving home
They also may avoid people and show little interest in socializing with others, even family members. Older people can also have suicidal thoughts or feelings.
What Are The Symptoms Of Major Depression
Signs and symptoms that a person may have major depression can vary among individuals. And, while not everyone will experience all of them, having several of the following symptoms is a strong indicator the disorder may be present:
- A persistent depressed or sad mood, feeling empty or helpless
- Losing or gaining weight, and unexplained gastrointestinal issues
- Intrusive thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempt
The most common symptoms include a sad or empty feeling, loss of motivation to participate in activities that were previously enjoyable, fatigue, irritability, non-specific aches and pains, and an inability to concentrate. Symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe. But when major depression is present, symptoms are generally severe and cause noticeable problems with interpersonal relationships and carrying out everyday activities.
Men and women tend to experience major depression differently. Men are more apt to express symptoms of depression as tiredness, irritability, and anger. They also tend to engage in risky behavior and substance abuse. Men often dont recognize their symptoms as being a problem and, thus, do not seek treatment.
On the other hand, women tend to express signs of major depression as sadness, feelings of worthlessness, emptiness, and guilt. Women are more likely to seek treatment than men.
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What Is The Link Between Smoking And Mental Health Conditions
Smoking is much more common among adults with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, than in the general population.6 About 3 out of every 10 cigarettes smoked by adults in the United States are smoked by persons with mental health conditions.6 Why smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions is uncertain. More research is needed to determine this. No matter the cause smoking is not a treatment for depression or anxiety. Getting help for your depression and anxiety and quitting smoking is the best way to feel better.
The Stigma Of Mental Illness7
“The last great stigma of the twentieth century is the stigma of mentalillness.”
âTipper Gore, wife of the former U.S. Vice President
Words can hurt. Many derogatory words and phrases are used in relation tomental illness. However, these words maintain the stereotyped image and notthe reality about mental illness. Try not to use these words, and encouragestudents not to use them.
“Mentally ill people are nuts, crazy, wacko.” “Mentally ill people are morally bad.””Mentally ill people are dangerous and should be locked in an asylum forever.””Mentally ill people need somebody to take care of them.” How often have we heardcomments like these or seen these types of portrayals in movies, television shows,or books? We may even be guilty ofmaking comments like them ourselves. Is there any truth behind these portrayals, oris that negative view based on our ignorance and fear?
Stigmas are negative stereotypes about groups of people. Common stigmasabout people who are mentally ill are
- Individuals who have a mental illness are dangerous.
- Individuals who have a mental illness are irresponsible and can’t makelife decisions for themselves.
- People who have a mental illness are childlike and must be taken care ofby parents or guardians.
- People who have a mental illness should just get overit.
Providing accurate information is one way to reduce stigmas about mentalillness.
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Warning Signs And Symptoms Of Mental Illness
NOTE: Persons with mental illness usually exhibit a cluster of symptoms not just one or two symptoms that are persistent and interfere with daily life and work. ;This listing of warning signs and symptoms of mental illness is to be used as an educational and information tool not as a diagnostic instrument. ;A diagnostic evaluation by a licensed mental health and/or medical professional is needed to determine if someone has a mental illness. ;A diagnostic evaluation may include: ; a complete physical checkup to rule out other illnesses; information gathering on family health history; and other diagnostic tests/evaluations as determined by a licensed professional.
Coping With Depression And Terminal Illness
Those with a terminal illness may find it helpful to talk to friends and loved ones about their condition. It can be helpful to the terminally ill for relatives, friends, and caregivers to offer an empathetic ear. However, it can be painful and challenging for the listeners. Those close to the terminally ill person may find it hard to talk about that persons illness.
In that case, it can be helpful to seek out support groups for the terminally ill person. Hearing the stories of those in a similar situation can often help the terminally ill person better cope with their own illness. Doctors can recommend support groups, or you can research groups online. If you find a group online, be sure to monitor the group discussion to make sure it is appropriate.
Others with terminal illnesses find it helpful to express their feelings creatively. Being creative can ward off feelings of depression. Some forms of creative expression include:
- keeping a journal
- playing an instrument
It may not be possible to fully stop a terminally ill person from feeling grief, but it is possible to prevent and treat their depression. Alleviating depression in a terminally ill person can greatly increase their quality of life.
If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- Listen, but dont judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
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Types Of Mental Health Problems
If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health problem you might be looking for information on your diagnosis, treatment options and where to go for support. Our information pages will help you learn more.
Some of this information is also available in Welsh. Visit our Welsh information and support pages.;
Different Types Of Depression
Your doctor may diagnose you with depression and say that its mild, moderate or severe depending on your symptoms and how severe they are. Or you may be diagnosed with a specific type of depression, such as:
- dysthymia mild depression that lasts for several years
- seasonal affective disorder depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern
- postnatal depression depression that many parents experience after having a baby. Some people experience antenatal depression during pregnancy.
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Natural Treatment For Depression
Traditional depression treatment uses a combination of prescription medication and counseling. But there are also alternative or complementary treatments you can try.
Its important to remember that many of these natural treatments have few studies showing their effects on depression, good or bad.
Likewise, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesnt approve many of the dietary supplements on the market in the United States, so you want to make sure youre buying products from a trustworthy brand.
Talk to your healthcare provider before adding supplements to your treatment plan.
How Are Boys And Men With Eating Disorders Affected
While women and girls are much more likely to develop an eating disorder, men and boys account for an estimated 5 to 15 percent of patients with anorexia or bulimia and an estimated 35 percent of those with binge-eating disorder. ;In addition, eating disorders are also common among: ;older adult women, African-Americans, victims of sexual abuse and male & female athletes who are involved in sports with weight classes.
One in four preadolescent cases of anorexia occurs in boys and binge eating disorder affects females and males equally. ;Like females who have eating disorders, males with the illness have a warped sense of body image and often have muscle dysmorphia a type of disorder that is characterized by an extreme concern with becoming more muscular. ;Some boys with the disorder want to lose weight, while others want to gain weight or bulk up ;Boys who think they are too small are at a greater risk for using steroids or other dangerous drugs to increase muscle mass.
Boys with eating disorders exhibit the same types of emotional, physical and behavioral signs and symptoms as girls. ;However, boys are less likely to be diagnosed with what is often considered a stereotypically female disorder.
Persons with eating disorders may also have other mental illnesses such as: ;depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder , personality or substance abuse disorder.
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Statistics Related To Mental Health Disorders
The following are the latest statistics available from the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, part of the National Institutes of Health:
Mental health disorders account for several of the top causes of disability in established market economies, such as the U.S., worldwide, and include: major depression , manic depression , schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
An estimated 26% of Americans ages 18 and older — about 1 in 4 adults — suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. In particular, depressive illnesses tend to co-occur with substance abuse and anxiety disorders.
Approximately 9.5% of American adults ages 18 and over, will suffer from a depressive illness each year.
- Women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from major depression than men. However, men and women are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder.
- While major depression can develop at any age, the average age at onset is the mid-20s.
- With bipolar disorder, which affects approximately 2.6% of Americans age 18 and older in a given year — the average age at onset for a first manic episode is during the early 20s.
Most people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder — most commonly a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder.
Local Support Group Offered:
Support group for adults with anxiety disorders such as: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress and generalized anxiety. ;Meetings are held the second and fourth Thursdays at 7:00pm at The Mental Health Association, 1509 S. Hawthorne Road, Winston-Salem.
For more information about anxiety disorders, click on the following link:
Anxiety Disorders Association of America:www.adaa.org
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Icipating In Clinical Research
Clinical trials are research studies that look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat diseases and conditions. Although individuals may benefit from being part of a clinical trial, participants should be aware that the primary purpose of a clinical trial is to gain new scientific knowledge so others may receive better help in the future.
Researchers at NIMH and around the country conduct many studies with patients and healthy volunteers. Talk to your health care provider about clinical trials, their benefits and risks, and whether one is right for you. For more information, visit NIMH’s clinical trials webpage.
What Is Severe Anxiety
Normal anxiety becomes severe when it stops serving you as a useful tool that encourages you to take charge and starts to distract you from daily life. If youre feeling that your anxiety is disrupting your normal habits and activities, or that it clouds your happiness, then you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are severe conditions stemming from excessive worrying and rumination.
People with anxiety as a mental illness have feelings of anxiety that do not go away and can interfere with daily activities such as job performance and relationships, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Anya Shumilina, a director at the Behavioral Associates therapy practice, said those with anxiety disorders tend to feel like anxiety is controlling them. She offered the example of anxiety preventing someone from flying, causing them to miss important events.
During her work as Director of Psychiatry at Mountainside Treatment Facility, Dr. Shanthi Mogali worked with anxious clients who woke up and wondered, How am I going to take on this day? Simply thinking about getting up and dealing with their anxiety throughout the day was terrifying.
Here are a few more symptoms that often indicate an anxiety disorder or other mental illness:
- Restlessness or feeling wound-up or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating or having the mind go blank
- Sleep problems
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