What is Mental Illness?

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines mental illness as:  “Any of a broad range of medical conditions (such as major depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder) that are marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, or emotions to impair normal psychological functioning and cause marked distress or disability and that are typically associated with a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning.”

Mental illness is a medical condition much like heart disease.  Mental illness is treatable and the clear majority of individuals with mental illness continue to function in their daily lives.  Per www.psychiatry.org, mental illness is common and in any given year, the following statistics are provided:

  • Nearly one in five (19%) U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness
  • One in 24 (4.1%) has a serious mental illness*
  • One in 12 (8.5%) has a diagnosable substance use disorder

* Serious mental illness is a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder (excluding developmental and substance use disorders) resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. Examples of serious mental illness include major depressive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

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Types of Mental Illness

There are many types of mental health disorders with 300 different conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).  The most common mental illnesses as defined by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are:

Anxiety Disorder

When feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday activities, an anxiety disorder may be the cause. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States, with an 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The most commonly diagnosed behavior disorder in young people, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that ADHD affects an estimated 9 percent of children aged 3-17 and 2-4 percent of adults. Although ADHD has its onset and is usually diagnosed in childhood, it is not a disorder limited to children—ADHD often persists into adolescence and adulthood and is frequently not diagnosed until later years.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affect a person’s ability to socialize and communicate with others. People with ASD can also present with restricted and/or repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. The term “spectrum” refers to the degree in which the symptoms, behaviors and severity vary within and between individuals. Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from one day to months. This mental illness causes unusual and dramatic shifts in mood, energy and the ability to think clearly. Cycles of high (manic) and low (depressive) moods may follow an irregular pattern that differs from the typical ups and downs experienced by most people.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event. This difficulty can lead to impulsivity, poor self-image, stormy relationships and intense emotional responses to stressors. Struggling with self-regulation can also result in dangerous behaviors such as self-harm (e.g. cutting).

Depression

Depressive disorder, frequently referred to simply as depression, is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. It’s a serious mental health condition that requires understanding and medical care. Left untreated, depression can be devastating for those who have it and their families. More than 17 million U.S. adults—over 7% of the population—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. People of all ages and all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds experience depression, but it does affect some groups more than others. Some will only experience one depressive episode in a lifetime, but for most, depressive disorder recurs. Without treatment, episodes may last a few months to several years.

Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders are characterized by an involuntary escape from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory. People from all age groups and racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience a dissociative disorder. The symptoms of a dissociative disorder usually first develop as a response to a traumatic event, such as abuse or military combat, to keep those memories under control.

Dual Diagnosis and Integrated Treatment of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Disorder

Dual diagnosis (also referred to as co-occurring disorders) is a term for when someone experiences a mental illness and a substance use disorder simultaneously. Either disorder—substance use or mental illness—can develop first. People experiencing a mental health condition may turn to alcohol or other drugs as a form of self-medication to improve the mental health symptoms they experience. However, research shows that alcohol and other drugs worsen the symptoms of mental illnesses.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a group of related conditions that cause serious emotional and physical problems. When one becomes so preoccupied with food and weight issues that it’s harder and harder to focus on other aspects of life, it may be an early sign of an eating disorder. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder (BED).

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do certain actions (compulsions). Although people with OCD may know that their thoughts and behavior don’t make sense, they are often unable to stop them.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic events—such as an accident, assault, military combat or natural disaster—can have lasting effects on a person’s mental health. While many people will have short term responses to life-threatening events, some will develop longer term symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD symptoms often co-exist with other conditions such as substance use disorders, depression and anxiety.

Psychosis

Psychosis is characterized as disruptions to a person’s thoughts and perceptions that make it difficult for them to recognize what is real and what isn’t. These disruptions are often experienced as seeing, hearing and believing things that aren’t real or having strange, persistent thoughts, behaviors and emotions. While everyone’s experience is different, most people say psychosis is frightening and confusing. Psychosis is a symptom, not an illness, and it is more common than you may think. In the U.S., approximately 100,000 young people experience psychosis each year. As many as 3 in 100 people will have an episode at some point in their lives.

Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized primarily by symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations or delusions, and symptoms of a mood disorder, such as mania and depression.

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. It is a complex, long-term medical illness. The exact prevalence of schizophrenia is difficult to measure, but estimates range from 0.25% to 0.64% of U.S. adults. It is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, and disorganized or catatonic behavior.

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