What Is A Mental Illness?
Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses. They cannot be overcome through "will power" and are not related to a person's "character" or intelligence.
The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school and with peers.
Without treatment the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.
With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.
Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now-unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural, and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery.
It is time to take these barriers down.
How Are Mental Disorders Classified?
Defining and classifying mental disorders is an important issue for mental health professionals and those living with a mental disorder. There are two established systems that classify mental disorders:
ICD-10 Chapter V: Mental and Behavioural Disorders put together by the World Health Organization.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.
Both of these manuals list categories of disorders and provide a standardized diagnostic criteria. While the manuals are generally comparable, there are differences.
Mental Health Disorders:
There exist many categories of mental disorders.
Anxiety Disorders are disorders in which the person suffers significant impairment in functioning or dread in everyday situations. These include: phobias, panic disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder.
Mood Disorders affect mood or emotion. Mood disorders that involve varying degrees of sustained sadness include major depression, and dysthymia. Mood disorders that involve a sustained period of highs (mania or hypomania) coupled with depressed (or normal mood) states include bipolar disorder and cyclothymia.
Psychotic disorders are mental illnesses that involve disordered patterns of belief, language use, and perception. Psychotic disorders include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder (mixed aspects of schizophrenia and a Mood Disorder), delusional disorder and schizotypal disorder.
Personality disorders are disorders that have maladaptive and rigid thoughts and behaviors. Personality disorders are further classified:
- Eccentric - paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder.
- Dramatic (Emotional) - Antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder.
- Fear-Related - avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
- Adjustment Disorder - inability to adjust to normal life circumstances within three months of a particular event.
Sleep Disorders involve disruption of normal sleep patterns. This includes insomnia.
Impulse Control Disorders are those which involve an inability to resist urges that may be harmful to themselves or others. Impulse control disorders include tic disorders like Tourette's Syndrome, kleptomania, and pyromania.
Substance Dependence Disorders involves the use of illegal or legal drugs despite significant problems related to use.
Dissociative disorders involve severe disturbances of self-identity, general awareness of the self and environment, and memory. Dissociative disorders include dissociative identity disorder, depersonalization disorder, amnesia, and types of dementia.
Developmental Disorders are disorders that occur during a child's development that may affect normal development. Developmental disorders include autism spectrum disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Developmental disorders may be diagnosed in childhood but can persist into adulthood.
Conduct Disorders are those which are diagnosed in childhood or adolescence that involve long-term behavioral problems such as defiant behavior, drug use, or criminal activity. These behaviors may continue into adulthood. Diagnosed in adulthood, conduct disorders include antisocial personality disorder.
Somatoform Disorders are those characterized by physical symptoms that suggest a mental disorder. However, these symptoms cannot be explained by a medical disorder, substance use or another disorder. Somatoform disorders include conversion disorder, somatization disorder, and body dysmorphic disorder.
Causes of Mental Illness:
Mental illness may arise from a single factor or a combination of factors. In many cases of mental illness, there is no single accepted cause. Generally, it is thought that mental illness arises from a genetic predisposition coupled with environmental stressors. It has become clear, however, that mental illness correlates highly to childhood abuse or neglect.
Diagnosis of Mental Illness:
Diagnostic practice for mental illness may include an interview (mental status examination) where the diagnostician makes judgements about the patient's appearance and behavior, self-reported symptoms, mental health history, and current life circumstances.
Psychological testing is occasionally used where a patient has to check off signs and symptoms to form a diagnostic algorithm, however this is not the norm. Most diagnosticians simply diagnose their patients using an unstructured, open-ended approach.
Many people have comorbidly occurring mental illnesses.
What Does Comorbid Mean?
Comorbidity is the presence of one or more disorders (or diseases) in addition to a primary disease or disorder. Comorbidity may also indicate a medical condition in a patient that causes, is caused by, or is otherwise related to another condition in the same patient.
Management of Mental Illness:
Mental illness may be treated in clinics, psychiatric hospitals and community health centers. Treatment is tailored for each patient and may encompass a number of different options (both together or separately).
1) Psychotherapy is an option for many mental illnesses and may include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - helps patient to modify patterns of behavior and thought associated with a particular disorder.
- Systematic Therapy (Family Therapy) - involves an individual and their network of significant others.
- Psychoanalysis - addresses underlying psychic conflicts and defense mechanisms.
2) Medication is often used to manage a number of mental illnesses. These may include:
- Antidepressants - treatment of depression, anxiety and other disorders.
- Anxiolytics - treatment of anxiety and related disorders.
- Mood Stabilizers - treatment of bipolar disorder.
- Antipsychotics - treatment of psychotic disorders.
- Stimulants - treatment of ADHD.
3) Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) may be used for those who have treatment-resistant depression.
Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together
Additional Mental Illness Resources:
National Alliance on Mental Illness- NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. Through the dedicated efforts of grassroots leaders, NAMI focuses on three cornerstones of activity that offer hope, reform and health: support, education and advocacy.
NKM2 (No Kidding? Me, Too!) was founded by Joe Pantoliano (Joey Pants!) to help raise awareness of mental illnesses and stomp out the stigmas surrounding them.
Crazy Meds- Yes, that's really the name of the site and it has all kinds of great information about medications used to treat mental illnesses of all kinds. It also offers real people talking about their medication and their situations.
Mental Health America is an advocacy organization that works to promote mental health by informing, educating, and enabling access to mental health services nation-wide.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - A division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the website provides a wealth of information on mental illnesses, current treatments, and clinical research.