What Is Mental Illness?

A mental health disorder is defined as any condition that affects a person’s thoughts, behaviors or moods. While some mental health disorders last for a limited period, others are chronic and lifelong. When these issues cause high levels of stress or affect their daily functioning or relationships, treatment may be necessary to help a person manage their symptoms.

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Common Mental Health Disorders

A few of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders include the following:

A person with an anxiety disorder may experience irrational fear and avoidance of certain objects, people or situations that pose little or no danger. Some of the most common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and specific phobias.

An eating disorder is defined as an illness that is characterized by irregular eating habits and overconcern with weight or physical appearance. Many eating disorders involve inadequate or excessive intake of food, which can cause physical and mental damage to the body over time. These conditions include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder.

The specific traits of different personality disorders vary significantly; however, the symptoms of all personality disorders tend to be generally stable and consistent over time. They also usually directly reflect childhood circumstances. For example, someone with an anxious temperament and demanding parents might develop a rigid and fearful way of relating to the world that later becomes avoidant personality disorder. Antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder,  histrionic personality disorder and schizoid personality disorder are examples of specific personality disorders.

Also referred to as depressive disorders, mood disorders are characterized by moods or emotions that are incongruent with one’s current life circumstances. Depending on the specific mood disorder, this incongruency may involve gloomy, low and depressed moods, or excessively happy and euphoric moods called “manias.” Some of the most well-known mood disorders include bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and postpartum depression.

A person with an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) grapples with obsessive thoughts and urges, or compulsive, repetitive behaviors. Body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria and impulse control disorder are all classified as obsessive-compulsive disorder related conditions.

Stress-related disorders result from exposure to traumatic or deeply upsetting events. Specific disorders include acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and adjustment disorders.

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Causes of Mental Illness

Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is unknown, most develop as the result of a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.

Some mental illnesses have been linked to abnormal functioning of the brain due to chemical imbalances, injuries or developmental abnormalities. Mental illnesses sometimes run in families, suggesting that genetics also plays a role. Other links to mental health disorders include:

  • Long-term substance abuse
  • Poor nutrition and exposure to toxins
  • Undergoing severe psychological trauma as a child, including emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • Death or divorce
  • Dysfunctional family life
  • Feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, anxiety, anger or loneliness
  • Social or cultural expectations
  • Substance abuse

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Diagnosing Mental Illness

Physicians will typically check for related complications while diagnosing a mental health disorder and perform:

  • Physical exams to rule out any physical problems that could be causing the symptoms
  • Lab tests to evaluate body processes or screen for alcohol and drugs
  • Psychological evaluation to assess mental illness symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns

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Mental Health FAQ’s

To learn more and gain a better understanding about mental health disorders explore the commonly asked questions below.

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing mental health problems, including:

  • Having a direct relative, such as a parent or sibling, with a mental illness
  • Stressful life situations,  including financial problems, a loved one’s death or a divorce
  • A chronic medical condition
  • Brain damage as a result of a severe injury
  • Traumatic experiences, like military combat or assault
  • Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Being abused or neglected as a child

While no mental illnesses are fully curable, research has identified medications, therapies and specific combinations of treatments that can help alleviate the symptoms of many mental health disorders. These findings have helped millions of individuals learn how to manage their symptoms safely and effectively and enjoy a higher quality of life.

Family members who are psychologically healthy can be an important part of their loved one’s recovery process.

People close to individuals with mental health conditions are encouraged to:

  • Attend family therapy or couples counseling with their loved one
  • Attend family support groups that will connect them with peer support
  • Learn more about addiction and the diagnosed mental health disorder
  • Help their loved one stick to recovery principles
  • Avoid trying to “fix” the person’s problems
  • Avoid nagging, interrogating or shaming their loved one about their condition

Mental health treatment is typically covered by most health insurance plans, and the majority of private inpatient rehab programs accept insurance plans. However, if you choose a treatment facility that does not accept your insurance, there are usually other options available for payment. Many treatment facilities offer financing options.

Additional mental health FAQs can be found here.

Statistics on Mental Illness

Mental health disorders are one of the most common causes of disability in the United States and bear the largest disease burden of any category of health conditions. An estimated 10 million Americans live with a serious mental illness or mental health issues in any given year.

Mental illness also includes alcohol and substance use disorders. In 2013, approximately 17.3 million Americans over the age of 12 lived with an alcohol use disorder in the past year.  Roughly 6.9 million Americans 12 and older abused illicit drugs and were dependent on them in the year before being surveyed.

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Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Co-occurring disorders, or mental health and substance use disorders presenting simultaneously, are exceedingly common. People living with a drug or alcohol use disorder are about twice as likely to already exhibit symptoms of a mental health disorder. Similarly, those who are living with a mental health disorder are twice as likely to develop a substance abuse problem as well.

Mental Illness Stigma

Some individuals still view mental illnesses as threatening. These views can lead to various forms of exclusion and discrimination for people with mental health problems.

Some of the additional harmful effects of stigma can include:

  • Reluctance to seek help or treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
  • Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities
  • Trouble securing housing
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover mental illness treatment

Mental Health Treatment

Treatments may vary depending on the type of mental health disorder a person has. However, mental health care almost always involves some form of psychiatric counseling. Medications may also be prescribed.

If you or a loved one is living with co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders that are affecting your life, The Recovery Village can help. Individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders can receive comprehensive treatment from one of the facilities located across the country. To learn more, call The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative.

    

Corrigan, Patrick and Watson, Amy. “Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness” World Psychiatry, February 2002. Accessed March 27, 2019.

Mental Health Disorders
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