Mental health disorders are common conditions, affecting an estimated 54 million Americans each year. Mental health conditions can cause frequent stress and can be both emotionally and physically trying. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health concerns, know that you are not alone and help is available.
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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.
Common Mental Health Disorders
A few of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders include the following:
- Anxiety Disorders
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.
- Eating Disorders
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.
- Personality Disorders
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.
- Mood 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.
- Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders
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
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
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
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 54 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.
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.