What is a mental illness?
A mental illness is a health condition that affects your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. Without effective treatment, it can affect the quality of your daily life, including how you interact with others and how you operate throughout the day.
Mental illnesses are common—1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental health condition. However, they are also treatable.
What is the cause?
There is no single cause for mental illness. Factors may include your genes and family history, your life experiences, and your biology (i.e., chemical functioning in the brain). Having a mental illness should never be a cause for shame or embarrassment.
What are the symptoms?
Trying to recognize the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy. Each illness has its own symptoms, which may affect individuals differently.
Below are some common signs in adults and adolescents. If you or a loved one have been experiencing any of these symptoms over at least a two-week period, consider finding a doctor.
· Excessive worrying or fear.
· Feeling excessively sad or low.
· Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger.
· Avoiding friends and social activities.
· Difficulties understanding or relating to other people.
· Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired with low energy.
· Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite.
· Changes in sex drive.
· Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality).
· Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs.
· Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains.”)
· Thinking about suicide.
· Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress.
· An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance.
Children may experience:
· Changes in school performance.
· Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school.
· Hyperactive behavior.
· Frequent nightmares.
· Frequent disobedience or aggression.
· Frequent temper tantrums.
How is a mental illness diagnosed?
Steps to getting a diagnosis may include a medical and family history review, a physical exam, including possible lab tests, and a mental health evaluation. You’ll also be asked questions about your daily thinking, feelings, and behaviors.
What does treatment look like?
Individuals may experience the same illness in different ways, varying in severity and impact. As a result, there is no “one size fits all” approach. Treatment usually involves a combination of therapy, medicine, education, and social support through friends and family. In some cases, you may need more intensive treatment. In the hospital, you will get counseling and engage in group activities with mental health professionals as well as other patients.
*“About Mental Illness,” National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)