Mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts 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.
Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.
Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.
There are many different types of mental illness that affect people in different ways; people may have very different symptoms and challenges, but symptoms are only one issue. Access to services, support from loved ones, and the ability to participate in communities play a big part in the way people experience mental illnesses. Culture, background, and personal beliefs also shape the way people understand mental illnesses.
Health professionals divide mental illnesses into several different groups based on signs or symptoms.
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause people to feel excessively frightened, distressed, or uneasy during situations in which most other people would not experience these same feelings. When they are not treated, anxiety disorders can be severely impairing and can negatively affect a person's personal relationships or ability to work or study. In the most severe cases, anxiety disorders can make even regular and daily activities such as shopping, cooking or going outside incredibly difficult. Anxiety disorders can further cause low self-esteem, lead to substance abuse, and isolation from one's friends and family.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America: they affect around 20 percent of the population at any given time. Fortunately there are many good treatments for anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, some people do not seek treatment for their illness because they do not realize how severe their symptoms are or are too ashamed to seek help. Furthermore, these disorders are often difficult to recognize for friends, family and even some doctors.
Common examples of Anxiety Disorders are; • Panic Disorder —Characterized by "panic attacks," panic disorder results in sudden feelings of terror that can strike repeatedly and sometimes without warning. Physical symptoms of a panic attack include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, upset stomach, feelings of being disconnected and fear of dying. Some people with this disorder may experience unrealistic worry of having more panic attacks and become very ashamed and self-consciousness. This can result in some people feeling too afraid to go to certain places (e.g., airplanes, elevator), which can be very intrusive in their daily lives. • Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD) —OCD is characterized by repetitive, intrusive, irrational and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (compulsions). Some people with OCD have specific compulsions (e.g.,counting, arranging, cleaning) that they "must perform" multiple times each day in order to momentarily release their anxiety that something bad might happen to themselves or to someone they love. People with OCD may be aware that their symptoms don't make sense and are excessive, but on another level they may fear that the thoughts have are having might be true. • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) —When people experience or witness a traumatic event such as abuse, a natural disaster, or extreme violence, it is normal to be distressed and to feel "on edge" for some time after this experience. Some people who experience traumatic events have severe symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, being very easily startled or scared, or feeling numb/angry/irritable/distracted. Sometimes these symptoms last for weeks or even months after the event and are so severe that they make it difficult for a person to work, have loving relationships, or "return to normal." This is when a person may be suffering from PTSD. Many people with PTSD have difficulty discussing their symptoms because they may be too embarrassed or scared to recall their trauma. This is common in victims of sexual abuse and in combat veterans. • Phobias —A phobia is a disabling and irrational fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger for most people. This fear can be very disabling when it leads to avoidance of objects or situations that may cause extreme feelings of terror, dread and panic. "Specific" phobias center on particular objects (e.g., caterpillars, dogs) or situations (e.g., being on a bridge, flying in an airplane). Many people are very sensitive to being criticized and are ashamed of their phobias which can lead to problems with self-esteem.
Mood Disorders encompass a wide array of mood issues, such as major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder. Approximately 20.9 million American adults suffer from these disorders. • Major depression is the most common mood disorder. This debilitating illness causes mental anguish and physical ailments. It often prevents normal daily function. While some people with depression may experience only one episode of major depression in a lifetime, most endure multiple episodes. • Bipolar disorder , also called manic-depressive illness, is less common. Even so, it affects about 5.7 million American adults. Bipolar disorder is a combination of extreme elation, which is known as mania, and depression. • Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia, is a milder form of depression that may not hinder a person's ability to function in daily life. Dysthymia is diagnosed when a person suffers from depression for two or more years. Although it is not as debilitating as major depression, dysthymia can prevent normal functioning. People with dysthymia can also experience episodes of major depression.
Depressive disorders and major depressive disorder differ in severity and length of symptoms. Minor depression is defined by a period of at least two weeks of depression. Minor depressive episodes do not fully meet the criteria for major depression but can develop into major depression if left untreated.
Other forms of depression exist as well. Psychotic depression occurs when psychosis, a complete break from reality, and depression are both present. Postpartum depression is sometimes experienced by new mothers. This form of depression results from physical and hormonal changes combined with the pressure of caring for a newborn. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that affects people during times of decreased sunlight, particularly in the winter months when the days are shorter./>
Eating disorders are serious problems and need to be diagnosed and treated like any medical disease. If they continue to go untreated, these behaviors can result in future severe medical complications that can be life-threatening. • Anorexia (also known as anorexia nervosa) is the name for simply starving yourself because you are convinced you are overweight. If you are at least 15 percent under your normal body weight and you are losing weight through not eating, you may be suffering from this disorder. • Bulimia (also known as bulimia nervosa) is characterized by excessive eating, and then ridding yourself of the food by vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, taking enemas, or exercising obsessively. This behavior of ridding yourself of the calories from consumed food is often called "purging."
A person who suffers from this disorder can have it go undetected for years, because the person's body weight will often remain normal. "Binging" and "purging" behavior is often done in secret and with a great deal of shame attached to the behavior. It is also the more common eating disorder.
Treatment of eating disorders nearly always includes cognitive-behavioral or group psychotherapy. Medications may also be appropriate and have been found effective in the treatment of these disorders, when combined with psychotherapy.
Psychotic disorders are mental disorders in which a person's personality is severely confused and that person loses touch with reality. When a psychotic episode occurs, a person becomes unsure about what is real and what isn't real and usually experiences hallucinations, delusions, off-the-wall behavior, chaotic speech and incoherency. A person behaving in this manner is often referred to as being schizophrenic.
A hallucination is an internal sensory perception that isn't actually present and can be either visual or auditory. Smelling odors or having a funny taste in the mouth are other hallucinations that may occur. A delusion is defined as a false, inaccurate belief that a person holds on to. A grandiose delusion occurs when a person believes that their life is out of proportion as compared to what is really true. For example, a patient may believe that she is God or Jesus Christ. A persecutory delusion occurs when a person believes that there is a conspiracy amongst others to attack, punish or harass him. Although these hallucinations and delusions appear odd to others, they are very real to the person with the disorder. • Schizophrenia is the most common psychotic disorder. Patients with this condition experience changes in behavior, delusions and hallucinations that last longer than six months. Those diagnosed with this type of disorder often show a decline in social function, school and work.
The two main forms of treatment for psychotic disorders are medication and psychotherapy. The signature medications to treat psychotic disorders are antipsychotics. These medications aid in managing the symptoms of the disease like the hallucinations and delusions. Some examples of antipsychotics are pimozide, haloperidol, chlorpromazine and amisulpride. Depending on how each individual is affected by the medications, it may be necessary for the doctor to prescribe more than one consecutively until the proper medication is found that meets the required results.
Psychotherapy for psychotic disorders may include individual sessions, family sessions and support groups. While most patients are treated as outpatients, in severe cases, such as when the physical well-being is in danger, hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize the patient's condition.
In addition to medication and psychotherapy, self-help can also aid in successfully managing living with psychotic disorders. It is important that the patient learn how to cope when these episodes occur and learn how to find help on treating someone with psychosis. Studying and learning as much as possible about the specific disorder is vital to managing a healthy, happy, fulfilling life.
Personality disorders are patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that may last for a long time and create challenges in a person's life. People who experience personality disorders may have difficulties developing healthy and satisfying relationships with others, managing their emotions well, avoiding harmful behaviour, and working toward important life goals. Personality disorders can affect the way people understand and view themselves and others and cope with problems. Borderline personality disorder is one example of a personality disorder.
Supporting a Loved One with Serious Mental Illness
Supporting a loved one with mental illness presents many challenges. Educating yourself about the illness is the foundation of support. Research also has shown that education works; a huge body of evidence has shown that if you provide families with education and involve them in the treatment process, patients experience a reduction in symptoms, hospitalization days and relapse. Plus, the family environment is generally improved.
Not knowing how the illness functions can create misconceptions and prevent families from giving their loved ones effective help. For instance, without education, it's hard for people to grasp and appreciate the severity of the symptoms, such as the terrifying thoughts associated with schizophrenia or the suicidal ideation associated with a deep depression. It's not uncommon for families to wonder why their loved ones just can't snap out of it.
Stigma can prevent families from seeking support. But it's through support that you can gain more strength and valuable knowledge. Support groups also help to "normalize" a family's experiences and better enable them to swap ideas about managing a loved one with mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource in helping to support families and educate them on mental illness. For instance, NAMI offers a free 12-week course called the Family-to-Family Education Program, and most areas have local support groups. Mental Health America (MHA) also offers a variety of programs and resources.
Educational programming for healthcare professionals
MEDIVISION ™ collaborates with recognized leaders in the fields of medical and pharmaceutical sciences to provide educational programming for medical specialists, universities and medical schools. Our DVD catalog contains over 200 titles in 35 separate healthcare fields, including a wide variety of specialist topics essential to healthcare professionals.