Mental Illness

Barb Green, Parish Nurse

Milton, WI

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions. Examples include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. Nearly 46% of Americans will be diagnosed with some type of mental illness in their lifetime.

Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. A concern becomes a mental illness when signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect ability to function. In most cases mental illness symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and counseling (psychotherapy).

Signs and symptoms of mental illness include abnormal thinking, behavior, and emotions such as feeling sad, confused thinking, excessive fears or worries, and problems sleeping. Physical symptoms may include fatigue, back pain, chest pain, and digestive problems. In general, symptoms may indicate a mental illness when they make you miserable and interfere with ability to function in daily life.

The main classes of mental illness are mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance-related disorders, disorders of thinking (cognitive disorders), disorders of detachment from reality (psychotic disorders), developmental disorders and personality disorders.

Mood disorders include those that affect how you feel emotionally. Examples include depression and bipolar disorder. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by the anticipation of future danger or misfortune, accompanied by feeling ill at ease. Examples include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Substance-related disorders include problems associated with the misuse of alcohol and illegal or legal drugs. Psychotic disorders cause detachment from reality (delusions). The most notable example is schizophrenia.

Cognitive disorders affect ability to think and reason. They include delirium, dementia, and memory problems. Alzheimer’s disease is an example. Developmental disorders cover a wide range of problems that usually begin in infancy, childhood or adolescence. They include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning disabilities.

A personality disorder is characterized by a lasting pattern of emotional instability and unhealthy behavior that causes problems in life and relationships. Examples include borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

There is no specific identifiable cause of mental illness. It is thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. A life situation may trigger the actual mental illness if you already have a genetic vulnerability. Biological factors include traumatic brain injury or exposure to viruses or toxins while in the womb. Life experiences such as loss of a loved one,

financial problems, and high stress can play a role in triggering mental illness. Naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters play a role in some. It’s thought that inherited traits, life experiences, and biological factors can all affect brain chemistry linked to mental illnesses.

Mental illness is common. About 1 in 4 adults has a mental illness in any given year and nearly of those half have more than one mental illness at the same time. Mental illness can begin at any age, from childhood through later adult years. It is a leading cause of disability. Complications linked to the illnesses include: family conflicts, relationship difficulties, social isolation, substance abuse, poverty, homelessness and suicide.

Treatment depends on the particular mental illness, its severity and life situation. Medications don’t cure the illness but they can often significantly improve symptoms. They can also help make other treatments such as psychotherapy more effective. Psychotherapy is a general term for the process of treating mental illness by talking with a mental health provider. It can take place one-on-one, in a group, or along with family members.

Participating in your own care by working with your doctor to see which treatment option is best for you is important. In most cases a mental illness won’t get better if you try to treat it on your own, without professional care. But you can do things for yourself that will

build on your treatment plan. Stick to the plan, take your medications as directed, learn about your condition, pay attention to warning signs, get active, avoid drugs and alcohol, and get regular medical care. Fortunately, treatment for mental illness can go a long way to restoring emotional and behavioral health and helping a person live a more normal life.

(Information taken from Mayo Clinic.com/mental illness)

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