Mental Illness

What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness is a term used for a group of disorders causing severe disturbances in thinking, feeling and relating. The result is a diminished capacity for coping with ordinary demands of life. Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, children, adolescents, adults, the elderly and they can occur in any family. Several million people in this country suffer from a serious, long-term mental illness. Consumers with a mental illness occupy more hospital beds than do persons with any other illness.

Mental illness is not the same as mental retardation. The mentally retarded have a diminished intellectual capacity usually present since birth. Although they may have difficulty performing at a normal level due to their illness, those with a mental illness are usually of normal intelligence. 

Schizophrenia affects approximately one in one hundred. The disease affects men and women about equally and its onset is usually in the late teens or early twenties.

Schizophrenia is a thought disorder, where there is a disturbance in thought patterns and processes.  People with schizophrenia usually have several of the following symptoms:

  • disconnected and confusing language 
  • poor reasoning, memory and judgment 
  • high level anxiety 
  • eating and sleeping disorders 
  • hallucinations-hearing and seeing things that only exist in the mind of the consumer 
  • delusions-persistent false beliefs about something, e.g. that others are controlling their thoughts 
  • deterioration of appearance and personal hygiene -tendency to withdraw from others 
Unfortunately there are many myths about schizophrenia. Persons with schizophrenia do not have "split personality" and are not prone to violence. Their illness is not caused by bad parenting and it is not a weakness of character. Their illness is due to biochemical disturbance of the brain.

Approximately one third of those with a schizophrenic episode will never have symptoms again.  Another one third will have periodic episodes, with periods with no symptoms in between.  The last third require ongoing treatment.   New medications and rehabilitation bring hope in managing this disease.

Affective Disorders
The affective disorders are the common of psychiatric disorders. They are generally less disabling than schizophrenia. The primary disturbance in ties disorders is that of affect and mood. These mood disorders may be manic depressive illness (bipolar) in which the person swings between extreme high and low moods, or they may be unipolar in which the person suffers from persistent severe depression. About six percent of the population suffers from an affective disorder, a major cause of suicide.

Persons diagnosed as having bipolar illness usually have several of the following characteristics:  

  • boundless energy, enthusiasm and need for activity 
  • decreased need for sleep 
  • flight of ideas 
  • grandiose ideas and poor judgment 
  • rapid, loud, disorganized speech 
  • rapid emotional changes 
  • possible delusional thinking 
  • rapid switch to severe depression
Persons having severe depression (or the depressive phase of a bipolar disorder) have several of the following: 

  • sad,anxious, hopeless feelings 
  • loss of motivation and energy 
  • feelings of worthlessness and guilt 
  • loss of appetite 
  • indecisive thinking 
  • sleep disturbances 
  • possible psychotic symptoms 
  • suicidal thoughts and actions
Other Disabling Mental Illness
Anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorders, ect., may also be considered mental illnesses. Other conditions, such as personality disorders, behavior disorders and the abuse of alcohol and drugs may often be so disabling as to be labeled mental illness.

Causes of Mental Illness
The causes of mental illness are not well understood, although it is believed that the functioning of the brain's neurotransmitters is involved. Heredity may be a factor in mental illness as it is in diabetes and cancer. Stress may contribute to the onset of mental illness in a vulnerable person. Recreational drugs contribute to the onset, but are unlikely to be the single cause. Family interaction and early childhood training were once dominant theories of causation, however, current research does not support those theories.

Since the causes of long-term mental illnesses are not known, there is no effective prevention and thus, no cures at this time. However, there are treatments available which substantially improve the functioning of persons with these disorders.

For most people with these illnesses, an expanding range of medications are available. In addition, most consumers can profit from community programs to help build self-confidence and learn independent-living skills. With well-developed programs, some consumers make a good recovery, hold a job and achieve a satisfactory life. Others may need some support for all or most of their lives. the goal is to help them achieve the highest degree of independence and productivity possible.
(More about various treatment methods)

Mental Health Professionals
Selecting a professional
The relationship of the client and his/her healthcare professional is extremely important. Ideally, the needs of other family members will also be considered during treatment. (More about various professionals)

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