Mental illness is a term used for a group of brain disorders causing severe disturbances in thinking, feeling, and relating. They result in substantially diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. It can affect persons of any age — children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly — and they can occur in any family. Several million people in this country suffer from a serious, long-term mental illness brain disorder. The cost to society is high due to lost productivity and treatment expense. Patients with mental illness occupy more hospital beds than do persons with any other illness.
Mental illness affects 1 in 5 families in America. Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. Mental illnesses are the leading cause of disability for persons between the ages of 15-44.
If your loved one exhibits any combination of these symptoms over a prolonged period of time, it is advisable to see a medical or psychiatric professional for an evaluation. If your loved one becomes violent, or is unable to care for him or herself, he or she may need involuntary care.
General Signs & Symptoms of a Mental Illness
- Withdrawal from society, isolation.
- Confused or delusional thinking.
- Strange or grandiose ideas.
- Prolonged or severe depression.
- Excessive anxiety.
- Mood swings.
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior.
- Irritation, anger, hostility.
- Changes in appetite.
- Sleep disturbance.
- Difficulty coping with daily activities.
- Increased use of alcohol/drugs.
For more information regarding Mental Illness check our our List of Recommended Books and Videos which are also available through our lending library at all NAMI-SFV meetings.Lending Library Available Books
The Major Mental Illnesses
The most prevalent mental illnesses are schizophrenia and a group of illnesses called “mood disorders”, primarily, clinical depression and bipolar disorder.
- Clinical Depression
- Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as Manic-Depression)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Schizoaffective Disorder
Mood (or affective) disorders are the most common of mental illness. The two major mood disorders are Bipolar Disorder (also known as Manic-Depression) which causes a person to swing between extreme high and low moods, and Clinical Depression (also known as Unipolar Depression) in which the person suffers from persistent severe depression.
About six per cent of the population suffers from an affective disorder and are a major risk for suicide. Every year in the U.S., on average 6.6% of the population experiences at least one instance of Clinical Depression. The average age of onset for Bipolar Disorder is 25 years old, with 2.9% of the U.S. population diagnosed every year. Only 55% of those diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder are receiving any form of health service (including healthcare). Mood disorders are generally less persistently disabling than schizophrenia, but only if the person finds and accepts treatment.
Clinical Depression & the depressive phase of Bipolar Disorder involve a persistent low mood defined by the DSM-IV as extending over a period of two weeks or longer, and can be recognized by the following symptoms:
- Feel very sad, down, empty, or hopeless
- Have very little energy
- Have decreased activity levels or feel tired and “slowed down”
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Feel like they can’t enjoy anything
- Feel worried, guilty or worthless with low self-image
- Have trouble concentrating
- Forget things a lot
- Eat too much or too little
- Think about death or suicide
Bipolar Disorder involves extreme changes in mood, cycling between Manic and Depressive phases. While persons with Bipolar Disorder are often first diagnosed with Clinical Depression, Bipolar uniquely involves additional periods of Mania (involving psychosis) or Hypomania (milder form of mania without psychosis) which defined by the DSM-5 as occurring for at least 1 week, can be distinguished by the following symptoms:
- Believe they have special powers or may make unrealistic plans
- Unusual risky, impulsive or unpredictable decisions made with impaired judgment
- Elevated mood which feels “up” “high” or “elated” at an uncontrollable level
- Irritable, agitated, or “touchy” behavior
- Trouble sleeping
- Feel “jumpy” or “wired”
- Become more active than usual
- Talk really fast about a lot of different things
- Feel like their thought are going very fast and have trouble concentrating
- Think they can do a lot of things at once
- Excessive, thrill seeking behaviors such gambling, spending money, and sexual behavior
- Alcohol/drug abuse
- A rapid switch to deep depression
- Psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions which mirror a person’s extreme mood (Mania’s psychotic symptoms may be wrongly diagnosed as schizophrenia)
Mood Disorders are treated and managed in several ways:
- Medications, such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants
- Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and family-focused therapy
- Self-management strategies and education
- Complementary health approaches such as meditation, faith and prayer
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
Schizophrenia is one of the most serious and disabling of the mental illnesses. It is found in approximately 1% of the U.S. population affecting men and women equally. The average age of onset occurs from 16-30 years old, with symptoms appearing in males slightly earlier.
Getting an individual to take medication for his or her illness is difficult, especially when the person does not believe they are sick. Statistically in the U.S. only approximately 63% of those diagnosed receive any form of health services (including healthcare). Schizophrenia symptoms should persistently last for 6 months or longer and are generally divided into three categories: Positive, Negative, and Cognitive, which are the following:
- “Positive” Symptoms are psychotic experiences that are not generally seen in healthy people. People with these symptoms are sometimes unable to tell what’s real from what is imagined. These symptoms can be severe, and at other times, hardly noticeable. Positive symptoms include:
- Hallucinations: when a person sees, hears, smells, tastes, or feels things that are not real. “Hearing voices” is common for people with schizophrenia. People who hear voices may hear them for a long time before family or friends notice a problem.
- Delusions: when a person believes things that are not true. For example, a person may believe that people on the radio and television are talking directly to him or her. Sometimes people believe that they are in danger and others are trying to hurt them.
- Thought disorders: when a person has ways of thinking that are odd or illogical. People with thought disorders may have trouble organizing their thoughts. Sometimes a person will stop talking in the middle of a thought or make up words that have no meaning.
- Movement disorders: when a person has may appear as agitated body movements. A person may repeat certain motions over and over. In the other extreme, a person may stop moving or talking for a while, which is a rare condition called catatonia.
- “Negative” Symptoms refer to social withdrawal, difficulty showing emotions, or difficulty functioning normally. People with negative symptoms may need help with everyday tasks. Negative symptoms include:
- Talking in a dull voice
- Showing no facial expression, such as a smile or frown
- Having trouble experiencing happiness
- Having trouble planning and sticking with an activity, such as grocery shopping
- Talking very little to other people, even when it is important
- Cognitive Symptoms are not easy to see, but they can make it hard for people to have a job or take care of themselves. Often, these symptoms are detected only when specific tests are performed. Cognitive symptoms include:
- Difficulty using information to make decisions
- Problems using information immediately after learning it
- Trouble paying attention
- Antipsychotic medications help patients with the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia. Some people have side effects when they start taking medications, but most side effects go away after a few days. Some types of antipsychotic medications can cause a lot of weight gain and other health concerns, which can lead to diabetes, high cholesterol, or other conditions. Other types of antipsychotic medications can cause side effects related to physical movement where a person cannot control muscle movements, especially around the mouth.
Psychosocial treatments help patients deal with everyday challenges of schizophrenia. These treatments are often most helpful after patients find a medication that works. Treatments include:
- Family education: teaches the whole family how to cope with the illness and help their loved one
- Illness management skills: helps the patient learn about schizophrenia and manage it from day-to-day
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): helps the patient identify current problems and how to solve them. A CBT therapist focuses on changing unhelpful patterns of thinking and behavior.
- Rehabilitation: helps with getting a job or going to school and everyday living skills
- Self-help groups: provide support from other people with the illness and their families
- Treatment for drug and alcohol misuse: is often combined with other treatments for schizophrenia
Scientists have learned a lot about schizophrenia, but more research is needed to help explain its causes.
Unfortunately there are many myths about schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia do not have a “split personality” and are not prone to criminal violence. Their illness is not caused by bad parenting and is not evidence of weakness of character. Their illness is due to a biochemical disturbance of the brain, like Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s or epilepsy. People with schizophrenia are sometimes feared as dangerous or violent but most people with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses are less violent and more gentle than average people — especially when they are receiving treatment. A common problem associated with schizophrenia is the lack of insight into the condition itself. This is not a willful denial but rather a part of the mental illness itself. Such a lack of understanding, of course, poses many challenges for loved ones seeking better care for the person with schizophrenia.