About Mental Illness
What is mental illness?
Mental illnesses are the various conditions characterized by impairment
of an individual's normal
cognitive (thought), emotional, or behavioral functioning. There
are many different mental illnesses known today. Our mental health
(sometimes referred to as behavioral health) is as important to our
day to day functioning and quality of life as our physical health.
Mental illness is sometimes called emotional illness, mental disease,
or mental disorder.
Today, we know that mental and physical health are similar. Both
of them have disorders or illnesses with specific causes, symptoms,
and treatments. It is important to understand what mental illness
is not: it is not a personal or moral weakness.
What causes mental illness?
Mental illnesses, like other illnesses,
have a variety of causes. The exact cause of most
mental illnesses is not known, but experts agree
that in most cases, it is a combination of factors.
These factors include genetics, biology/brain chemistry,
trauma and environmental stress.
||Genetics – Most
mental illnesses tend to run in families. This does not mean
that if someone in your family has a mental illness you will
develop one, too. It simply means that there is a likelihood
that a parent could pass a mental illness on to a child. Again,
this just means the chances are greater, not that the illness
will be passed for certain.
||Biology – Some
mental illnesses are now linked to chemicals in the brain called
neurotransmitters. These help the nerves in the brain communicate
with one another. When these chemical are out of balance or absent,
nerves cannot communicate properly with each other and messages
may get lost or changed as they move through the brain. This
is what causes symptoms. Injuries to or defects of the brain
have also been connected to some mental illnesses.
||Trauma – Psychological
trauma can trigger some mental illnesses. This trauma can include
severe emotional, physical or sexual abuse or severe grief, especially
when this happens earlier in life.
Stress – For people that are already at risk
for mental illness, extreme stress in their environment or
lives can bring on the symptoms of a mental illness.
||What are the symptoms of
produce different symptoms in different people, but some are
fairly common. How strong these symptoms are also varies from
person to person. In general, these symptoms could be signs of
a mental illness. No information on this site is meant to substitute
for a consultation with a mental health professional. If you
believe you or someone you care about may be experiencing a mental
illness, please consult a professional found in our Finding Help
and Resources section.
Symptoms of mental illness may include:
- Confused thinking
- Long-lasting sadness or irritability
- Extreme highs and lows in mood
- Excessive fear, worrying or anxiety
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping
- Strong feelings of anger
- Delusions or hallucinations (seeing
or hearing things that are not really there)
- Increasing inability to cope with
daily problems and activities
- Thoughts of suicide
- Denial of obvious problems
- Many unexplained physical problems
- Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol