Mental Illness

The topic of mental illness is often misunderstood, thought of as someone else’s issue or as a source of entertainment. However, people affected by mental illness aren’t only in the movies or on the news. In fact, 1 in 4 adults live with a mental illness in any given year while 1 in 17 live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.[1] Read on to learn more.

What is a Mental Illness?

Mental illness, also called mental disorder, is a medical condition that affects the way a person thinks, feels and behaves. A person with a mental illness is often unable to relate to others and cope with the demands of daily life.[2]

Types of Mental Illness

There are a wide range of mental illnesses, but the following are some of the most severe types: [2,3]

Symptoms of Mental Illness

The stress of life and particularly hard times can affect a person’s mental health at certain points in his or her life, but when ongoing signs and symptoms affect a person’s ability to function in daily life, mental illness might be to blame. The symptoms of mental illness vary depending on the disorder, however most mental illnesses affect a person’s emotions, thoughts and behavior. The following are some examples:[3,4]

  • Suicidal thinking
  • Confused thoughts or difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive fears and worries
  • Extreme mood shifts
  • Withdrawal from socializing
  • Troubles sleeping
  • Experience of delusions, paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Extreme feelings of guilt
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence

Causes of Mental Illness

People of all ages, race, religion and income level are affected by mental illness. While mental illnesses are not due to personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing, the following might play a role in the development of a mental illness:[2,5]

  • Genes and family history
  • Biological factors
  • Life experiences, such as stress or a history of abuse
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Exposure to viruses or toxic chemicals while in the womb
  • Use of illegal drugs
  • Having a serious medical condition like cancer

Effects of Mental Illness

If left untreated, mental illness can cause severe emotional, behavioral and physical health problems. It can also cause legal and financial problems, and is a leading cause of disability in the United States. Other potential compilations include the following:[6]

  • Family conflicts
  • Relationship troubles
  • Absence from work or school
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Self-harm and harm to others, including suicide or homicide
  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents

Treatments for Mental Illness

While there often is no cure for mental illnesses, treating the symptoms related to conditions can be effective. The following are some treatment options:[7]

Medication: Often the first treatment for most mentally ill people, medications can significantly improve symptoms and help promote recovery.

Psychosocial treatments: Therapies such as psychotherapy; psychoeducation; cognitive behavioral therapy; interpersonal therapy; and support groups can help the mentally ill and their loved ones get support and education about the disorder.

Some individuals have also found electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation helpful for managing and treating their mental illness.

Supplemental interventions: Intake of omega-3 fatty acids and folate have also been helpful in the management of mental illness.


  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Any Disorder Among Adults. Retrieved September 18, 2013, from
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental Illness. Retrieved September 18, 2013, from
  3. Mayo Clinic. Mental illness Definition. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from
  4. Mayo Clinic. Mental illness Symptoms. Retrieved September 9, 2013, from
  5. MedlinePlus. Mental Disorders. Retrieved September 18, 2013, from
  6. Mayo Clinic. Mental illness Complications. Retrieved September 19, 2013, from
  7. National Alliance on Mental Health. Treatments and Services. Retrieved September 19, 2013, from

By C. J. Newton, MA, Editor

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