The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mental illness as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood, a condition that may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and to function each day.
What causes a mental illness? Research has not been able to determine definitely what the main cause of mental illness is, instead it suggests that mental illnesses can be caused by a combination of genetics, environment, lifestyle and social circumstance.
Recently, many researchers are looking at genetics as a cause of mental illness. Illnesses previously thought to strike at random are now being researched with genetics as the likely culprit. These illnesses include ADHD, major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Whatever the cause, a mental illness can be devastating. A mental illness is incredibly difficult to live with, not only for the person suffering from it, but also for the friends and family of the person who suffers from a mental illness. A person suffering from a mental illness experiences a change in personality, a change in the way they perceive themselves and the world, and a change in how they treat others and how they interact socially. All of these things have an impact on the way they feel and think, and the relationships and constructs in their lives.
For example, someone with depression often alienates themselves in their relationships with friends and family. They also let the quality of their work, or the attention they give to their studies slip.
In turn this leaves them feeling alone and incompetent, which feeds their depression even more. Worst of all is that more often than not they do not realize that this is happening until it is too late.
The friends and family living with such a person often do not understand what is going on. They feel neglected and hurt. When however, they do understand, they often find it difficult to know how to support the person suffering.
Dangers of Depression
Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness. It often manifests as a result of a different condition such as anorexia, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, amputation, cancer, or other conditions. Depression can also manifest on its own as a result of your environment and social wellbeing.
Depression, if not treated, can be crippling. It causes those suffering from it to become tired and negative and it makes them loose hope and faith in themselves. Suicide can be considered the ‘ultimate side-effect’ of depression. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens and adults under the age of 40. According to statistics provided by the Jason Foundation, more young adults and teens die from suicide than form heart-disease, chronic lung-disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza COMBINED!
Depression can also have other effects. It may cause you to loose your job or fail your studies. It can break down the relationships you have in your life. It can cause you to loose interest and begin to neglect the things you are passionate about.
Identifying a Mental Illness
There is a wide variety of mental illnesses. They are all different and can not always be identified in the same way.
See psychcentral.com ’s complete list of mental illnesses here.
Some mental illnesses, such as autism, can be identified by a doctor before birth by doing a blood test. These tests are very accurate and in some cases can even determine the specific type of autism the child may be born with however official diagnosis is often only given after birth.
Knowing whether or not their child may be born with autism helps parents to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for dealing with an autistic child. It also provides them to create a life-plan for living a functional day to day life with an autistic child.
Other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, anorexia, bohemia, etc. are caused later in life. These illnesses can either present itself immediately or gradually over a period of time. Luckily, these illnesses have a few tattletale signs:
- A bleak and negative out-look on life.
- The feeling of helplessness and/or hopelessness.
- Loosing interest in previous hobbies and/or activities.
- Dramatic changes in sleeping patterns.
- Sudden or dramatic changes in weight and a loss of appetite.
- Participating in reckless and irresponsible behavior.
- A dramatic loss of energy.
- Increase alcohol and/or substance use. Please note that addiction in itself is considered a mental illness however can also manifest as a symptom of a different mental illness.
- Unexplained aches and pains can also be a symptom of a mental illness.
Mental illness can be treated successfully. In some cases, it may even be cured.
Treatment of mental illnesses depends on many factors. Each individual case is different and treated slightly differently. Starting treatment early helps to improve the effectiveness of treatment. Another way to improve effectiveness is to be actively involved in your own treatment. This means sticking to schedules you set yourself, taking your medication regularly, spending time reflecting and relaxing and identifying and avoiding triggers.
If you or anyone you know begins to experience symptoms, seek professional support from a psychologist and/or physiatrist. Your therapy is made up of multiple components – professional help being at the core. Regular therapy sessions, the right medication as prescribed by a doctor, reflection and relaxation and a solid support structure are all some examples of what one can expect during your treatment.
If your doctor considers it necessary, he/she might admit you into a clinic for psychological treatment. These clinics are designed to provide you a safe and controlled environment. They work to make you accustomed to routine, a very helpful tool in fighting mental illness. They also promote activities such as keeping a daily journal, attending daily occupational therapy, daily group therapy and daily relaxation therapy. During a stay at one of these clinics, a patient can also expect daily therapy sessions with their phycologists in order to guide you into a mindset of healing, and your psychiatrist, who takes advantage of the controlled environment offered by the clinic to fine-tune your medication.
A mental illness can be just as hazardous and deadly as cancer. If not more. It is crucial for each of us to be aware of the signs, symptoms and treatment options of mental illness, and to raise awareness and concern for mental illness in our own communities.