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Thursday, 31 May 2012 16:48

Mental Illness

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What is mental illness?

Mental illness is the term used to describe a number of mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addictive behaviors, eating and anxiety disorders. The common denominator for all of these conditions is that they affect the way in which a person with mental illness feels, thinks and behaves on a daily basis.

Many people experience troubling periods in their lives that negatively affect the way they think and feel. If this condition or symptoms associated with this condition persist for a long time or become so overwhelming that a person is unable to function, a mental illness of some kind may be diagnosed.


Mental illness is very common and affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. If left undiagnosed or untreated, mental illness can have a profound, negative effect on a person’s life. Almost always, the mentally ill person’s family relationships can suffer. It may become impossible for a person to function at work or enjoy his or her everyday life. Yet, when mental illness is correctly diagnosed, it can be treated and managed successfully with a combination of medication from a physician and counseling therapy.

What causes mental illness?

While there is no known specific cause of mental illness, certain factors may predispose a person towards developing a mental illness of any kind. These factors include:

Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition for mental illness. Mental illness is more likely to develop in people that have a close family member that has also been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Hormonal imbalance: A hormonal imbalance within the body can cause mental illness.

Brain chemicals: Changes in neurotransmitters, natural chemicals within the brain, may be a cause of mental illness.

Stress: The onset of a mental illness can be caused by stressful life events such as bereavement, relationship dysfunction, financial problems or work problems.

Trauma: People who have experienced physical or sexual abuse or assaults, severe trauma relating to military combat, or loss of limbs/mobility due to accidents are at risk of developing mental illness.

Chronic illness or disease: People that have a serious life-threatening or life-shortening illness or disease such as cancer or COPD have an increased risk of developing mental illness.

Substance misuse: Mental illness often develops in people who are chronic users of alcohol, drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs, and eventually become addicted to drugs, alcohol or both.

Social isolation: Mental illness may occur in people who are isolated socially or who do not have many close friends upon whom they can rely. For some of these socially isolated people, other causes of mental illness may lead to further isolation, and a deepening condition of severe depression and mental illness.

What are the symptoms of mental illness?

The symptoms of mental illness vary from person to person depending on the type of mental illness or medical condition the person is experiencing. Symptoms can affect both physical and mental function for the person who experiences a form of mental illness.

Physical symptoms of mental illness include:

  • sleep disturbances, either sleeping too much or not being able to sleep
  • feeling fatigued or exhausted all the time
  • suffering from a variety of aches and pains
  • digestive problems, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea
  • headaches
  • dry mouth
  • excessive perspiration
  • dizziness
  • weight loss or gain
  • low libido (low sex drive)

Emotional symptoms of mental illness include:

  • feelings of sadness
  • feeling unable to cope with even the simplest of everyday tasks
  • excessive crying
  • excessive worry or anxiety
  • confusion, loss of memory, inability to make decisions
  • anger or aggression
  • hallucinations
  • suicidal thoughts

Behavioral symptoms of mental illness include:

  • withdrawal from activities
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • increase or loss of appetite
  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • indulging in high risk behaviors such as gambling or promiscuity

For the above conditions, a mentally ill person may be manifesting one, two or several of these behavioral symptoms.

What is the recommended treatment for mental illness?

Treatment for mental illness depends on the type of mental illness a person is experiencing. A trained psychiatrist, physician or psychotherapist should generally make this diagnosis, because many mentally ill individuals suffer what is commonly called a “dual diagnosis,” signifying more than one single cause for the mental problems being exhibited.

The treatment program selected will vary over a wide array of alternatives, depending on the severity of the condition. Mild to moderate problems can be treated with a combination of medication and counseling therapy such as psychotherapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

When severe cases of mental illness are identified, extreme measures such as brain stimulation treatments may be used. These necessary procedures may include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). However, this type of treatment is usually employed as a last resort when medication and counseling therapy have not worked.

In very serious cases of mental illness, hospitalization may be necessary, this only occurs if the person with the mental illness is unable to take care of himself or herself, or if they are in danger of coming to harm or harming others. Institutionalized treatment is typically the last line of treatment for severely mentally ill patients, and is limited to persons who are at risk to cause injury or death to others or to themselves.