The term mental illness (sometimes referred to as mental disorder) is any condition that can disrupt a person’s thought or behavior, often leading to an inability to get back to his regular demands and routines.
In terms of scope, it covers a broad range of problems that range from abnormal thoughts, emotions, behavior, and relationships with others – or even a combination of each. Some conditions have a strategy to prevent its onset, while other have available treatments, as well as methods to alleviate the suffering caused by diseases.
To date, there are 200 classified forms of mental illness – all of which do not only impact an individual’s health and well-being, but it can also result in severe economic and social consequences in countries all around the world. Here are five of the most common disorders.
- Depression. The condition, marked by episodes of sadness, lethargy, and loss of self-worth, affects at least 300 million people worldwide. It also results in disruption of sleep, a lack of appetite, and poor concentration. People who suffer from depression report having physical complaints, despite having no apparent physical cause. In some cases, depression is chronic, and it can severely interfere with a person’s ability to function in a social setting. In extreme cases, depression could lead to suicide.
- Bipolar affective disorder. People who have a bipolar affective disorder, also known as bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness, experience severe mood swings, which can range from abnormal elation (or a manic episode) to extreme sadness (called a depressive episode). Those who only experience manic attacks, but have no episodes of depression are also classified as having a bipolar disorder.
- Schizophrenia and other psychoses. Psychoses, or psychotic disorders, are severe mental disorders wherein a person loses touch with reality. Schizophrenia, a disorder where a person hears voices that aren’t there, is one type of psychotic disorder. Some cases of bipolar disorders have symptoms of psychoses as well. In a psychotic episode, a person “breaks” from reality, and his perception, thinking, language, sense of self, and emotions become distorted.
- Dementia. The term refers to symptoms associated with a deterioration in a person’s mental ability. The condition is progressive in nature, and it is not part of the normal aging process. In particular, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia are its two most common forms, and these adversely affect a person’s memory, learning capacity, language, and judgment.
- Developmental disorders. The term, which refers to conditions that severely affect a person’s intellectual ability and brain development. The condition is usually diagnosed in childhood, but it can last well into adulthood and lead to delays in the development of the central nervous system.
Known risk factors and symptoms of mental illness
The etiology of mental illness is still unclear; however, there are a lot of factors that have been known to contribute to the development of mental illness. These can include internal factors such as a person’s thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and interactions with others, as well as external factors like working conditions, standards of living, and community support.
In addition, other environmental risk factors that contribute to mental illness include stress, nutrition, and perinatal infections.
- Heredity is often believed as one of the contributing factors in mental illness, as some conditions run in the family. However, this doesn’t mean that the disease is inherited, such as the case of autosomal recessive disorders. According to experts, the development of mental illness comes from the interaction of the genes that make a person susceptible to other factors, like psychological trauma and stress, which can trigger the condition.
- Biology, on the other hand, can play a role in the development of mental illness, with some conditions linked to an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. When these become dysfunctional or out of balance, this can lead to an impairment in certain brain functions as well as symptoms of mental illness.
- Psychological trauma, especially those experienced during childhood, could also lead to the onset of mental illness.
- Environmental stressors like the death of a loved one, a dysfunctional family, and even substance abuse, can result in a mental disorder.
While signs and symptoms are different for each disorder – these are heavily reliant on a person’s circumstances and other factors, the common signs and symptoms include the following.
- Feeling extremely sad
- Confusion and an inability to concentrate
- Extreme fear, worry, and feelings of guilt
- Severe mood swings
- The tendency to isolate himself from friends and activities
- Lethargy and problems with sleep
- A detachment from reality (delusion), which involves paranoia and hallucinations
- The inability to cope with daily problems or stress
- Difficulty relating to people and trouble understanding them
- Substance abuse, in particular, alcohol and drugs
- Significant changes in eating habits
- Sudden and intense bursts of anger, hostility, and violence
- Suicidal thoughts
In some cases, mental illness will manifest as a physical problem. This includes stomach and back pain, headaches, or other aches and pains.
Body systems affected by mental illness
Although mental illness primarily affects the mind, its complications can lead to severe physical, emotional, and behavioral problems – some complications include:
- Feelings of unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life
- Family conflicts and relationship difficulties
- Social isolation
- Alcohol- and tobacco-related diseases, when there is substance abuse
- Missed work and school
- In severe cases, either suicide or homicide
Mental illness can also result in physical complications such as cardiovascular diseases and a compromised immune system. In addition, antipsychotic medication can lead to endocrine dysfunction and osteoporosis.
Food items or nutrients that may prevent or relieve mental illness
A person’s diet can greatly impact his mental health, with multiple studies exhibiting how these two are connected. Here are some recommended items that may boost mental function and reduce the risk of illness.
- Fatty fish. The omega-3 fatty acids, namely docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – found in wild cold water fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel – have been known to reduce symptoms of mental disorders including schizophrenia and depression. This is due to the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on neurotransmitter production, including dopamine and serotonin.
- Whole grains. While simple carbohydrates make mood swings worse and have been shown to create an effect similar to substance abuse, complex carbohydrates like those in whole grains release glucose slowly. This allows the brain and the body to have a steady source of energy throughout the day. Examples of whole grain products include bulgur, oats, wild rice, barley, beans, and soy.
- Lean protein. Food items such as fish, turkey, chicken, eggs, and beans, regulate serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin, in particular, is an important neurotransmitter, and multiple studies have linked low levels of the compound to depression.
- Leafy green vegetables. Selenium, a mineral found in broccoli, has been linked with healthy immune system function, reproduction, and metabolism. In other studies, having a low level of selenium has been linked to depression and fatigue. Other leafy greens like spinach, romaine, turnip, and mustard greens are potent sources of folate, which also help with depression and insomnia.
- Yogurt and other fermented food. Food items with active cultures like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and tempeh are rich in probiotics which reduce the levels of stress and anxiety.
Treatment and management options for mental illness
Depending on the type of mental illness and its severity, a healthcare professional may look at multiple options for addressing the condition.
- Medications, while they do not cure the condition, are used to reportedly improve symptoms. However, some types used for treatment cause dependency and may result in other complications.
- Psychotherapy is an approach where a patient talks with a mental health provider to sort out his moods, feelings, thoughts, and behavior. People who prefer this approach are encouraged to find someone they’re comfortable with and competent enough to listen to what they say.
- Hospital treatment, in particular, is used for patients who are believed to be an immediate danger to themselves and others.
The condition also requires some changes in a person’s lifestyle. For one, exercise is useful in countering symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It’s also best to hold off decision-making when symptoms are severe, as you may have impaired judgment during those times.
Finally, learning to adopt a positive attitude could help improve a person’s quality of life and effectively manage stress.
Where to learn more
Mental illness is any condition that can disrupt a person’s thought or behavior – which can range from abnormal thoughts, emotions, behavior, and relationships with others. To date, 200 classified forms of mental illness impact an individual’s health and well-being. Its cause is still unclear; however, factors – such as a person’s thought to external factors like stress – have been known to contribute to its development.
The condition primarily affects the mind, but its complications can lead to severe physical, emotional, and behavioral problems. Depending on the type of mental illness and its severity, a healthcare professional may look at multiple options for addressing the condition.