What does it mean to have a mental illness?

Mental illnesses, also called mental health disorders, are conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. Having a mental illness causes distress and makes it difficult to function at home, work, school, and in relationships. Some types of mental illness are mild and only interfere with certain aspects of a person’s life, while others are severe and cause major functional impairment. Regardless of the type or severity, it’s important to remember that mental illness is a disease and has nothing to do with a person’s character or intelligence.

What causes mental illness?

We aren’t exactly sure what causes mental illness, but experts point to genetic, biological, psychosocial, and environmental factors as the root of most conditions. For example, depression may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, a lack of support from relationships, or a life event such as divorce or unemployment. Mental health professionals look at all possible influences when developing a treatment plan for mental illness.

What are the most common types of mental health problems?

The most common types of mental health problems are anxiety and depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent type of mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults. More than 16 million adults suffer from major depressive disorder, and it’s the leading cause of disability in the U.S. among people ages 15-44.


Can people with mental illness recover?

Yes. People with mental illness can recover to live full, balanced, and productive lives. When healing from a mental health disorder, early identification and therapeutic intervention are critical. Seeking treatment as soon as symptoms present gives a person the best chance at achieving stability and developing the coping skills required to manage the condition long-term.

What treatment options are available?

Just as there are different treatments available for physical disease, people suffering from mental illness also have several options for finding strength and recovery. There isn’t a single treatment that works for everyone. Part of the healing process is trying different types of therapies to find out which treatment or combination of treatments works best. A mental health treatment center may use psychotherapy, medication monitoring, support groups, stress management, relapse prevention, patient education, and trigger identification to help patients suffering from mental illness. In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary until a patient has stabilized.

What are some of the signs of mental illness?

The signs of mental illness vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. For example, a person suffering from a phobia will exhibit different symptoms than someone with bipolar disorder. What follows is a list of general signs that may suggest a person may be struggling from mental illness:

  • Social withdrawal

  • Problems thinking and concentrating

  • Feeling disconnected from oneself

  • Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, touch, or smells

  • Unusual drop in functioning at school or work

  • Loss of interest in hobbies and sports

  • Uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior

  • Sudden sleep or appetite changes

  • Dramatic shifts in mood

  • Excessive fear or worry

  • Persistent sadness or irritability

  • Strong feelings of anger

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol

While the presence of one or two of these symptoms alone may be inconclusive, someone who experiences several at once should seek the help of a mental health professional.

How can I help a friend or family member who I believe may have a mental health problem?

It can be difficult to know how to help a loved one who seems to be struggling with mental illness. Once you know the signs and symptoms, you may feel comfortable gently approaching your friend or family member. Mention that you’ve noticed a change in behavior and that you’re concerned. Let your loved one know that you’re there to listen, without judgment. When the time is right, you can encourage him or her to seek help at a mental health treatment center.

For more information on Alvarado Parkway Institute’s mental health services, please call us at (619) 667-6125.