Do you shy away when you hear the words mental illness? For years, there has been a stigma about mental illness in our society. It was taboo–something uncommon and misunderstood; some even ventured as far as to say it was made up by the “weak” as a ploy to receive attention. However, over the past two decades, much has been learned about mental illness and a fair amount of resources have been developed to educate mental and medical health professionals. Mental illnesses are very real; in fact, 43.8 million, or 18.5% of US citizens are affected. Mental illness influences the way one thinks, feels, behaves, and relates to others and to his/her surroundings. Those with mental illness often feel tense, anxious, and/or sad to the point that it is difficult for them to function normally. That is no way to live! If you feel you or someone you love may have an undiagnosed mental illness, now is the time to get help. My purpose in writing this post is to increase understanding and awareness of mental illness in order to help you or someone you know who is suffering. Let’s begin with some basics on mental illness:
- What is a mental illness? According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Mental illnesses come in different types and with varying degrees of severity. The most common types are depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, trauma and eating disorders.
- Who has a mental illness? While some studies show that mental illness can be hereditary, we are all susceptible. In fact, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year! Mental illness can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, background or other aspect of cultural identity. It can occur at any age, but 50% of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24.
- How do you get a mental illness? Although the exact cause of most mental illness is not known, researchers are finding that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of the following factors and not personal weakness or a character defect (as was previously believed):
a. Heredity (genetics passed on from affected family members)
b. Biology (imbalance of neurotransmitters)
c. Psychological trauma (emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; a significant early loss; neglect)
d. Environmental factors (death or divorce, a dysfunctional family life, changing jobs or schools, substance abuse)
- Are mental illnesses treatable? Certainly! Much progress has been made the last two decades to better understand mental illness and how to treat it. A full recovery from a mental illness is not simply a matter of will and self-discipline. With therapy and/or medication, a full recovery is absolutely possible.
I hope that better understanding mental illness will remove the stigma and allow more people to seek the treatment they need. It is very real and it is very treatable. If you suffer from mental illness, I want you to know that there is hope! There is nothing shameful about a mental illness, and there are a myriad of resources available to you today–the foremost being a trained and experienced therapist to be your coach and advocate along the way. Start treatment early and be an active participant in your own recovery process. Contact me today to set up your first appointment!
- American Psychiatric Association: “What is Mental Illness?”
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Mental Health Conditions”
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Mental Health by the Numbers”
- Department of Health and Human Services, Statewide and Mental Health Services: “Types of mental illness”
- Medicine Net: “Mental Illness Basics”