Mental illness or mental health disorders are a wide range of conditions affecting mental health. Mental disorders affect mood, thinking, and behavior of individuals. Some common mental disorders include anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia), and schizophrenia. Many mental disorders can significantly interfere with the ability to function normally, work, study, or maintain quality of life, affecting the quality of life.
In most cases, the symptoms of mental disorders can be managed conservatively with medications and psychotherapy. Mental illness is common, and one in every five people may be affected. Mental illness can occur at any age, as a child or as an adult.
The five main warning signs of mental illness are as follows:
- Excessive paranoia, worry, or anxiety
- Long-lasting sadness or irritability
- Extreme changes in moods
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping pattern
How do you suspect mental illness in a person?
Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the mental disorder and severity of the condition.
Some signs and symptoms that are seen in mental disorders include:
- Feeling sad and unhappy
- Inability to concentrate
- Excessive fears
- Unnecessary feelings of guilt
- Severe mood changes
- Easy irritability
- The tendency to react with violence
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Inability to maintain relationships
- Inability to work or study
- Disorganized speech (talking meaningless sentences that don’t make sense)
- Feeling tired and lethargic
- Insomnia (difficulty sleeping) or sleeping too long
- Detachment from reality
- Delusions (false and sometimes unrealistic beliefs in which the person refuses to stop believing, despite providing proof, for example, believing they are God, that aliens are reading their minds, etc.)
- Hallucinations (having unreal sensations such as hearing voices, seeing things, feeling sensations on the skin, having strange odors that aren’t real, etc.)
- Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
- Consuming excessive alcohol
- Drug abuse
- Loss of appetite or excessive eating
- Decreased sex drive
- Suicidal thinking (requires immediate medical attention)
What causes mental illness?
The exact cause of mental illnesses is not always known. It could be caused due to various genetic and environmental factors or a combination of both:
- Genetic: Mental illness is more common in those who have a blood relative with mental illness. Certain genes may be inherited that can increase the risk of mental illness. Environmental factors and other psychological or physical stressors can trigger mental illness in those with genetic predispositions.
- Environmental exposures before birth: Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol, or drugs during pregnancy can increase the risk of mental illness in the child later in life.
- Altered chemistry in the brain: Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that carry signals to other parts of the brain and the rest of the body. When the functions of these chemicals are impaired, the normal function of the nerve systems changes, leading to mental disorders.
What are the risk factors for mental illness?
Certain factors may increase your risk of mental illness:
- Family history of mental illness
- Previous history of mental illness
- Intense psychological or physical stress due to stressful situations in life such as financial problems, loss of a job, death of a loved one, or a divorce
- Traumatic experiences such as sexual assault, war, etc.
- Unpleasant childhood due to bullying, abuse, or neglect
- Chronic medical conditions, especially diseases that are associated with chronic pain and diseases affecting quality of life, such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, fibromyalgia, etc.
- Trauma to the brain
- Alcoholism and/or drug abuse
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