The Mental Illnesses

Mental health problems are health conditions involving changes in thinking, mood, and/or behavior, and they are associated with distress or impaired functioning. When they are more severe, they are called mental illnesses. These include anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depressive and other mood disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and others. When these occur in children under 18, they are referred to as serious emotional disturbances (SEDs).

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorders in adults and affect twice as many women as men. Mood disorders take a monumental toll in human suffering, lost productivity, and suicide. Moreover, when unrecognized, they can result in unnecessary health care use. Mood disorders rank among the top 10 causes of worldwide disability. Schizophrenia, marked by profound alterations in cognition and emotion, affects about one percent of the population, yet its severity and persistence reverberate throughout the mental health service system.  Many mental illnesses are caused by biochemical disturbances in the brain and others are triggered by exposure to an extremely stressful event.

Warning signs that may indicate problems warranting help:

Undue, prolonged anxiety. This is an anxiety out of proportion to any identifiable reason or cause. A state of constant tension and fear, fastening upon first one cause and then another is a signal that help is needed.

Prolonged or severe depression. The “blues” is a natural reaction to life’s ups and downs. Depression, however, causes persistent changes in a person’s mood, behavior, and feelings. Five or more of the following symptoms indicate a need for professional evaluation: feelings of sadness or irritability; loss of interest in sex and activities once enjoyed; changes in weight or appetite; changes in sleeping patterns; feeling guilty, worthless, or hopeless; inability to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions; fatigue or loss of energy; restlessness or decreased activity noticed by others; and thoughts of suicide or death.

Abrupt changes in mood or behavior. Unlike changes a person adopts for self-improvement, these changes reflect serious alterations in a person’s normal habits or way of thinking. The exceptionally frugal person, for example, who suddenly begins gambling away large sums of money may be experi­encing emotional problems.

Tension-caused physical problems. Physical complaints that arise from stress range from headaches to nausea to muscle spasms. These symptoms, including pain, are very real; only a physician can determine their origin. Because medical tests may reveal an organic cause, any persistent physical ailment should be checked by a doctor.

From Mental Illness: Basic Facts, Mental Health America of Wisconsin

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