Many people in the world are impacted by mental health conditions. These may include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. These conditions can cause serious problems that affect a person’s ability to work, sleep, eat and function at home and at school. They can also cause feelings of distress and shame. Mental illness treatment is available through therapy, family support, peer groups and medication.
Mental disorders are caused by complex biological and psychological factors. They usually develop during adolescence. Some disorders are inherited through genetics, and others are caused by environmental factors such as childhood trauma, poverty or abuse. In addition, many mental health problems are associated with substance abuse and/or poor lifestyle choices (e.g., smoking, poor diet). Some disorders are more common in certain genders or races/ethnicities than others.
Psychiatry, psychology and related disciplines focus on the study of mental disorders. Psychopathology is the study of the significant causes, processes and symptomatic manifestations of mental disorders. This research contributes to the development of new treatments and understanding of how mental disorders occur.
The first step in treating a mental illness is to recognize the symptoms and then seek help from a trained professional. People who have severe symptoms may need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, especially if they pose a danger to themselves or others. Psychiatric hospitals provide counseling, group therapy and social activities to help patients recover from their disorders.
Mental health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, to diagnose mental illnesses. This classification system is used worldwide and has been updated several times since its first publication in 1952. The DSM defines a disorder as a pattern of inner experiences, thoughts and/or behaviors that is atypical and distressful or dysfunctional. Disturbances that reflect expected or culturally approved responses to particular events, such as feelings of sadness after the death of a loved one, are not considered disorders.
A person with a mental disorder will need to be treated by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist. Treatment usually involves some form of talk therapy – called psychotherapy – and medication. Different types of psychotherapy differ in their approach and in how they treat emotional, cognitive or overt behaviour. These therapies range from cognitive behavioral therapy to interpersonal therapy and are based on the belief that the root of a disorder is in the way the brain functions. Medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics are used to control the symptoms of some disorders. A combination of treatments usually works best for most people. Recovery from mental illness is a gradual process, but it is possible to overcome these disorders with professional help. In addition, healthy lifestyles such as a balanced diet, good sleep habits, exercise, meaningful paid or volunteer work, social support and spirituality all contribute to mental health. In addition to the above, there are a number of organizations that offer help for those with mental illnesses and their families, such as The National Alliance on Mental Illness, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Depression and Bipolar Support Network.