Mental Illness – What You Need to Know

Having a mental health condition can make it harder to work, keep up with school, stick to a schedule and have healthy relationships. But with early and consistent treatment, including talk therapy and medication, most people can manage their symptoms and lead a productive, fulfilling life.

People who live with a mental illness are all around us. They may be our neighbors, coworkers or friends. They may be members of our family or religious community. And they may have to struggle with stigma and discrimination. In the United States, mental illnesses affect 19% of adults and 46% of teenagers each year. But only half receive the help they need. Untreated, these conditions can result in higher medical bills and lower performance at work or school, as well as poorer quality of life and an increased risk of suicide.

The nature of mental illness has been the subject of passionate discussion throughout history. Plato,1 the ancient Greek philosopher who promoted a mentalist view of mental illness, conceived different conditions as a variety of imbalances in different kinds of “humours.” Hippocrates,2 an ancient medical doctor, took a more physical approach, defining mental disorders as diseases of the brain.

Scientists are still learning about what causes mental illness. Some think that genetics plays a significant role, and research suggests that having a close relative with a mental illness increases the chance you’ll develop one. But there are also many environmental factors that can play a role, such as stress, trauma, abuse and poverty.

It’s important to know the warning signs of mental illness. Some of the most common ones include a change in mood or thinking. This can happen suddenly or slowly over a long period of time. Having a low or depressed mood for no obvious reason is not uncommon, but if it’s severe or persistent and interferes with daily functioning, it could be a sign of a mental health problem. A person may also have trouble sleeping or feel unable to concentrate.

Psychotherapy and medications can help treat most mental health conditions. Medications are often designed to boost the brain’s natural production of chemicals that regulate mood, or to prevent those chemicals from being broken down or destroyed. Some are designed to ease specific symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. Psychotherapy can teach a person to recognize and cope with their own negative emotions, as well as learn skills to interact with others in healthier ways.

Many people with mental illnesses have to deal with the fact that their symptoms are sometimes accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt and hopelessness. But it is important to remember that the illness is not your fault, and you deserve the same opportunities as everyone else to live a full and satisfying life.

In 2019, nearly 1 in 8 people, or 970 million around the world, were living with a mental health condition, according to the World Health Organization. Despite this, most people do not get the care they need. This is partly because of the lack of funding for well-structured community facilities and services, but it’s also because of the stigma and discrimination they face. Those who are struggling should seek out help from their primary care physician or a local mental health agency. They should also talk to a friend or family member, and contact a crisis hotline if they have thoughts of suicide.