Psychiatry and Mental Illness

Almost everyone experiences psychological stress, anxiety or depression at some time in their lives. In 2012, an estimated 2.8 million people in Canada experienced a mental illness (Pearson, Janz and Ali 2013). Mental illnesses can cause great distress and impact all areas of your life including your sleep and appetite, your relationships and work performance. If not treated, they can have long-term consequences such as a weakened immune system that can increase your vulnerability to infections and disease.

Psychiatry has developed a number of ways to classify mental illness and develop effective treatments. These have included the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD). Both provide a scheme of disorders with standardized criteria that psychiatrists use to diagnose and research mental illness. These diagnostic categories are based on the idea that mental illness is a medical condition caused by internal biological, psychological or developmental malfunctioning (dysfunction).

There are many different kinds of psychological disorders. These include disorders of thought, feeling and perception, such as delusions or hallucinations. There are also disorders that affect patterns of behaviour, such as anxiety or addictions. Finally, there are disorders that affect a person’s ability to function in their community and society, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Psychological illnesses can have both negative and positive effects on a person’s life. They can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment, as well as prejudice and discrimination against the sufferer. They can also cause social problems, such as isolation and loneliness. They can also interfere with a person’s ability to learn, to concentrate and to take care of their physical health.

The causes of psychological disorders are complex and varied. Some of these are specific to a person’s genes and family history, while others are more related to their social environment. Research has shown that the risk of developing a mental illness increases with exposure to trauma and serious negative life events, such as the death of a loved one, relationship breakups, sexual abuse and other forms of victimization.

Some people have a strong antipathy to psychiatry and its diagnosis of psychological disorders. These people see psychiatry as a profession that ignores the importance of emotions and the subjective experiences of human beings. Other people question whether a scientific, medical approach to mental illness is appropriate at all. Still other people are concerned that psychiatry is too reliant on medication to treat psychological symptoms. For example, the side effects of some antidepressants and other drugs have led to a movement that calls for a more natural approach to treating mental disorders. This approach includes cognitive behavioural therapy and other psychotherapies. It also involves more holistic approaches such as acupuncture and mindfulness meditation. These are not always considered part of mainstream psychiatry, but they can be effective in some cases.