A psychological illness is an abnormal pattern of inner experience and behavior that causes distress or impairment in functioning, such as in relationships, work or school. Mental disorders are often a combination of several factors, including genes, aspects of social learning and environmental exposures that may have occurred during pregnancy and infancy. These can interfere with the way that nerve receptors and neural systems in the brain function, leading to symptoms. The term psychopathology is used to refer to the study of psychological disorders, including their causes and treatment.
In order to be considered a mental disorder, thoughts, feelings or behaviors must be distressing and disruptive to daily functioning. Also, they must deviate from culturally expected reactions to particular life events. For example, if you were to ask a classmate for a date and be rejected, you might feel dejected and upset. But if your depression was so severe that you couldn’t sleep, lost interest in activities and felt worthless or even contemplated suicide, you might have a psychological disorder.
Psychiatric conditions are classified by the American Psychiatric Association according to specific criteria. This is important because it allows insurance companies to reimburse for treatment. The criteria for diagnosis are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is widely used by health professionals to diagnose psychological disorders.
Some of the most common mental illnesses include mood disorders, which affect your emotions such as sadness and happiness, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders (including hoarding disorder, skin picking disorder and hair pulling disorder) and paraphilic disorders, which involve sexual interests that cause emotional distress or impairment, such as pedophilic disorders and voyeuristic disorders. Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders can leave you feeling detached from reality and experience delusions and hallucinations.
Researchers are still trying to understand what causes mental illnesses. Some experts believe that certain genes can increase your risk for a mental illness, and that environmental factors such as stress or traumatic experiences in early childhood or during adulthood can trigger it. Other factors are thought to include chemical imbalances in your brain, such as low levels of certain neurotransmitters.
In addition to getting a proper diagnosis, there are many things that can help you cope with your condition. In some cases, medication is helpful in reducing or eliminating your symptoms. Other treatments include therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. In addition, support groups are available to provide you with a network of others who have similar problems and can offer encouragement and advice. Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, can also be beneficial in some cases, particularly when combined with standard treatment options. In some cases, you may need to seek hospitalization so that you can be closely monitored or have medications adjusted when your condition deteriorates. Seeking treatment is important, because psychological disorders can be fatal if untreated. Fortunately, more people than ever are diagnosed and receiving the care they need.