Psychological illness is a term used to describe a wide range of emotional and behavioral problems that can cause distress and interfere with daily living. It can affect an individual’s ability to work, participate in family or social activities, and maintain healthy relationships. In some cases, mental disorders can be life threatening. Mental health professionals use a variety of treatments, including medication, psychotherapy and self-management skills to manage symptoms. In some cases, the disorder may disappear with time, while others are long-term.
Psychiatric disorders are not contagious, but they can be more severe and debilitating than many other medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. While a person can have a mental health condition for his or her entire life, many people do recover with treatment and support.
Although people of all ages and backgrounds can have psychological symptoms, the most common are depression and anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and specific phobias. Depression is a serious mood disorder, also called major depressive disorder. This disorder causes feelings of sadness and hopelessness. People who suffer from these conditions can have difficulty with concentration and thinking clearly, and they often lack energy. Mood disorders can lead to feelings of numbness or apathy, which can affect work and family life.
In order to be diagnosed as a psychological disorder, the symptoms must last at least six months and cause significant impairment in daily functioning. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been produced by the American Psychiatric Association since 1952, but it is still evolving. The most recent version of DSM-5 was published in 2013.
Psychologists and psychiatrists have long recognized that the onset and severity of certain symptoms are related to a person’s biological, psychological or developmental processes. Some disorders are genetic in nature, while others develop as a result of life events and can be exacerbated by stressors.
For example, an adjustment disorder can develop as a response to the loss of a loved one, divorce, job loss or the end of a relationship. These symptoms can include sadness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness or despair and difficulties with relationships.
Historically, the treatment of psychological illness has differed greatly from country to country. Reformers like Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) and Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) helped establish state hospitals that treat the mentally ill with more humane care. Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalytical therapies, which involve talking cures and attempt to uncover unconscious motivations that may contribute to symptoms.
A biopsychosocial model is the current paradigm in mainstream Western psychiatry, which incorporates biological, psychological and environmental factors in understanding mental illness. Some disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are more likely to run in families. Other disorders are more likely to occur in particular socioeconomic groups or in the context of a culture’s beliefs and values. For example, schizophrenia is more prevalent among men than women, and it has been linked to poverty and social inequality.