Understanding and Treating Psychological Illness

psychological illness

Psychological illness, in the form of depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety, is an ever-growing concern that is getting more attention than it used to. This is due to several reasons, including the eradication or treatment of many serious physical illnesses that previously plagued people, as well as the fact that psychological disorders are more easily understood and can be treated with medication, support groups, therapy and other treatments.

To be considered a psychological disorder, an inner experience or pattern of behaviors must be disturbing enough to interfere with everyday functioning and cause distress. Often, these conditions also are considered deviant by the person’s culture or society and can lead to isolation and self-destructive actions. In addition, the disturbances must reflect some kind of biological, psychological or developmental dysfunction rather than expected or culturally approved responses to life events or stressors.

Psychiatrists, psychologists and some primary care physicians diagnose mental disorders using tools such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). These professionals may perform a physical exam or run lab tests to rule out medical causes for the symptoms such as high blood pressure, thyroid problems, anemia and diabetes.

The earliest forms of mental illness are called mood disorders and include depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. These are characterized by periods of deep depression, feelings of emptiness or hopelessness and sometimes episodes of hyperactivity, energy and excitement known as mania. These mood changes are accompanied by other symptoms such as changes in appetite, sleep, memory and the ability to think clearly.

A second category of mental illnesses is called adjustment disorders, which are a response to some sort of life-changing event such as divorce, death of a loved one, job loss, rejection or the birth of a child. These are characterized by feeling overwhelmed, difficulty coping and feeling like no one understands.

Finally, the third category of mental health issues is called psychotic disorders, which are a result of distorted thinking and delusions. These are characterized by a sense of being detached from reality and can include hallucinations, disorganized thoughts and speech. These disorders can include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and a variety of other conditions.

Treatment for mental illness includes medications, therapy and lifestyle changes. Medications include antidepressants, antipsychotics and anxiolytic drugs. These help manage the symptoms but do not cure the underlying problem. These medications are usually prescribed by a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Therapy is the mainstay of mental health treatment and can be in the form of individual or group therapy. Some of the most common therapies are cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy and dialectical behavior therapy. These are carried out by psychiatrists, psychologists and sometimes family therapists.

Other types of therapy include hypnotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and group psychotherapy. Occasionally, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is used for severe depression, mania and catatonia. This type of treatment is generally only given when other methods of treatment have been tried and have failed.