What is a Psychological Illness?

Psychological illnesses are a group of problems with your inner experiences and behavior. They can affect your mood and outlook, relationships and work or social activities. Most mental illnesses are treatable, and recovery often includes a return to meaningful roles in life. People with a psychological illness can also improve their quality of life by learning coping skills, getting support and participating in treatment.

There is no single definition of mental illness, but the term usually refers to inner experiences and behaviors that are significantly different from what most people would consider normal. This could include things like feeling compelled to wash your hands 40 times per day or believing that demons are talking through you.

To be considered a mental illness, these thoughts, feelings and behaviors must cause significant distress or interfere with your ability to function and relate to others. They must also differ from what is expected and culturally acceptable in your culture. For example, sadness following a major life event, or the nervousness that can be felt before giving a speech are generally not considered to be symptoms of a mental illness (though they may interfere with your functioning).

You can get help for mental health problems from doctors, psychologists and psychotherapists. Most treatment is talk therapy, which consists of sessions with your therapist where you talk about the things that are bothering you. Your therapist will help you learn new ways to cope with your problems and develop more healthy thought patterns. This type of therapy is called psychotherapy and it can be done in a variety of settings.

Some mental health conditions require more intensive treatment and are best treated at a hospital or psychiatric unit. These facilities offer many treatment options including individual, group and family therapy, psychoeducation (educating patients about their condition), vocational training and psychosocial rehabilitation. Some psychiatric units have residential programs, where patients live at the treatment center and are supervised around the clock.

Many mental disorders are caused by a change in the chemical balance in certain brain circuits. These can be caused by things like traumatic brain injury, substance abuse or other diseases. They can also be triggered by major sources of stress, such as the death of a loved one, relationship difficulties or job loss.

Despite the fact that mental illness can have a stigma attached to it, seeking a diagnosis is an important first step towards finding help and recovery. In order to be diagnosed, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. If necessary, he or she will run lab tests to rule out medical conditions that can have similar symptoms. He or she will then use a tool such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to determine whether your symptoms meet criteria for a specific mental illness. The DSM-5, the most recent version of this book, has been criticized for creating too many categories and blurring the line between psychopathology and what is considered normal anxiety or shyness.