A mental illness is a complex and serious problem that affects the way a person feels, thinks and behaves. It can lead to significant distress and disability in daily life, but effective treatments exist that can restore a person’s quality of life.
A diverse set of individual, family, community, and structural factors interact to protect or undermine a person’s mental health. These factors include the presence of protective and risk factors such as emotional skills, social support, economic status, and the degree to which a person is exposed to stressors. These factors can also be influenced by biological and genetic characteristics such as brain structure and function, as well as the way genes are expressed.
For a psychological disorder to be diagnosed, it must involve persistent patterns of inner experiences and behaviour that cause considerable distress or impairment in daily life. The disturbances must reflect some kind of biological, psychological, or developmental dysfunction and cannot be explained by the culturally expected reaction to certain life events (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder).
There are many different types of mental illnesses. People can be treated with psychotherapy (talk therapy), behavioural interventions, and occupational and speech therapies. For certain diagnoses and age groups, medication may also be prescribed.
Mental disorders are grouped into categories called syndromes based on similar symptoms and causes. These syndromes are described in a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The most recent version is called the DSM-5. This system provides a common language and helps researchers find better treatments.
Examples of psychological disorders include eating and mood disorders, somatic symptom and related disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. Some of these conditions are very serious and can interfere with a person’s relationships, work, and daily activities. Others are less severe but still significantly impact a person’s quality of life. For example, people with delusional (paranoid) disorder or schizophrenia have irrational beliefs such as hearing voices or seeing things that are not there.
Psychiatric care has come a long way since the days when mentally ill people were locked up in asylums, often for no apparent reason. Today, we know that mental illness is real and treatable, and most health insurance plans cover treatment for mental disorders.
A treatment plan depends on which disorder is being treated and how serious the illness is. It usually involves some type of psychotherapy, medications and sometimes other services such as group discussions or education programs. In some cases, a person with a serious mental illness (SMI) might need to go to a hospital for more intensive treatment. Ideally, a person will be involved in designing their treatment plan, which can help them to feel more in control of their recovery. This can make it easier for them to stick with their treatment plan and achieve recovery goals. In addition, the involvement of loved ones can be helpful in fostering support and adherence to treatment. In some cases, people with a mental illness can benefit from other supportive services such as housing and employment assistance.