Psychological illness is a complex topic, but it can be simply defined as mental disorders that cause distress or disability in daily life. They affect how people feel and think and how they behave in different situations. They can also affect their relationships and career. Many people who have psychological disorders have difficulty dealing with the challenges of everyday life and may benefit from help and support from a health care professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
Psychiatric illnesses are caused by a combination of factors, such as genes, environment, and lifestyle. Some conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder are very common, while others, such as schizophrenia, are rare. Many of these disorders can be successfully treated with therapy and medicines.
It is not always easy to know when a feeling or behaviour is a sign of a psychological problem, and some conditions have a wide range of symptoms that can be very similar. Generally, a person’s inner experiences and behaviour are considered a psychological disorder when they cause significant distress or disability in their daily life, such as serious depressed mood that lasts for more than 2 weeks, disorganised thinking, or persistent hallucinations. They can also interfere with occupational functioning, such as difficulty finding and holding a job or being able to study as a student (Table 13.1).
People who have psychological disorders are at risk of stigmatisation from the people around them. This can include being called names, such as crazy, nutty, mentally ill, or nuts. Despite the great strides made in understanding and treating mental illness, there is still a lot of prejudice and discrimination against people who have them.
Psychological disorders are a major area of research in psychology, and some of the most important work psychologists do involves helping people with them. In addition to providing therapy and medicines, we are researching what causes these conditions and how they can be prevented.
Some of the most common mental health conditions include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders. More severe conditions, such as schizophrenia and mania, are less common but also very important to understand and treat.
Whether or not a mental disorder is treated and how well the treatment works depends on what condition a person has, how serious it is, and other factors such as their age and general health. Most treatment options involve some form of therapy, usually psychotherapy. Some of the most widely used therapies are cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy. Other treatments include case management and support groups. Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, includes a wide variety of practices that are not usually associated with standard health care, such as herbal medicine and acupuncture.