Psychological illness is a medical condition that affects your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It can have serious effects on your health and the way you interact with others, and it is important to get treatment for mental illness as soon as possible.
There is no one cause for mental illness. It can be influenced by genes and aspects of social learning, such as how you were raised and what your family and culture believe. Research also shows that a combination of factors contributes to the development of psychological disorders. These include biological and environmental influences, as well as a person’s life events, such as stressful jobs, relationships and major life changes.
When people talk about psychological illness, they are referring to a pattern of inner experiences and behaviors that is atypical, distressful or dysfunctional and interferes with day-to-day living. It is important for mental health professionals to agree on what kinds of behaviors and inner experiences genuinely indicate the presence of psychopathology or a psychological disorder. For example, the symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, but if you lose interest in activities, have trouble eating or sleeping and feel a deep sense of worthlessness and despair, you may be experiencing a major depressive episode and should seek help.
A psychological disorder should reflect a flaw (dysfunction) in the internal biological, psychological, or developmental mechanisms that normally lead to healthy functioning. This means that the disturbances must be significantly different from culturally expected reactions to certain life events and must have a negative impact on the individual, such as causing significant anguish or impairment in daily life.
Having a diagnosis of a mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, but some people avoid seeking treatment for fear of being stigmatized. The good news is that psychological disorders can be treated, and most people recover and go on to live productive lives. Treatment can involve psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy; group or family therapy; and medicines, including antidepressants, mood stabilisers and antipsychotic drugs.
Almost half of the world’s population is affected by one or more mental illnesses, and at least 800,000 people die each year of suicide. Psychiatric illnesses are most common among the poorest and most disadvantaged people in society, with about 10% of Canadians claiming to experience at least one of six mental or substance use disorders over the course of a year (Pearson, Janz & Ali, 2013). A lack of understanding of mental illness can contribute to stigma, which can discourage people from seeking treatment. It can also lead to misinformation, which can make some people reluctant to seek help because they are afraid of being labelled as “crazy.” The blurring of lines between normal and abnormal can be harmful, especially when it encourages prejudice and discrimination against those who have mental illnesses. The aim is to raise awareness and reduce stigma, so that people can receive the help they need to cope with their illnesses.