What Is Psychological Illness?

If you have a mental illness, it can affect how you think and feel. It can also impact your relationships, work and productivity. But the good news is that there are many treatment options available, including medication, psychotherapy and community support groups. Getting help is the first step in overcoming your disorder.

The basic definition of a psychological disorder is that it involves disturbing inner experiences or behavior that are not typical and cause significant distress or disability in normal life. These disturbances must reflect a dysfunction in the way you function as a person, and they must not be merely expected or culturally approved responses to certain events (for example, sadness after a loss or shyness in social situations). In addition, the inner experiences or behaviors must significantly interfere with your ability to enjoy life or engage in occupational or social activities.

These criteria are based on the work of Kraepelin and others who outlined how psychiatry should categorize different disorders. The prevailing classification system is called the DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This classification system has been criticized for blurring the line between psychopathology and natural, sometimes unpleasant, psychological phenomena (for example, sadness after a loved one’s death or being shy in social situations).

The DSM process is ongoing, and a new version of the DSM is being considered for publication in the near future. Until then, some of the following mental health conditions are generally recognized and treated as being within the DSM category of psychological illness:

Inherited susceptibility: Experts believe that many mental illnesses have biological roots and can run in families. Some mental illnesses are linked to abnormalities in several genes, while others are more strongly affected by environmental factors. Inherited susceptibility to a mental illness does not always translate into a diagnosis, however; identical twins do not always share the same diagnosis for a given condition.

Mood disorders: Symptoms of mood disorders include depression, bipolar disorder and mania. Symptoms can be very difficult to overcome, but there are treatments available. Anxiety disorders: Anxiety disorders are characterized by fear and worry. There are many treatments for anxiety disorders, but they must be combined to achieve a comprehensive treatment plan.

Personality disorders: These disorders involve a person’s beliefs, attitudes and emotions. The most well-known personality disorders are antisocial personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder.

Paranoid disorders: Paranoid disorders are characterized by the irrational belief that people are out to get you. These are often accompanied by delusions and hallucinations.

Other illnesses: Mental illnesses that are not mood disorders, anxiety or personality disorders include autoimmune disease (such as fibromyalgia), autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia. Symptoms of these illnesses are very varied and difficult to pinpoint, but they can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. This includes physical health, family and work life and self-esteem. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for most mental illnesses. If you are experiencing a problem, talk to your doctor today.