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How to Understand Mental Health Illnesses and What You Can Do To Get Help

Mental health illnesses plague millions of people every day. It may be something you battle or a condition that someone you know or love has. One in five adults suffers from mental health illness, but only half receive help. Recognizing and understanding a mental health illness is essential to seeking treatment.

What Are Common Mental Health Issues?

According to the World Health Organization, “A mental disorder is characterized by a clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior. It is usually associated with distress or impairment in important areas of functioning.” Unfortunately, many who suffer from mental health illnesses don’t realize their current state isn’t necessarily healthy. Many who suffer from depression or anxiety see their mood or mindset as something they can live with. Once sufferers seek treatment, they see a vast difference in their day-to-day lives and can handle stressful situations more clearly and intentionally.

Some common mental health illnesses include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, eating disorders, disruptive behavior and dissocial disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Many of these illnesses improve with a combination of therapy and medications. But the first step is to recognize a condition is present and a willingness to seek treatment.

The 4 Most Common Mental Health Illnesses

Many different types of mental illnesses affect millions of people; however, there are four common types of mental health illnesses. Each type of mental illness presents differently, especially if a combination of mental illnesses affects the person. One of the most significant ways to determine if you or someone you love may have a mental health illness is if there is a drastic change in mood, thoughts, or behaviors. Sure, we all have gloomy days, but if it affects how you function at work, school, or home, you should seek an appointment with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist.

Mood Disorders

Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness. Major depressive disorder “causes severe symptoms that affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.” Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism

  • Feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities

  • Decreased energy, fatigue, or feeling slowed down

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions

  • Difficulty sleeping, waking early in the morning, or oversleeping

  • Changes in appetite or unplanned weight changes

  • Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not have a clear physical cause and do not go away with treatment

  • Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts

Bipolar Disorder is a brain disorder that causes changes in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. People with bipolar disorder experience intense emotional states that typically occur during distinct periods of days to weeks, called mood episodes. These mood episodes fall into the categories of manic/hypomanic (abnormally happy or irritable mood) or depressive (sad mood). People without bipolar disorder also experience mood fluctuations; however, these mood changes typically last hours rather than days. Also, these changes are not usually accompanied by the extreme degree of behavior change or difficulty with daily routines and social interactions that people with bipolar disorder demonstrate during mood episodes.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders are sometimes seemingly illogical or out of nowhere; however, many who suffer from anxiety determine a treatable root cause. Some common symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense

  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom

  • Having an increased heart rate

  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)

  • Sweating

  • Trembling

  • Feeling weak or tired

  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry

  • Having trouble sleeping

  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems

  • Having difficulty controlling worry

  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

Having anxiety feels debilitating, especially if there is a trigger present. However, with professional treatment, those suffering from anxiety notice a positive difference. Some common anxiety disorders include Agoraphobia, Anxiety Disorder due to a medical condition, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Selective Mutism, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific phobias, and Substance-Induced Anxiety Disorder.

Personality Disorders

Personality Disorders are typically a culmination of genetic predispositions and environmental influences such as the surroundings you grew up in, situations or events, and relationships you had with family members or others. Two groups of Personality Disorders characterize the most common symptoms. Cluster A personality disorders are characterized by odd, eccentric thinking or behavior. They include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder. Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional, or unpredictable thinking or behavior. They include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.

Psychotic Disorders

Psychotic Disorders are a group of serious illnesses that affect the mind. They make it hard for someone to think clearly, make sound judgments, respond emotionally, communicate effectively, understand reality, and behave appropriately.

When symptoms are severe, people with psychotic disorders have trouble staying in touch with reality and often cannot handle daily life. But even severe psychotic disorders are managed through professional help, treatments, and medications.

The most common types of Psychotic Disorders are Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Schizophreniform Disorder, Brief Psychotic Disorder, Shared Psychotic Disorder (also called folie à deux), Delusional Disorder, Substance-Induced Psychotic Disorder, Psychotic Disorder due to another medical condition, and Paraphrenia. The symptoms most common with any type of Psychotic Disorder usually include hallucinations and delusions.

What Causes Mental Health Illnesses?

Family predispositions, environmental issues, socioeconomic challenges, traumatic events, the activity of certain brain chemicals, brain infections, injuries or defects, substance abuse, or extreme stress typically cause mental disorders. Because there is such a wide range of root causes, mental health is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Additional symptoms, issues, or diagnoses can sometimes accompany it. As such, it is crucial that if you or a loved one has any suspicion that a mental health illness is present, it’s best to seek professional help. Mental health is an essential part of feeling healthy and maintaining wellness. In addition, it contributes to the success of your day-to-day functions and responsibilities.

How To Improve Mental Health

We all battle mental health issues at some point in our lives. However, not everyone has a mental health illness that warrants seeking a professional. For those minor mental health issues that are easily kept at bay by focused, intentional daily care, here are some ways in which you may see relief.

  • Start a gratitude journal. Write down three things you are grateful for and three things you look forward to.

  • Meditate to relieve stress and work with your emotions.

  • Spend time in nature. Nature has a way of healing the mind through the trees, the ground, the ocean, and the air.

  • Take a walk if you’re able. Moving your body can help you get out of your head.

  • Find a new creative outlet. If you’re trying something new, it doesn’t have to be something you perfect. Sometimes coloring outside the lines, singing offkey, or dancing in your bedroom is enough to shake you out of your bad mood.

  • Call a friend or loved one. Whether you need to vent or seek advice, you can rely on those who love you.

  • Listen to uplifting music or watch a comedy.

There are more ways to help you combat the blues than what is on this list. Try a few things, new things, or healthy habits that have worked for you. Whatever activities to help your mental health are personal to you.

What Mental Health Services Are Available?

If you have questions or want to receive help, the quickest way is by contacting one of our Community Health Workers through our email or phone number listed in the footer. Our CHWs are trained and ready to advise you on the available local mental health resources.

Our material is not in any way a substitute for obtaining professional help. For additional resources for individuals in crisis or who need assistance, contact the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1–800–985–5990.

Additional Resources Include:

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

NAMI Helpline: 800-950-NAMI

Trevor Project (LGBTQ+ Youth): Text START to 678678

National Institute of Mental Health:

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