Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. A new national report reveals that 45.9 million American adults aged 18 or older, or 20 percent of this age group, experienced mental illness.
The most common form of depression among all populations, including Latinos, is major depression. This form of depression is particularly debilitating as it frequently starts early in life with an onset usually prior to age 25. According to the World Health Organization, depression is
the leading cause of years of life lived with disability and can result in serious long-term functional impairment. Whereas at one time heart disease was recognized as the foremost cause of disability, depression has taken the lead. According to the World Health Organization, mental disorders represent five of the top ten causes of disability in the United States among persons 15 to 44 years of age, with depression leading all other illnesses.
There’s no specific identifiable cause of mental illness. Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors:
• Inherited traits
• Biological factors
• Life experiences
• Brain chemistry
Mental illness signs and symptoms can include:
• Feeling sad or down
• Confused thinking
• Excessive fears or worries
• Withdrawal from friends and activities
• Problems sleeping
• Detachment from reality (delusions) or hallucinations
• Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Significant changes in eating habits
• Sex drive changes
• Excessive anger, hostility or violence
• Suicidal thinking
Exams and Tests
Your doctor will try to rule out any physical problems that could be causing your symptoms, pinpoint a diagnosis and check for any related complications.
These steps may include:
• Physical exam
• Psychological exam
• Laboratory tests
Medications treat the symptoms of mental disorders. They cannot cure the disorder, but they make people feel better so they can function.
Medications work differently for different people. Some people get great results from medications and only need them for a short time. For example, a person with depression may feel much better after taking a medication for a few months, and may never need it again. People with disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or people who have long-term or severe depression or anxiety may need to take medication for a much longer time.
Some people get side effects from medications and other people don’t. Doses can be small or large, depending on the medication and the person. Factors that can affect how medications work in people include:
• Type of mental disorder, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia
• Age, sex, and body size
• Physical illnesses
• Habits like smoking and drinking
• Liver and kidney function
• Other medications and herbal/vitamin supplements
• Whether medications are taken as prescribed.
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is a way to treat people with a mental disorder by helping them understand their illness. It teaches people strategies and gives them tools to deal with stress and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy helps patients manage their symptoms better and function at their best in everyday life.
Sometimes psychotherapy alone may be the best treatment for a person, depending on the illness and its severity. Other times, psychotherapy is combined with medications. Therapists work with an individual or families to devise an appropriate treatment plan.
Complications linked to mental illness include:
• Unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life
• Family conflicts
• Relationship difficulties
• Social isolation
• Substance abuse
• Missed work or school, or other problems related to work or school
• Heart disease and other medical conditions
When to Contact a Medical Professional
If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness, see your doctor, mental health provider or other health professional.
There’s no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, if you do have a mental illness, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost low self-esteem may help keep your symptoms under control.