A mental illness is a psychiatric disorder that results in a disruption in a person's thinking, feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others. Psychiatrists generally attribute mental illness to organic/neurochemical causes that can be treated with psychiatric medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments and other supportive measures. Compare rational-emotive therapy.

Mental illness is distinct from the legal concept of insanity.

Mental health, mental hygiene and mental wellness are all terms used to describe the absence of mental illness.

Advocacy organizations have been trying to change the common perception of psychiatric disorders as a sign of personal weakness and something to be ashamed of to an affliction akin to physical diseases (like the measles).

Table of contents
1 Prevalence of and diagnosis of mental illness
2 Controversy over the nature of mental illness
3 Categorization of mental illness
4 Symptoms of mental illness
5 External links

Prevalence of and diagnosis of mental illness

According to the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, major mental illness, including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, when compared with all other diseases (such as cancer and heart disease), is the commonent cause of disability in the United States. According to NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) an American advocacy organisation, twenty-three percent of North American adults will suffer from a clinically diagnosable mental illness in a given year, but less than half of them will suffer symptoms severe enough to disrupt their daily functioning. Approximately nine percent to 13 percent of children under the age of 18 experience a serious emotional disturbance with substantial functional impairment, and five percent to nine percent have a serious emotional disturbance with extreme functional impairment due to a mental illness. Many of these young people will recover from their illnesses before reaching adulthood, and go on to lead normal lives uncomplicated by illness.

The treatment success rate for a first episode of schizophrenia is 60 percent, 65 percent to 70 percent for major depression, and 80 percent for bipolar disorder.

At the start of the 20th century there were only a dozen recognized mental illnesses. By 1952 there were 192 and the DSM-IV today lists 374. Depending on your perspective this could be seen to be

  • due to some causative agent such as diet or the ever-increasing stress of everyday life, leading to a highly increased incidence of mental illness;
  • an over-medicalisation of human thought processes, and an increasing tendency on the part of mental health experts to label individual 'quirks and foibles' as illness; or
  • improved diagnostic and clinical ability on the part of the professionals.

Controversy over the nature of mental illness

The subject is profoundly controversial, e.g. homosexuality has been considered such an "illness" from time to time, and obviously this perception varies with cultural bias and theory of conduct.

It is important to note that the existence of mental illness and the legitimacy of the psychiatric profession are not universally accepted. Some professionals, notably Doctor Thomas Szasz, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Syracuse, are profoundly opposed to the practice of labelling "mental illness" as such. "There is no such thing as mental illness" is not an uncommon statement at gatherings of therapists emphasizing patient care and self-control, often decrying labels as suitable only for pill salesmen. This movement, known as anti-psychiatry argues against a biological origin for mental disorders, or else suggests that all human experience has a biological origin and so no pattern of behavior can be classified as an illness per se.

Neurochemical studies have proven that there are systemic lacks of certain neurotransmitters in the brains of certain individuals. Also, some structural differences between brains of people with behavioral differences can be detected in brain scans. Some mental illnesses tend to run in families, and there have also been strongly suggestive, but not conclusive, links between certain genes and particular mental disorders. Routine tests for these conditions are, however, not generally required for prescription of drugs, and are not always employed in law either. It is not clear whether these differences in brain chemistry are the cause or the result of mental disorders. Anti-psychiatrists argue that traumatic life experiences that exceed an individual's coping ability can result in lasting changes in brain chemistry. Patterns of learned behavior can also alter brain chemistry, for better or for worse. Cognitive behavior therapy focuses on changing patterns of thinking through learning, which may ultimately restore so-termed "healthy" brain chemistry.

Drug therapies for severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and clinical depression which are consistent with biochemical models have been remarkably effective, and there are reports of increasively effective treatments for schizophrenia. Anti-psychiatrists, however, argue that drugs merely mask the symptoms of mental suffering by physically crippling the brain's emotional response system. Studies have shown that many patient's symptoms return once drug treatment is ceased.

See the articles on anti-psychiatry and causes of mental illness for a fuller treatment of these topics.

Categorization of mental illness

Many mental illnesses have been categorised into groups according to their common symptoms, in a diagnostic manual called the DSM-IV. There are thirteen different categories. Some categories contain a myriad of illnesses and some with only a few:

Symptoms of mental illness

In addition to the categorized illnesses, there are many well-defined symptoms of mental illness such as paranoia that are not regarded as illnesses in themselves, but only as indicators of one of the illnesses belonging to one of the classes listed above.

See also:

External links