Mental health encompasses a large portion of people’s lives. It refers to cognitive, emotional, and psychological well-being — affecting how a person acts, feels, and behaves. Mental health also determines how people relate to others, handle stress, and make choices affecting their daily lives.
Similar to those who suffer from a physical illness, those with mental health problems can get better with the right help (depending on the type of mental health disorder). Here are several early signs of mental health issues:
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or others
- Frequent or persistent feelings of sadness, anger, fear, worry or anxiety
- Frequent emotional outbursts or mood swings
- Confusion or unexplained memory loss
- Delusions or hallucinations
- Intense fear or anxiety about weight gain
- Dramatic changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Unexplained changes in work or school performance
- Inability to cope with daily activities or challenges
- Withdrawal from social activities or relationships
- Defiance of authority, truancy, or vandalism
- Substance abuse, including alcoholism, or use of illegal drugs
- Unexplained physical ailments
A mental illness diagnosis usually starts with an evaluation from a healthcare professional. It usually involves a physical exam and long-term monitoring to rule out any other underlying physical conditions that may be causing the symptoms.
The United States follows the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5). The DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists criteria including feelings, symptoms and behaviors over a period of time that a person must meet in order to be officially diagnosed with an illness.
The World Health Organization considers the following as mental disorders: depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia and autism spectrum disorder. Let’s take a closer look at each and what can be done to treat these conditions.
Depression is not just sadness or “the blues” which one eventually gets over. Often, this disorder is something one cannot control. Some causes of depression are brought about by chemical imbalances in the brain. Factors that can cause depression include family history, personality, drug and alcohol abuse, life events, and traumatic experiences.
The WHO has tagged depression as the most common mental health disorder and one of the main causes of disability worldwide. It affects an estimated 264 million worldwide.
Depression can be long-lasting or recurrent, substantially impairing people’s ability to function at work or school and to cope with daily life. At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide. Depression is a serious issue, but treatment and prevention programs are available.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a mental disorder that causes and brings about severe shifts in mood, energy levels, and concentration. It also leads to the impairment of the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
The WHO estimates that about 45 million worldwide are affected by this disorder. There are available medicines that stabilize the acute phase of bipolar disorder and prevent any relapses. Psychosocial support is an important component of treatment
Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder wherein people have an altered or abnormal perception of reality. This disorder may result in some combination of hallucinations (the perception of a nonexistent object or event), delusions (false beliefs about external realities), and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. Often it impairs daily function and can be disabling.
Schizophrenia involves a wide range of problems with thinking, behavior, and emotions. Some symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, and impaired ability to function.
There is currently no cure for schizophrenia but progress is being made on new, safer, long-term treatments.
Dementia is an overall term (like heart disease) for diseases and conditions characterized by a decline in memory function or loss. It is also characterized by a decline in language, problem-solving skills, and thinking that affects and impairs a person’s ability to perform day-to-day activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.
There is no cure yet for dementia, and it is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time There are however drugs that may temporarily improve symptoms. One such drug may lessen symptoms like memory loss or confusion for Alzheimer’s patients.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. People with ASD do not have physical characteristics that distinguish them from other people, but they may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are significantly different from others. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Many people with ASD need constant care to get through their daily lives.
According to the WHO, developmental disorders like ASD usually have a childhood-onset but tend to persist into adulthood causing impairment or delay in functions related to central nervous system maturation. They generally follow a steady course rather than the periods of remissions and relapses that characterize other mental disorders.
Children and adults with ASD might display the following behaviors:
- not pointing at objects to show interest
- not looking at objects when another person points at them
- having trouble relating to others or not having an interest in other people at all
- avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone
- having trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- having a preference not to be held or cuddled
- appearing to be unaware when people talk to them, but responding to other sounds
- showing an interest in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
- repeating or echoing words or phrases said to them, or repeating words or phrases in place of normal language
- having trouble expressing needs using typical words or motions
- not playing “pretend” games (for example, not pretending to “feed” a doll)
- repeating actions over and over again
- having trouble adapting when a routine changes
- having unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
- losing skills they once had (for example, no longer saying words they were using before)
People with mental illness require social support and care, in addition to support from healthcare providers. If you have a loved one who is suffering from any mental illness, show support by listening to them, researching their conditions, offering to help with everyday tasks, and being patient and understanding. Even just being there for them will go a long way.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.