Types of Mental Illness

There are many degrees of mental illness, from mild to severe.  A person with severe mental illness may lose touch with reality and become unable to communicate or make everyday decisions.  Some people with mild mental illness, however, seem to function normally.  They may sometimes become overwhelmed by stress or unreasonably emotional.  Many symptoms of mental illness are simply extreme behaviors most people occasionally experience.  Being able to recognize such behavior may make it easier to understand clients who are mentally ill.

Anxiety is uneasiness or fear, often about a situation or condition.  When a mentally healthy person feels anxiety, he or she can usually identify the cause.  The anxiety fades once the cause is removed.  A mentally ill person may feel anxiety all the time.  He or she may not know the reason for feeling anxious. Physical symptoms of anxiety-related disorders include shakiness, muscle aches, sweating, cold and clammy hands, dizziness, fatigue, racing heart, cold or hot flashes, a choking or smothering sensation or a dry mouth.

Phobias are an intense form of anxiety.  Many people are very afraid of certain things or situations. Examples include being afraid of dogs or being afraid of flying.  For a mentally ill person, a phobia is a disabling terror.

Other types of anxiety-related disorders include panic disorder, in which a person is terrified for no apparent reason.  Obsessive compulsive disorder is the name for obsessive behavior a person uses to cope with anxiety.  For example, a person may wash his hands over and over again as a way of dealing with guilt.  Anxiety-related disorders may also be brought on by a traumatic experience.  This type of anxiety is known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Depression.  Clinical depression is a serious mental illness.  It may cause intense mental, emotional, and physical pain and disability.  Depression also makes other illnesses worse.  If left untreated, it may result in suicide.  The National Institute of Mental Health lists depression as one of the most common conditions associated with suicide in older adults.

Clinical depression is not a normal reaction to stress.  Sadness is only one sign of this illness.  Not all people who have depression complain of sadness or appear sad.  Other common symptoms of clinical depression include:

  • pain, including headaches, abdominal pain, and other body aches
  • low energy or fatigue
  • apathy or lack of interest in activities
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • loss of appetite
  • problems with sexual functioning and desire
  • sleeplessness, difficulty sleeping, or excessive sleeping
  • guilt
  • difficulty concentrating
  • repeated thoughts of suicide and death

Depression can occur in conjunction with other illnesses.  Common examples are cancer, HIV or AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.  Depression is very common in the elderly population.  There are different types and degrees of depression:

  • Major depression may cause a person to lose interest in everything he once cared about.
  • Manic depression causes a person to swing from periods of deep depression to periods of extreme activity. Characteristics of these episodes include high energy, little sleep, big speeches, rapidly changing thoughts and moods, inflated self-esteem, overspending, and poor judgment.

People cannot overcome depression through sheer will.  Depression is an illness like any other illness.  It can be treated very successfully.  People who suffer from depression need compassion and support. Know the symptoms so that you can recognize the beginning or worsening of depression.  Any suicide threat should be taken seriously and reported immediately.  It should not be regarded as an attempt to get attention.

Schizophrenia.  Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia does not mean “split personality.” Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to think and communicate clearly.  It also affects the ability to manage emotions, make decisions, and understand reality.  Treatment makes it possible for many people to lead relatively normal lives.

Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia are easy to observe.  Hallucinations are illusions a person sees or hears.  A person may see someone or something that is not really there or hear a conversation that is not real.  Delusions are persistent false beliefs.  For example, a person may believe that other people are reading his thoughts.  Paranoid schizophrenia is a form of the disease that centers mainly on hallucinations and delusions.  Not all cases of hallucinations or delusions are related to schizophrenia.

Other symptoms of schizophrenia include disorganized thinking and speech.  This makes a person unable to express logical thoughts.  Disorganized behavior means a person moves slowly, repeating gestures or movements.  People with schizophrenia may also show less emotion.  They may seem to have less interest in the things around them and have a lack of energy.