Mental Illness At-A-Glance
The Four Major Mental Illnesses
Mental illnesses are disorders of the brain that disrupt a personís thinking, feelings, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are brain disorders that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of daily life. Mental illnesses are NOT the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or a poor upbringing. Mental illness cuts across all strata of society and can affect people of any age, race, religion, or education or income level. Effective treatment for mental illness, in most cases, includes biological, educational, and social interventions. While medication is the cornerstone of treatment for mental illness, it should also always be seen as the means of improving psychological and social interventions. The Clinic serves individuals with the following four primary severe mental illnesses.
Schizophrenia: Although widely feared and misunderstood, schizophrenia is actually a highly treatable brain disorder that affects more than two million Americans in a given year. Many people with schizophrenia have hallucinations and delusions. Because the disorder causes unusual, inappropriate, and sometimes dangerous behavior, people with schizophrenia are often unnecessarily shunned and stigmatized. However, almost all people with the disorder are not dangerous when they are in treatment, although their behavior can be unpredictable. Research has shown that people with schizophrenia who attend structured, psychosocial rehabilitation programs and continue with their medical treatment manage their illness best.
Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is serious medical illness that affects more than two million adults in the United States. It is characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. People with bipolar disorder experience alternating episodes of mania (severe highs) and depression (severe lows). These episodes of abnormally intense moods may last for days, weeks, or even months, and are often separated by periods of fairly normal moods. Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition with recurring episodes that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood. It generally requires ongoing treatment. Treatment is successful in 80 to 90 percent of all cases, depending upon individual response and responsibility. There is considerable disparity is treatment among ethnic groups for this disease: the majority of African Americans with bipolar disorder go undiagnosed and untreated for reasons that range from cultural barriers to lack of parity in healthcare.
Major Depression: Major (or clinical) depression is much more than having a bad day or even coping with a major loss like a death in the family or other stressful life circumstances. Major depression involves disturbances in mood, concentration, sleep, activity, appetite, and social behavior. Unlike typical emotional experiences of sadness, loss, or passing mood states, major depression is a persistent mental illness that is estimated to affect 19 million American adults (or approximately 10 percent of the U.S. adult population) in a given year. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and many other developed countries. Because the outward behavior of depressed individuals can seem relatively normal and rarely disrupts the lives of others to the extent of some other serious mental illnesses, major depression is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Left untreated, however, major depression can lead to suicide. As devastating as this illness may be, it is highly treatable. Treatment is successful in 80 percent of clinically depressed individuals.
Schizoaffective Disorder: Schizoaffective disorder symptoms look like a mixture of two kinds of major mental illnesses, namely mood (affective) disorders such as unipolar or bipolar depression and schizophrenia. Because of this, the disorder may often be misdiagnosed, and therefore not effectively treated. One study showed that 33 percent of a group of roughly 1,000 persons with a severe psychiatric disorder were originally given diagnoses of depression but had final diagnoses of schizophrenia. Schizoaffective disorder is a lifelong illness for most people. As with schizophrenia, there is no known cure, but the disorder can be managed with a continuum of treatment so that sufferers can lead productive, fulfilling lives.
Alcohol, drug abuse, addiction, and co-occuring disorders
Co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders are common. More than half (52 percent) of persons surveyed who had ever been diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependence had also experienced a mental disorder at some time in their lives. An even larger proportion (59 percent) of people with a history of other drug abuse or dependence also had experienced a mental disorder. Mental health problems often predate substance abuse problems by four to six years; alcohol or other drugs may be used as a form of self-medication to alleviate the symptoms of the mental disorder. In some cases, substance abuse precedes the development of mental health problems. For instance, anxiety and depression may be brought on as a response to stressors from broken relationships, lost employment, and other situations directly related to an alcohol and/or drug-using lifestyle.