A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.Recovery, including meaningful roles in social life, school and work, is possible, especially when you start treatment early and play a strong role in your own recovery process.
A mental health condition isn’t the result of one event. Research suggests multiple, linking causes. Genetics, environment and lifestyle influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. A stressful job or home life makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events like being the victim of a crime. Biochemical processes and circuits and basic brain structure may play a role, too.
- Clinical & Chronic Depression
- Eating Disorders
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Recovery and Wellness
One in 5 adults experiences a mental health condition every year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In addition to a person’s directly experiencing a mental illness, family, friends and communities are also affected.
Half of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24. The normal personality and behavior changes of adolescence may mimic or mask symptoms of a mental health condition. Early engagement and support are crucial to improving outcomes and increasing the promise of recovery.
Types of Mental Illness & Their Symptoms
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition in which characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in young people, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated 9% of children between ages 3–17 have ADHD. While ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood, it does not only affect children. An estimated 4% of adults have ADHD. With treatment, most people with ADHD can be successful in school, work and lead productive lives. Researchers are using new tools such as brain imaging to better understand the condition and to find more effective ways to treat and prevent ADHD.
Common symptoms of ADHD
While some behaviors associated with ADHD are normal, someone with ADHD will have trouble controlling these behaviors and will show them much more frequently and for longer than 6 months.
Signs of inattention include:
- Becoming easily distracted, and jumping from activity to activity.
- Becoming bored with a task quickly.
- Difficulty focusing attention or completing a single task or activity.
- Trouble completing or turning in homework assignments.
- Losing things such as school supplies or toys.
- Not listening or paying attention when spoken to.
- Daydreaming or wandering with lack of motivation.
- Difficulty processing information quickly.
- Struggling to follow directions.
Signs of hyperactivity include:
- Fidgeting and squirming, having trouble sitting still.
- Non-stop talking.
- Touching or playing with everything.
- Difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.
Signs of impulsivity include:
- Acting without regard for consequences, blurting things out.
- Difficulty taking turns, waiting or sharing.
- Interrupting others.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate with others. ASD can also result in restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills and levels of impairment or disability that people with ASD can display. Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled. The prevalence rate for ASD is 1 in 68 children and rising. Boys are 4 times more likely than girls to develop autism. ASD crosses racial, ethnic and social backgrounds equally. Awareness of this disorder and improved screening methods have contributed to the increase in diagnoses in recent years.
Common symptoms of ASD
Symptoms of autism start to appear during the first three years of life. Typically, developing infants are social by nature. They gaze at faces, turn toward voices, grasp a finger and even smile by 2-3 months of age. Most children who develop autism have difficulty engaging in everyday human interactions.
Not everyone will experience symptoms with the same severity, but all people with ASD will have symptoms that affect social interactions and relationships. ASD also causes difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication and preoccupation with certain activities. Along with different interests, autistic children generally have different ways of interacting with others. Parents are often the first to notice that their child is showing unusual behaviors. These behaviors include failing to make eye contact, not responding to his or her name or playing with toys in unusual, repetitive ways.
Symptoms of autism can include:
- Delay in language development, such as not responding to their own name or speaking only in single words, if at all.
- Repetitive and routine behaviors, such as walking in a specific pattern or insisting on eating the same meal every day.
- Difficulty making eye contact, such as focusing on a person’s mouth when that person is speaking instead of their eyes, as is usual in most young children.
- Sensory problems, such as experiencing pain from certain sounds, like a ringing telephone or not reacting to intense cold or pain, certain sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes.
- Difficulty interpreting facial expressions, such as misreading or not noticing subtle facial cues, like a smile, wink or grimace, that could help understand the nuances of social communication.
- Problems with expressing emotions, such as facial expressions, movements, tone of voice and gestures that are often vague or do not match what is said or felt.
- Fixation on parts of objects, such as focusing on a rotating wheel instead of playing with peers.
- Absence of pretend play, such as taking a long time to line up toys in a certain way, rather than playing with them.
- Difficulty interacting with peers, because they have a difficult time understanding that others have different information, feelings and goals.
- Self-harm behavior, such as hitting his head against a wall as a way of expressing disapproval.
- Sleep problems, such as falling asleep or staying asleep.
Symptoms of autism fall on a continuum. This means that the learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities of children with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some children with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives. With a thorough evaluation, doctors can make a diagnosis to help find the best treatment plan for the child.
Everyone experiences anxiety. Speaking in front of a group makes most of us anxious, but that motivates us to prepare and do well. Driving in heavy traffic is a common source of anxiety, but it keeps us alert and cautious to better avoid accidents. However, when feelings of intense fear and distress are overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday things, an anxiety disorder may be the cause. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. An estimated 40 million adults in the U.S., or 18%, have an anxiety disorder. Approximately 8% of children and teenagers experience the negative impact of an anxiety disorder at school and at home. Most people develop symptoms of anxiety disorders before age 21 and women are 60% more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men.
Common symptoms of anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions, and each with unique symptoms. However, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening. People can experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Restlessness or irritability
- Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger
- Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
- Upset stomach
- Sweating, tremors and twitches
- Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
- Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Different anxiety disorders have various symptoms. This means that each type of anxiety disorder has its own treatment plan. The most common anxiety disorders include:
Characterized by panic attacks—sudden feelings of terror—sometimes striking repeatedly and without warning. Often mistaken for a heart attack, a panic attack causes powerful, physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and stomach upset. Many people will go to desperate measures to avoid having an attack, including social isolation or avoiding going to specific places.
Everyone tries to avoid certain things or situations that make them uncomfortable or even fearful. However, for someone with a phobia, certain places, events or objects create powerful reactions of strong, irrational fear. Most people with specific phobias have several triggers. To avoid panicking, someone with specific phobias will work hard to avoid their triggers. Depending on the type and number of triggers, this fear and the attempt to control it can seem to take over a person’s life.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD produces chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish routine daily tasks. A person with GAD may become exhausted by worry and experience headaches, tension or nausea.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Unlike shyness, this disorder causes intense fear, often driven by irrational worries about social humiliation–“saying something stupid,” or “not knowing what to say.” Someone with social anxiety disorder may not take part in conversations, contribute to class discussions, or offer their ideas, and may become isolated. Panic attack symptoms are a common reaction.
Other anxiety disorders include: agoraphobia, separation anxiety disorder and substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder involving intoxication or withdrawal or medication treatment.
Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly. People with bipolar have high and low moods, known as mania and depression, which differ from the typical ups and downs most people experience. If left untreated, the symptoms usually get worse. However, with a strong lifestyle that includes self-management and a good treatment plan, many people live well with the condition.
With mania, people may feel extremely irritable or euphoric. People living with bipolar may experience several extremes in the shape of agitation, sleeplessness and talkativeness or sadness and hopelessness. They may also have extreme pleasure-seeking or risk-taking behaviors.
People’s symptoms and the severity of their mania or depression vary widely. Although bipolar disorder can occur at any point in life, the average age of onset is 25. Every year, 2.9% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, with nearly 83% of cases being classified as severe. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally.
A person with bipolar disorder may have distinct manic or depressed states. A person with mixed episodes experiences both extremes simultaneously or in rapid sequence. Severe bipolar episodes of mania or depression may also include psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. Usually, these psychotic symptoms mirror a person’s extreme mood. Someone who is manic might believe he has special powers and may display risky behavior. Someone who is depressed might feel hopeless, helpless and be unable to perform normal tasks. People with bipolar disorder who have psychotic symptoms may be wrongly diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
Mania. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must have experienced mania or hypomania. Hypomania is a milder form of mania that doesn’t include psychotic episodes. People with hypomania can often function normally in social situations or at work. Some people with bipolar disorder will have episodes of mania or hypomania many times; others may experience them only rarely. To determine what type of bipolar disorder people have, doctors test how impaired they are during their most severe episode of mania or hypomania.
Although someone with bipolar may find an elevated mood appealing—especially if it occurs after depression—the “high” does not stop at a comfortable or controllable level. Moods can rapidly become more irritable, behavior more unpredictable and judgment more impaired. During periods of mania, people frequently behave impulsively, make reckless decisions and take unusual risks. Most of the time, people in manic states are unaware of the negative consequences of their actions. It’s key to learn from prior episodes the kinds of behavior that signal “red flags” to help manage the illness.
Depression. Depression produces a combination of physical and emotional symptoms that inhibit a person’s ability to function nearly every day for a period of at least two weeks. The level of depression can range from severe to moderate to mild low mood, which is called dysthymia when it is chronic.
The lows of bipolar depression are often so debilitating that people may be unable to get out of bed. Typically, depressed people have difficulty falling and staying asleep, but some sleep far more than usual. When people are depressed, even minor decisions such as what to have for dinner can be overwhelming. They may become obsessed with feelings of loss, personal failure, guilt or helplessness. This negative thinking can lead to thoughts of suicide. In bipolar disorder, suicide is an ever-present danger, as some people become suicidal in manic or mixed states. Depression associated with bipolar disorder may be more difficult to treat.
Substance Abuse is a condition characterized by difficulties in regulating emotion. This difficulty leads to severe, unstable mood swings, impulsivity and instability, poor self-image and stormy personal relationships. People may make repeated attempts to avoid real or imagined situations of abandonment. The combined result of living with BPD can manifest into destructive behavior, such as self-harm (cutting) or suicide attempts. It’s estimated that 1.6% of the adult U.S. population has BPD but it may be as high as 5.9%. Nearly 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are women, but recent research suggests that men may be almost as frequently affected by BPD. In the past, men with BPD were often misdiagnosed with PTSD or depression.
Common symptoms of SA
People with BPD experience wide mood swings and can display a great sense of instability and insecurity. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Frantic efforts to avoid being abandoned by friends and family.
- Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization—“I’m so in love!”—and devaluation—“I hate her.” This is also sometimes known as “splitting.”
- Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
- Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.
- Suicidal and self-harming behavior.
- Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
- Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
- Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity, or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes.
Substance Abuse is ultimately characterized by the emotional turmoil it causes. People who have it feel emotions intensely and for long periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally intense event. Suicide threats and attempts are very common for people with BPD. Self-harming acts, such as cutting and burning, are also common.
Chronic & Clinical Depression
Depression attacks all individuals and ages.The feeling is one of hopelessness, sadness, regret, feeling like there is no point to life or living. Depression is very common, yet many times not treated.Counseling aids and benefits tremendously.Our counselors will help you figure out why this is happening, and how to snap and break out of this state of mind.
Most of us may and can feel this way at one time or another for short periods. Clinical depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for a longer period of time.
Common symptoms of depression
- Low or irritable mood most of the time
- A loss of pleasure in usual activities
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- A big change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt
- Difficulty concentrating
- Slow or fast movements
- Lack of activity and avoiding usual activities
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Repeated thoughts of death or suicide
Low self-esteem is common with depression. It is also common to have sudden bursts of anger and a lack of pleasure from activities that normally make you happy, including sex.
Depressed children may not have the same symptoms as adult depression. Watch for changes in school work, sleep, and behavior. If you wonder whether your child might be depressed, it’s worth talking to a health care provider.
When you become so preoccupied with food and weight issues that you find it harder and harder to focus on other aspects of your life, it may be an early sign of an eating disorder. Studies suggest that 1 in 20 people will be affected at some point in their lives. Ultimately without treatment, eating disorders can take over a person’s life and lead to serious, potentially fatal medical complications. Although eating disorders are commonly associated with women, men can develop them as well.
Common symptoms of eating disorders
Eating disorders are a group of related conditions that cause serious emotional and physical problems. Each condition involves extreme food and weight issues; however, each has unique symptoms that separate it from the others.
Anorexia Nervosa. A person with anorexia will deny themselves food to the point of self-starvation as she obsesses about weight loss. With anorexia, a person will deny hunger and refuse to eat, practice binge eating and purging behaviors or exercise to the point of exhaustion as she attempts to limit, eliminate or “burn” calories.
The emotional symptoms of anorexia include irritability, social withdrawal, lack of mood or emotion, not able to understand the seriousness of the situation, fear of eating in public and obsessions with food and exercise. Often food rituals are developed or whole categories of food are eliminated from the person’s diet, out of fear of being “fat”.
Anorexia can take a heavy physical toll. Very low food intake and inadequate nutrition causes a person to become very thin. The body is forced to slow down to conserve energy causing irregularities or loss of menstruation, constipation and abdominal pain, irregular heart rhythms, low blood pressure, dehydration and trouble sleeping. Some people with anorexia might also use binge eating and purge behaviors, while others only restrict eating.
Bulimia Nervosa. Someone living with bulimia will feel out of control when binging on very large amounts of food during short periods of time, and then desperately try to rid himself of the extra calories using forced vomiting, abusing laxatives or excessive exercise. This becomes a repeating cycle that controls many aspects of the person’s life and has a very negative effect both emotionally and physically. People living with bulimia are usually normal weight or even a bit overweight.
The emotional symptoms of bulimia include low self-esteem overly linked to body image, feelings of being out of control, feeling guilty or shameful about eating and withdrawal from friends and family.
Like anorexia, bulimia will inflict physical damage. The binging and purging can severely harm the parts of the body involved in eating and digesting food, teeth are damaged by frequent vomiting, and acid reflux is common. Excessive purging can cause dehydration that effect the body’s electrolytes and leads to cardiac arrhythmias, heart failure and even death.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED). A person with BED losses control over his eating and eats a very large amount of food in a short period of time. He may also eat large amounts of food even when he isn’t hungry or after he is uncomfortably full. This causes him to feel embarrassed, disgusted, depressed or guilty about his behavior. A person with BED, after an episode of binge eating, does not attempt to purge or exercise excessively like someone living with anorexia or bulimia would. A person with binge eating disorder may be normal weight, overweight or obese.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by repetitive, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and irrational, excessive urges to do certain actions (compulsions). Although people with OCD may know that their thoughts and behavior don’t make sense, they are often unable to stop them. Symptoms typically begin during childhood, the teenage years or young adulthood, although males often develop them at a younger age than females. More than 2% of the U.S. population (nearly 1 out of 40 people) will be diagnosed with OCD during their lives.
Most people have occasional obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. In an obsessive-compulsive disorder, however, these symptoms generally last more than an hour each day and interfere with daily life.
Obsessions are intrusive, irrational thoughts or impulses that repeatedly occur. People with these disorders know these thoughts are irrational but are afraid that somehow they might be true. These thoughts and impulses are upsetting, and people may try to ignore or suppress them.
Examples of obsessions include:
- Thoughts about harming or having harmed someone
- Doubts about having done something right, like turning off the stove or locking a door
- Unpleasant sexual images
- Fears of saying or shouting inappropriate things in public
Compulsions are repetitive acts that temporarily relieve the stress brought on by an obsession. People with these disorders know that these rituals don’t make sense but feel they must perform them to relieve the anxiety and, in some cases, to prevent something bad from happening. Like obsessions, people may try not to perform compulsive acts but feel forced to do so to relieve anxiety.
Examples of compulsions include:
- Hand washing due to a fear of germs
- Counting and recounting money because a person is can’t be sure they added correctly
- Checking to see if a door is locked or the stove is off
- “Mental checking” that goes with intrusive thoughts is also a form of compulsion
Traumatic events, such as military combat, assault, an accident or a natural disaster, can have long-lasting negative effects. Sometimes our biological responses and instincts, which can be life-saving during a crisis, leave people with ongoing psychological symptoms because they are not integrated into consciousness.
Because the body is busy increasing the heart rate, pumping blood to muscles for movement and preparing the body to fight off infection and bleeding in case of a wound, all bodily resources and energy get focused on physically getting out of harm’s way. This resulting damage to the brain’s response system is called posttraumatic stress response or disorder, also known as PTSD.
PTSD affects 3.5% of the U.S. adult population—about 7.7 million Americans—but women are more likely to develop the condition than men. About 37% of those cases are classified as severe. While PTSD can occur at any age, the average age of onset is in a person’s early 20s.
Common symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder
- Intrusive Memories, which can include flashbacks of reliving the moment of trauma, bad dreams and scary thoughts.
- Avoidance, which can include staying away from certain places or objects that are reminders of the traumatic event. A person may also feel numb, guilty, worried or depressed or having trouble remembering the traumatic event.
- Dissociation, which can include out-of-body experiences or feeling that the world is “not real” (derealization).
- Hypervigilance, which can include being startled very easily, feeling tense, trouble sleeping or outbursts of anger.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. It is a complex, long-term medical illness, affecting about 1% of Americans. Although schizophrenia can occur at any age, the average age of onset tends to be in the late teens to the early 20s for men, and the late 20s to early 30s for women. It is uncommon for schizophrenia to be diagnosed in a person younger than 12 or older than 40. It is possible to live well with schizophrenia.
Common symptoms of Schizophrenia
It can be difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in teens. This is because the first signs can include a change of friends, a drop in grades, sleep problems, and irritability—common and nonspecific adolescent behavior. Other factors include isolating oneself and withdrawing from others, an increase in unusual thoughts and suspicions, and a family history of psychosis. In young people who develop schizophrenia, this stage of the disorder is called the “prodromal” period.
With any condition, it’s essential to get a comprehensive medical evaluation in order to obtain the best diagnosis. For a diagnosis of schizophrenia, some of the following symptoms are present in the context of reduced functioning for a least 6 months:
Hallucinations. These include a person hearing voices, seeing things, or smelling things others can’t perceive. The hallucination is very real to the person experiencing it, and it may be very confusing for a loved one to witness. The voices in the hallucination can be critical or threatening. Voices may involve people that are known or unknown to the person hearing them.
Delusions. These are false beliefs that don’t change even when the person who holds them is presented with new ideas or facts. People who have delusions often also have problems concentrating, confused thinking, or the sense that their thoughts are blocked.
Negative symptoms are ones that diminish a person’s abilities. Negative symptoms often include being emotionally flat or speaking in a dull, disconnected way. People with the negative symptoms may be unable to start or follow through with activities, show little interest in life, or sustain relationships. Negative symptoms are sometimes confused with clinical depression.
Cognitive issues/disorganized thinking. People with the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia often struggle to remember things, organize their thoughts or complete tasks. Commonly, people with schizophrenia have anosognosia or “lack of insight.” This means the person is unaware that he has the illness, which can make treating or working with him much more challenging.
If you answer yes to most of the questions below, you may be suffering from one of these conditions.
Q: Do you feel sad or irritable?
Q: Have you lost interest in activities once enjoyed?
Q: Have you experienced changes in weight or appetite?
Q: Have you experienced changes in sleeping pattern?
Q: Do you have feelings of guilt?