of Mental Illness • Causes
• Signs & Symptoms •
Myths • Living
with Mental Illnesses • How
Family & Friends Can Help • Treatments
illnesses are some of the most misunderstood afflictions in
today's society. Too many people think of mental illness as
a "weakness." Nothing could be further from the
truth. These are true illnesses and brain diseases. Relationships,
work, school and home life can suffer as a result of mental
illnesses. Thousands of people live with mental illnesses
every day, and some are not even aware, themselves, of the
problem. However, unlike the images we often see in books,
on television and at the movies, most people with mental illnesses
can lead productive, fulfilling lives with proper treatment
of Mental Illness
and understanding mental illnesses is the first step.
depression and manic depressive disorder (also called bipolar
disorder) are disorders that cause change in a person's
depression causes people to feel hopeless, exhausted and
useless. More than changes in mood, major depression can
cause problems with sleep, appetite, self-esteem, daily
activities and physical health.
depressive disorder (bipolar disorder) causes swings from
deep depression to abnormal elation or "highs."
Hyperactivity, scattered ideas, easy distraction, irritability
and recklessness also occur in bipolar disorder during manic
disorders come in many forms and may be experienced differently
in each person. However, their common factor is a feeling
of constant terror, dread or worry beyond one's normal reactions
are irrational fears of objects or situations that cannot
be overcome with reasonable explanations or actions. In
many instances the phobias are so extreme that they cause
major disruption to the victim's life.
phobias are typically fears of particular objects or situations.
The most common are fears of animals, fears of heights,
fears of enclosed spaces and fears of flying.
phobias cause people to dread being watched or humiliated
while doing something of a social nature, such as eating
a meal or giving a speech, due to expectation of negative
evaluation. Some people with social phobias fear and avoid
any contact with others.
with agoraphobia often have panic attacks and fear being
in situations in which they cannot get help or escape. Often,
this paralyzing fear causes its sufferers to remain isolated
in their homes.
disorder involves sudden, unexpected attacks of intense
terror. Its symptoms include shortness of breath, heart
palpitations, chest pain, choking, trembling and faintness.
Panic attacks can occur at any time, distinguishing them
from the natural reaction to real danger.
anxiety disorder causes more constant and unrealistic worry
about everything. Worry about things such as family's physical
safety or financial security may continue, in spite of attempts
to convince the sufferer that all is well. People with generalized
anxiety disorder feel anxious, sleepless, irritable and
physically stressed, more often than not, to a level that
interferes with daily functioning.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
causes its sufferers to act out repetitive, ritualistic
behaviors based on persistent and involuntary thoughts.
Continual hand washing, stove or lock checking, and counting
to a certain number are examples of compulsions. Unrealistic
fears of hurting one's child or swearing in public are examples
of obsessions. Often, people with this disorder are aware
that their thoughts and behaviors are irrational, but feel
powerless to stop them.
defines a group of disorders that cause distorted thought
and perception. Thoughts seem scrambled or suddenly jump
from one subject to an unrelated subject. Perception can
be distorted beyond reality, causing sufferers to hear or
see things that are not there. People with schizophrenia
commonly feel heightened self-awareness or paranoia. Often
they suffer low self-esteem and even withdraw into seclusion.
is one of the most debilitating of all mental illnesses.
It afflicts people of all ages, race and gender, and it
affects each individual in different ways and degrees.
illnesses are caused by disorders of brain chemistry and function
that affect how a person thinks, perceives and gets along
in the world. Anyone, regardless of age, race or gender, can
develop a mental illness. The risk to develop a mental illness
can be inherited, just as a risk for diabetes or heart disease
is passed down in families. However, other factors such as
problems in development prior to birth, imbalances in brain
chemistry, traumatic personal experiences and other physical
problems have been presumed to be contributors as well.
who suffer from mental illnesses may display one or more of
the following behaviors:
of suicide or threats to others
feelings of intense tension or anxiety
changes in eating and/or sleeping habits
thoughts and speech
changes in mood and behavior
from friends and family
of interest in favorite activities
symptoms, including pains of various sorts
with mental illnesses can just pull themselves together."
Mental illnesses are not spontaneous lapses in judgment or
emotional weakness. They are ultimately a result of disorders
of brain chemistry and function that produce symptoms in thinking,
mood and behavior. Though the symptoms can be treated effectively,
expectations that a victim will "snap out of it"
are not helpful and may be harmful in the long run.
with mental illnesses are violent."
people with mental illnesses are no more prone to violent
behavior than anyone else. However, there is a small group
of people who experience problems with impulse control, aggression
and paranoia, making them more likely to strike out violently
without adequate treatment.
illness means being locked up for life."
not. Most people with mental illnesses, provided they are
willing, can receive effective care without entering a hospital.
For those who do need to go to the hospital, the stay usually
lasts only a few weeks and does not require confinement or
isolation. Treatment areas for psychiatric illnesses are often
locked for the protection of patients who may not be thinking
clearly about the safety of themselves or others. Various
therapies and activities may take place outside the treatment
area. Also, there may be opportunities to take short trips
outside the hospital and enjoy outdoor activities. After the
hospital stay, many people can return to work, home and activities
that were enjoyed before.
don't cause mental illness."
use of crack cocaine, marijuana, heroin and other drugs is
thought to trigger mental illness in some people. Also, alcohol
and other drug use makes matters worse for people with mental
illness. Organic disorders that involve damage to the structure
of the brain can be caused by abusing inhalants, sniffing
paints, glues and other toxic fumes. However, it is important
to remember the difference between medications for treating
mental illness and "drugs" that are abused.
boss must know about your illness."
health treatment providers cannot notify employers about employees
illnesses without the patients permission. However, because
an employer needs to get the job done, realistic planning
followed by a discussion with the boss can ease work stress.
with Disabilities Act was developed to protect people from
being fired on the basis of disability. This protection can
extend to people with mental illnesses. The employer will
still require that the job be done, but should make reasonable
adjustments to allow the disabled person to perform.
with Mental Illness
illness is a common affliction. There are approximately 400,000
people who suffer from mental illness living in Harris County.
One in five Houston-area children has some form of illness.
Nationally, three to five percent of all children under 18
have a severe mental disorder. It is estimated that more than
15 million Americans suffer from depression. Anxiety afflicts
about 30 million people, and millions more suffer from obsessive-compulsive
disorder, panic attacks and phobias.
victims aren't even aware of their illnesses, which are readily
noticed by others. Many others turn to personal and social
diversions as a means of dealing with their problems. Those
who do seek treatment are finding increasingly better results,
allowing as many as 80 percent of patients to return to normal,
are not alone.
mental illnesses strike, they reach far beyond their victims.
Family members, friends, co-workers and many others suffer
as well. But family and friends can potentially be the best
help for victims.
Family and Friends Can Help
the greatest helps to a friend or loved one with a mental
illness is emotional support. Family and friends should sincerely
listen to the
person with the disorder, offering reassurance. They can help
the person become involved in his or her own treatment. They
can be the rational, stable support in the difficult and frustrating
and friends should plan ahead and be prepared for possible
crises. Keep names and doses of medications, phone numbers,
and other important information and materials readily available.
with a relative or friend with a mental disorder can be tremendously
stressful. Family and friends can find emotional support,
understanding and hope from outreach, education and advocacy
groups. Whether you are the victim, a family member or a friend,
everyone who is affected by mental illness should seek help.
health professionals offer a wide range of effective therapies
and treatments, drawing on significant advances in procedures
and technologies. Most serious mental illnesses require a
combination of medication and supportive psychological therapies
either in the hospital or on an outpatient basis.
is commonly prescribed for mental illness and has proved itself
to be an increasingly effective tool. This type of treatment
requires careful supervision by a physician and is targeted
at the chemical imbalances associated with mental illness.
addresses the emotional response to mental illness. Coping
with life's stressful events is especially difficult for people
with mental illness. Psychotherapists help patients understand
their emotions and deal with their problems in a more confident,
healthy way. Group psychotherapy, led by a licensed psychotherapist,
allows patients to draw emotional support from others with
therapies include a number of related activities designed
to enhance treatment of mental illness. Occupational therapy
helps patients return to daily living skills and routines
that may have been impaired by mental illness. Activity therapy
focuses on problems through recreational and group activities.
successful treatments of medication, psychotherapy and supportive
therapies are tailored to the individual patient's needs under
the close supervision of a psychiatrist, a physician who specializes
in mental illnesses.