What are Mental Illnesses

Mental illnesses, or mental health conditions, are MAJOR DISRUPTIONS in thinking, feeling, or behaviour (or a combination of these) that reflect a problem in mental function. Just as the phrase “physical illness” is used to describe a range of physical health problems, the term mental illness encompasses a variety of mental health conditions.

Serious mental illness (SMI) is a term used by health professionals to describe the most severe mental health conditions. These illnesses interfere with or limit one or more major life activities. Two of the most common SMIs are bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Types of Mental Illnesses

There are nearly 300 mental illnesses listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. The DSM-5 puts illnesses into categories based on their symptoms and when they first appear in life:

  • Neurodevelopmental disorders: These disorders typically manifest early in development, often before a child enters grade school. in the developmental period. They are characterized by impairments of personal, social, academic, or occupational functioning. Examples include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and learning and intellectual disabilities.
  • Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders: They are defined by abnormalities in one or more of the following areas: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, disorganized or abnormal motor behaviour (including catatonia), and negative symptoms.
  • Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders: As the name suggests, these disorders are characterized by the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions. Examples include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), hoarding, and body dysmorphic disorder.
  • Trauma and stressor-related disorders: Include disorders in which exposure to a traumatic or stressful event is listed explicitly as a diagnostic criterion. The most common is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Dissociative disorders: This group of psychiatric syndromes is characterized by an involuntary disconnection between consciousness, memories, emotions, perceptions, and behaviours, even one’s own identity or sense of self.
  • Somatic symptom and related disorders: People with these disorders feel extreme, exaggerated anxiety about physical symptoms—such as pain, weakness, or shortness of breath. This preoccupation is so intense that it disrupts the person’s daily life.
  • Feeding and eating disorders: Eating disturbances are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating patterns that lead to poor physical and psychological health. Three major eating disorders are anorexia nervosabulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
  • Elimination disorders: Children with elimination disorders repeatedly void urine or faeces at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places, whether the action is involuntary or not.
  • Sleep-wake disorders: There are several different types of sleep-wake disorders and all involve problems falling asleep or staying awake at desired or socially appropriate times. These disorders are characterized by misalignment of circadian rhythms with the surrounding environment or abnormalities of the circadian system itself. Common sleep-wake disorders include insomnia and narcolepsy.
  • Sexual dysfunctions: This heterogeneous group of disorders is characterized by a person’s inability to fully engage in or experience sexual pleasure. Some of the most common sexual dysfunctions include female orgasmic disorder, erectile disorder, female sexual interest/arousal disorder, and delayed ejaculation.
  • Gender dysphoria: Formerly known as gender identity disorder, gender dysphoria occurs when a person feels extreme discomfort or distress because their gender identity is at odds with the gender they were born with.
  • Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders: A group of psychiatric conditions that affect involving problems with the self-control of emotions and behaviours. Some disorders in this group are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), intermittent explosive disorder, kleptomania, and pyromania.
  • Substance-related and addictive disorders: All substance-related disorders are characterized by a cluster of behavioural and physical symptoms, which can include withdrawal, tolerance, and craving. Substance-related disorders can result from the use of 10 separate classes of drugs.
  • Neurocognitive disorders: Previously grouped under the general term “dementia,” these disorders are characterized by a decrease in mental function due to a medical disease other than a psychiatric illness. In addition to Alzheimer’s disease, other conditions include Huntington’s disease, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and neurocognitive issues due to HIV infection.
  • Personality disorders: These disorders are characterized by rigid ways of thinking and behaving that cause distress or problems relating to others. There are currently 10 different personality disorders.
  • Paraphilic disorders: These sexual impulse disorders are characterized by intensely arousing, recurrent fantasies, urges, or behaviours involving atypical sexual interests.

Signs and Symptoms

Everyone experiences peaks and valleys in their mental health. A stressful experience, such as the loss of a loved one, might temporarily diminish your psychological well-being. In general, to meet the criteria for mental illness, your symptoms must interfere with your social, occupational, or educational functioning and last for a defined period.

  • Sleep or appetite changes: Sleeping and eating dramatically more or less than usual, noticeable and rapid weight gain or loss, drug or alcohol misuse
  • Mood changes: Deep sadness, inability to express joy, indifference to situations, feelings of hopelessness, laughter at inappropriate times for no apparent reason, or thoughts of suicide
  • Withdrawal: Sitting and doing nothing for long periods or dropping out of previously enjoyed activities
  • Problems thinking: Inability to concentrate, inability to cope with minor issues or problems with memory or logical thoughts and speech that are hard to explain
  • Excessive fear or uneasiness: Feeling afraid, anxious, nervous, or panicked

It’s important to note that the presence of one or two of these signs alone doesn’t mean that you have a mental illness. But it does indicate that you may need further evaluation. If you’re experiencing several of these symptoms at one time and they’re preventing you from going about your daily life, you should contact a physician or mental health professional.


Most mental illnesses aren’t considered “curable,” but they are treatable. Treatment for mental health disorders varies greatly depending on your diagnosis and the severity of your symptoms, and results can vary greatly on the individual level.

Some mental illnesses respond well to medications. Other conditions respond best to talk therapy. Some research also supports the use of alternative therapies for certain conditions from meditation to diet changes. Often, treatment plans will include a combination of treatment options and will require some trial and error before finding what works best for you.

Culled from verywellmind.com

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