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Mental Illness Overview

what is mental illnessMany people have mental health concerns from time to time, but a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function. A mental illness can make you miserable and can cause problems in your daily life, such as at work or in relationships.

Mental illness is just like other illnesses and it often can be treated with good results; in most cases, mental illness symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and counseling (psychotherapy).  Just like diabetes or high blood pressure, some mental illnesses may require a lifetime course of medication and just like these diseases, mental illness requires a certain amount of dedication and discipline on the part of ill person.

These are the mental health conditions that are addressed by NAMI programs. Click on a link below to learn basics about each disorder and then check the Articles section of the website for more information on mental health advocacy, research, personal stories, and more.

Anxiety Disorders
Bipolar Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder
Major Depression
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Schizoaffective Disorder

It’s a health condition

A mental illness is a health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning. As with many diseases, mental illness is severe in some cases and mild in others. Individuals who have a mental illness don’t necessarily look like they are sick, especially if their illness is mild. Other individuals may show more explicit symptoms such as confusion, agitation, or withdrawal.

There are many different mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each illness alters a person’s thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors in distinct ways.

It’s a brain disorder

Lines between mental illnesses and other brain or neurological disorders are beginning to blur. As scientists continue to investigate the brains of people who have mental illnesses, they are learning that mental illness is associated with changes in the brain’s structure, chemistry, and function and that mental illness does indeed have a biological basis.  Ongoing research is, in some ways, causing scientists to minimize the distinctions between mental illnesses and neurological brain disorders. This is why it is so important for people suffering from mental illness, and their families, to stay informed about the latest research into mental illness and brain disorders.

We can all be “sad” or “blue” at times in our lives. We have all seen movies about the madman and his crime spree, with the underlying cause of mental illness. We sometimes even make jokes about people being crazy or nuts, even though we know that we shouldn’t. We have all had some exposure to mental illness, but do we really understand it or know what it is? Many of our preconceptions are incorrect.