Mental Health

Everyone feels worried or anxious or down from time to time. But relatively few people develop a mental illness. What's the difference? A mental illness is a mental health condition that gets in the way of thinking, relating to others, and day-to-day function.

Dozens of mental illnesses have been identified and defined. They include depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and many more.

Mental illness is an equal opportunity issue. It affects young and old, male and female, and individuals of every race, ethnic background, education level, and income level. The good news is that it can often be treated.

Signs and symptoms of mental illness depend in part on the illness. Common symptoms include

  • feeling down for a while
  • extreme swings in mood
  • withdrawing from family, friends, or activities
  • low energy or problems sleeping
  • often feeling angry, hostile, or violent
  • feeling paranoid, hearing voices, or having hallucinations
  • often thinking about death or suicide.

In some people, symptoms of a mental illness first appear as physical problems such as stomach aches, back pain, or insomnia.

Individuals with a mental illness can often ease their symptoms and feel better by talking with a therapist and following a treatment plan that may or may not include medication.

Mental Health Articles

The health benefits of writing your life story

Leaving some kind of legacy can be a driving force for many men. Writing one’s memoirs can be a way to leave behind something of lasting value for both family and friends. Besides recording life stories, memoirs can be an opportunity to pass along wisdom and life lessons, as well as a way to help explore troubling issues. (Locked) More »

When the arrival of menopause brings symptoms of depression

Hormone therapy has long been a controversial topic, and a new study about the role of hormones in depression is adding some fodder to the debate. A study published in the January 10 issue of JAMA Psychiatry determined that hormone therapy may help ward off symptoms of depression in women. Researchers found that perimenopausal and early postmenopausal women who were treated with hormones were less likely to experience symptoms of depression than women in the study who were given a placebo. But while the findings of the study are important — particularly considering that a woman's risk of depression doubles or even quadruples during the menopausal transition — that doesn't mean hormone therapy should be widely used for preventing depression in women at this stage of life, says Dr. Hadine Joffe, the Paula A. Johnson Associate Professor of Psychiatry in Women's Health at Harvard Medical School, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. "It's not a 'never,' but it shouldn't be a standard approach; in general, all of medicine has moved away from using hormones for prevention," she says. The study ran from October 2010 to February 2016 and included 172 perimenopausal and early postmenopausal women ranging in age from 45 to 65 who were experiencing low-level symptoms of depression. Roughly half used a skin patch containing the hormone estradiol for 12 months as well as intermittent oral progesterone pills. The rest received a fake skin patch and placebo pills. (Locked) More »

How to overcome grief’s health-damaging effects

Grieving over the death of a spouse, friend, or family member exposes people to many months of constant stress that can lead to anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and general aches and pains. This can place people at a greater risk for a heart attack, stroke, or even death, especially in the first few months of losing someone. Adopting several mind-body strategies designed to help lower and manage stress can help people get through the grieving process. (Locked) More »

Staving off dementia when you have mild cognitive impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) progresses to full-blown dementia about 15% of the time among people 65 or older, and more frequently when a neurodegenerative disease (like Alzheimer’s) causes it. In that case, there are no medicines to stop this progression. However, some research suggests that a combination of healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise and a healthy diet, may delay progression. When MCI is caused by an underlying condition, such as sleep deprivation, it may be possible to reverse it. More »

Forgetful? When to worry about memory changes

Memory changes can be scary, but they don’t always indicate Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Even so, a physician should evaluate sudden changes in the ability to perform daily activities. Early diagnosis has a number of benefits. (Locked) More »

Mental stress, gender, and the heart

In people with heart disease, mental stress can lead to reduced blood supply to the heart, a phenomenon known as mental stress–induced ischemia. This problem seems to result from different physiological effects in women and men. More »

Train your brain

As people age, cognitive skills wane and thinking and memory become more challenging, so they need to build up the brain’s reserve. Embracing a new activity that requires thinking, learning, ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to improve cognitive skills like memory recall, problem solving, and processing speed. More »