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

Can relationships boost longevity and well-being?

A Harvard study that’s lasted for eight decades suggests that maintaining meaningful relationships plays an important role in health, happiness, and longevity. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has collected health and wellness information from a group of men since they were teenagers in 1938. By following the men, researchers have found that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and longer-lived than people who are less well connected. (Locked) More »

Looking for early signs of Alzheimer’s

For a long time, memory loss was seen as the telltale sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but this is not necessarily the best way to identify the disease in its earliest stages. In fact, it is now believed that Alzheimer’s-related changes begin in the brain at least a decade before common symptoms emerge. The goal now is to find multiple markers and use a consolidated effort in hopes of diagnosing the disease as early as possible. More »

How depression affects your thinking skills

Often, one of the first signs of depression in people ages 70 or older is a change in thinking. This may show up as trouble with attention, memory, decision making, information processing, or executive function. Because the symptoms of depression are similar to those of other conditions, depression is often overlooked. When these symptoms occur, a primary care physician should do a depression screening. Treating depression leads to marked improvement in thinking, memory, and executive function. (Locked) More »

The power of the placebo effect

The idea that the brain can convince the body a fake treatment is the real thing—the so-called placebo effect—and thus stimulate healing has been around for millennia. But research has shown that under the right circumstances, a placebo can be just as effective as traditional treatments. (Locked) More »

What does it take to be a super-ager?

Super-agers are people in their 70s or 80s who have cognitive or physical function equal to that of people decades younger. Super-agers tend to push beyond their comfort zones to take on greater challenges compared with their average contemporaries. More »

Staying calm in turbulent times

Several self-help techniques may reduce anxiety. However, it’s important to distinguish everyday anxiety from an anxiety disorder and to get help from a mental health professional if anxiety interferes with daily life. (Locked) More »

Take steps to prevent or reverse stress-related health problems

The relaxation response helps to manage stress. It may also reduce the activity of genes that are harmful to health. For example, it may activate genes associated with dilating the blood vessels, and reduce activity of genes associated with blood vessel narrowing and inflammation. That may help lower blood pressure. Practicing this approach for 10 to 20 minutes daily brings positive physiological benefits. Techniques to evoke the relaxation response include focused breathing and guided imagery, among many others. More »

What can you do to avoid Alzheimer’s disease?

It is unclear what causes 99% of Alzheimer’s disease cases. However, evidence suggests that healthy lifestyle choices—such as getting more sleep, exercising, and eating a Mediterranean diet—may help delay or prevent the disease. There is promising but conflicting evidence that other lifestyle choices—such as learning new things, connecting socially, and limiting alcohol intake—may also help prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease. However, all of these healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent other chronic health problems.  More »