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

Talk to the animals

Animal-assistant therapy (AAT)—which involves regular interaction with animals like dogs, cats, and even horses—can have both immediate and long-lasting impacts on your emotional and mental health. AAT is used to treat depression, stress, and anxiety, and older men also can use it to combat the challenges of aging, such as dealing with the loss of a loved one or declining health. (Locked) More »

Can you grow new brain cells?

The science of neurogenesis suggests it’s possible to create new neurons in the hippocampus, which can improve a person’s memory and thinking skills. Research has found that certain types of aerobic activities, stress relievers, and brain exercises can stimulate neurogenesis. (Locked) More »

Ease your pain by controlling your mind

Dependency on pain medication is on the rise, and studies have found that many older adults are at a high risk for addiction, hospitalization, and even death because of the habit of managing pain with drugs. A safer approach may be for people to change their mental perception of pain. Doing this enables them to increase their tolerance levels and not be so quick to reach for the pill bottle.  (Locked) More »

A workout for your brain

Some hospitals, research centers, and private practices offer brain fitness programs. They typically include a combination of physical exercise, cognitive training, good nutrition, better sleep, and meditation. Look for programs that offer a multidisciplinary approach with a neurologist, psychologist, social worker, physical therapist, and dietitian. Beware of promises of cures, and don’t assume that doing well on a computer game means there is improvement in cognition. Look for programs that measure the biological effect of the training and experts who can explain the results and how they plan to use that information. More »

Getting Your Selves Healthier

By: Margaret Moore, aka Coach MegCo-author, Harvard Health book, Organize Your Emotions, Optimize Your Life In a companion article, Meet your Inner Family, we introduced the new Harvard Health book Organize your Emotions, Optimize Your Life, proposing a new model of the human psyche that is an adult version of Inside Out, positing that the human psyche has nine internal life forces sculpted by evolution, speaking as our inner "voices," with distinct needs, agendas and emotions. Here's what your nine inner family members might say about getting healthier: I'd really like us to get healthier. We can't be the captain of our ship if we don't have good physical energy. And at the same time... I don't like others telling me how to be healthier. Let's do it our way. More »

5 ways to fight loneliness and isolation

Loneliness and isolation are associated with developing a number of health conditions, such as coronary artery disease and stroke. Avoiding loneliness and isolation takes planning and effort. Strategies include reaching out to family and friends, even if it’s just a phone call or video call; signing up for rides through senior centers; joining a club or spiritual community, such as a church or synagogue; getting a pet; and signing up for visits from volunteers at senior centers. (Locked) More »

Need a quick brain boost? Take a walk

A 20-to-30-minute bout of moderate exercise before performing mental tasks may quicken reaction speed and sharpen decision making in people of all ages. A dose of caffeine may have similar effects. (Locked) More »

Unveiling post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious and potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced a natural disaster, war, terrorism, serious accident, sudden death of a loved one, violent personal assault, or other life-threatening events. In fact, research suggests that 70% of men ages 65 and older have been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event during their lifetime. PTSD is often difficult to diagnose because many of its symptoms overlap with depression. But most people recover when treated early. (Locked) More »