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

Schizotypal Personality Disorder

Schizotypal personality disorder, like other personality disorders, is a long-standing pattern of behavior and experience. As part of that pattern, an individual either has difficulty functioning or experiences a great deal of distress. People with schizotypal personality disorder are loners who prefer to keep their distance from others and are uncomfortable being in relationships. They sometimes exhibit odd speech or behavior, and they have a limited or flat range of emotions. This pattern begins early in adulthood and continues throughout life.   (Locked) More »

Treating obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which affects 2% to 3% of people worldwide, often causes suffering for years before it is treated correctly — both because of delays in diagnosis and because patients may be reluctant to seek help.Although OCD tends to be a chronic condition, with symptoms that flare up and subside over a patient's lifetime, effective help is available. Only about 10% of patients recover completely, but 50% improve with treatment. As the name implies, OCD is characterized by two hallmark symptoms. Obsessions are recurring and disturbing thoughts, impulses, or images that cause significant anxiety or distress. Compulsions are feelings of being driven to repeat behaviors, usually following rigid rules (such as washing hands multiple times after each meal). When these symptoms interfere with work, social activities, and personal relationships, it is time to consider treatment. For initial treatment of OCD, the APA recommends cognitive behavioral therapy, drug therapy with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or a combination of the two. More »

Treating obsessive-compulsive disorder

  Obsessive-compulsive disorder may take years to diagnose, partly because its symptoms are similar to those of other disorders. Many patients who receive treatment (typically behavioral therapy, medications, or a combination) experience improvement.   More »

Treating preschoolers with psychiatric disorders

Because of the rapid pace of brain development in preschoolers, particular care must be used when prescribing them medications for psychiatric conditions or disorders. Psychotherapy should be attempted before prescribing any medication. More »

Thyroid deficiency and mental health

Researchers are exploring a potential link between thyroid deficiency and mental health problems. Though the findings are inconsistent, there is evidence that thyroid medication can help those with depression, even if their thyroid function is normal. More »

The negative symptoms of schizophrenia

While the positive symptoms of schizophrenia are more obvious, negative symptoms are more troubling to those with the disease, and limit their ability to function normally in the world. More »

Marijuana use may be harmful to mental health—The Family HealthGuide

Think smoking marijuana is harmless? Think again. Chronic users of the drug often find themselves lacking motivation. Some even seem depressed or have other signs of mental illness. But does chronic marijuana use lead to psychiatric problems? Or do people suffering from mental illness use marijuana to self-medicate? While this drug was becoming increasingly popular with young people in the 1990s, researchers were busy trying to figure out if marijuana was a cause or an effect of psychiatric problems. And their work seems to have paid off. Research now indicates that marijuana use increases the risk of depression, as well as schizophrenia. But at the same time, depressed people do not use marijuana more often than their non-depressed counterparts. In an Australian study, researchers interviewed 1,600 14- and 15-year-olds, then again seven years later. Participants filled out a questionnaire, reporting on their use of marijuana and symptoms of depression or anxiety. A surprising 60% of the participants had used marijuana by the time they were 20. The researchers found that the young women who had used marijuana weekly as teenagers were twice as likely to have depression as a young adult than women who did not use the drug. Daily use as a teenager was associated with four times the risk of depression for young women. Also, among the young adults, women who used marijuana daily were five times more likely to experience depression and anxiety than those who did not use the drug. However, the researchers found no relationship between teenage depression and anxiety and later use of marijuana. This refutes the idea that youths suffering from depression turn to marijuana as a way of self-medicating. More »

Childhood Depression and Postpartum Psychiatric Depressive

In the United States, more than 2 million adults suffer from bipolar manic depressive disorder, an illness of extreme moods. It is characterized by deep depression followed by periods of hyperactivity and elation, referred to as mania, with periods of normal mood in between. Bipolar disorder often leads to substance abuse and one in four people with the condition attempt suicide.In a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers set out to determine how often major childhood depression turns into bipolar disorder. The researchers followed up on 72 subjects who, at an average age of 10.3 years, had been treated for major depressive disorder with the tricyclic antidepressant drug nortriptyline. They also studied 28 normal subjects.At the time of follow-up, the average age of the subjects who had had prepubertal major depressive disorder was 20.7 years. Of these subjects, 33.3% now had bipolar disorder, compared to none of the normal comparison subjects.These results may, in part, be due to heredity. A large portion of the prepubertal children who had been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder had family histories of bipolar disorder. Because bipolar disorder tends to run in families, these children may have been more vulnerable to developing the condition. Another possibility is that the children who were originally treated with nortriptyline already had bipolar disorder, but had not yet experienced their first manic episode.Clinicians treating children with antidepressants should be aware of the risk that children with major depressive disorder may develop adult bipolar manic depressive disease. Another study, published in Psychology and Medicine, sought to determine the long-term prognosis of women with postpartum psychiatric disorders. 50-80% of women experience some degree of postpartum depression within one month of delivering a child. Postpartum psychiatric disorders are more extreme.The study authors used standardized questionnaires to determine the long-term outcome of 64 women who had been hospitalized with postpartum psychiatric disorders 23 years earlier, and who had been interviewed for a 1982 study of women with diagnoses of schizophrenia, schizo-affective, bipolar, or unipolar affective disorders.The researchers found that 75% of the women had recurrent psychiatric illness, and 37% of the women had at least three subsequent episodes. However, only 29% of the 34 women who gave birth after the initial postpartum psychiatric disorder had additional episodes of maternal psychiatric illness. In addition, a majority of the 64 women were functioning well in society; 71-73% were employed and in stable relationships.The women with the best outcomes were those who had an initial diagnosis of unipolar disorder, those who experienced psychiatric illness after a first pregnancy, and those whose psychiatric illness started within one month of delivery.July 2001 Update More »