FAQS About Mental Illness

What is mental illness (also known as psychiatric disability)?

  • Mental illness is a biologically based disease, much like heart disease or cancer.
  • Mental illnesses are no ones fault. Symptoms cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.
  • Psychiatric disabilities are the leading cause of disability (lost years of productive life) in North America, Europe and, increasingly, in the world.

What is a severe and persistent mental illness?

Severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) is the most serious and debilitating form of mental illness, causing lasting, disabling disturbances in thinking, feeling, and relating. Some examples of SPMI are:

  • Schizophrenia: Interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, to distinguish reality from fantasy, to manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others.
  • Bipolar disorder: Also called manic depression, bipolar disorder is a serious brain disorder that causes dramatic mood swings from overly “high” and/or irritable (mania) to sad and hopeless (depression), and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between . Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe.
  • Major depression: Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss, or passing mood states, major depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity, and physical health. Among all medical illnesses, major depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and many other developed countries.

What causes a mental illness?

  • While the exact cause of mental illness is not known, most researchers agree it involves a chemical imbalance in certain parts of the brain resulting from both genetics and environmental factors.
  • Some illnesses, like bipolar disorder, tend to run in families.

What are the warning signs of mental illness? Warning signs may include:

  • disconnected, confusing language
  • poor reasoning, memory and judgment
  • high levels of anxiety
  • hallucinations and delusions
  • dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • impulsive and erratic behavior
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • suicidal thoughts or actions including substance abuse.

Are people with mental illness violent?

  • Studies show that if people have no record of criminal violence before they develop mental illness and are not substance abusers, they are unlikely to commit crimes after they become ill.
  • Most violent crimes are not committed by people with mental illness, and most people with mental illness do not commit violent crimes.

What can be done for a person with a mental illness?

  • Between 60 and 90 percent of individuals with serious mental illness have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of medication and psychosocial supports.
  • Early identification and treatment of mental illness is of vital importance. By getting people the treatment they need early, recovery is accelerated and the brain is protected from further harm related to the course of illness.
  • Researchers are developing more effective medications and using new research tools to understand the causes of mental illness and find better ways to prevent and treat it.

Where can I find help?

Click here for Behavioral Health resources.


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