Mental illness: Definition, Causes and Symptoms

Mental Health:

Mental health refers to cognitive, behavioral, and emotional well-being. It is all about how people think, feel, and behave. People sometimes use the term “mental health” to mean the absence of a mental disorder. But mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders. Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health. Mental health is determined by a range of socioeconomic, biological and environmental factors. According to WHO constitution: Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Mental Illness:

Mental illness, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. It is associated with distress and or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.

Mental illness is common. About 1 in 5 adults has a mental illness in any given year. Mental illness can begin at any age, from childhood through later adult years, but most cases begin earlier in life. The effects of mental illness can be temporary or long lasting. You also can have more than one mental health disorder at the same time. For example, you may have depression and a substance use disorder.

Mental illness is common

Causes:

Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors:

Inherited traits: Mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness. Certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and your life situation may trigger it.
Environmental exposures before birth: Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illness.
Brain chemistry: Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that carry signals to other parts of your brain and body. When the neural networks involving these chemicals are impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems change, leading to depression and other emotional disorders.

Risk factors:

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, including:

  • A history of mental illness in a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling
  • Stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one’s death or a divorce
  • An ongoing (chronic) medical condition, such as diabetes
  • Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury), such as a violent blow to the head
  • Traumatic experiences, such as military combat or assault
  • Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • A childhood history of abuse or neglect
  • Few friends or few healthy relationships
  • A previous mental illness

Signs and symptoms:

Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Examples of signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Sex drive changes
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Suicidal thoughts

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches and pains.

When to see a doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness mentioned above, see a mental health professional. Most mental illnesses don’t improve on their own, and if untreated, a mental illness may get worse over time and cause serious problems.

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