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What Is Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s brain. It causes difficulties in thinking, feeling, behaving and relating to others. People of all ages, races, religions, incomes and educational levels can have mental illnesses.

Mental illnesses are very common. More people have mental illnesses than cancer, lung and heart diseases combined. One in every five adults and one in every five children has a diagnosable mental illness.

The most important fact about mental illnesses is that they can be treated successfully. Today, most people recover from mental illnesses. The recovery rates for mental illnesses are as good as or better than for many physical illnesses. Because people have not understood the facts about mental illnesses, there has been and still is a lot of stigma connected with having a mental illness. This often results in shame and embarrassment that can keep a person from seeking the treatment he or she needs to recover.

How does a person develop a mental illness?

Mental illnesses are not the result of the way a person was raised or the kind of character he or she has. The exact causes of mental illnesses are not known. Research has found that biological factors, like brain chemistry and genetics, play a role in causing mental illnesses. Stresses in a person’s life can also change the way the brain works and may contribute to a mental illness.

Is “Emotional Disturbance” the same as “Mental Illness”?

In children, more serious behavioral or psychological problems are sometimes called emotional disturbances instead of mental illnesses. There are two main reasons for this.

  • Professionals do not like to give a child a label that has a stigma attached to it.
  • The signs of mental illnesses are often hard to clearly identify in children.

Additional Information on Mental Illness

American Psychiatric Association (APA)
http://www.psych.org/public_info/mental_illness/what_is_mi.cfm
The APA is a professional association for physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. This site gives a good explanation of what mental illnesses are. It has links to information about specific mental illnesses and their treatments.

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Inform_Yourself/About_Mental_Illness/About_Mental_Illness.htm
NAMI is a very respected grass roots family movement that was founded in 1979. It does effective self-help and advocacy for people with mental illnesses. This site gives many facts about mental illnesses.

National Mental Health Association (NMHA)
http://www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/11.cfm
NMHA is a national organization dedicated to promoting mental health through education and advocacy. This site gives information about basic signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and ways family and friends can cope.
 
Law and Psychiatry Institute - North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital System
http://www.northshorelij.com/body.cfm?ID=722
This website contains information on mental illnesses and medications that might be useful to someone encountering psychiatric issues.

Another useful link is:  http://www.halfofus.com/Default.aspx