Understanding Mental Illness


Understanding Mental Illness

mental health signs

Mental illness is a generalized term for illnesses that affect the brain or mind, influencing the way a person thinks, feels, acts and reacts.

Some of the more common mental illnesses include: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia and personality disorders


Causes of Mental Illness

The cause of mental illness is still widely unknown, what We do know about mental illness is:

  • It is not a character flaw
  • It is not a weakness or something inherently wrong with the person
  • It is an illness – no different than any other illness


Factors that may contribute to mental illness are:

  • Brain structure and/or brain chemistry changes which affect thoughts, feelings and behavior
  • Drug or substance abuse may change the chemistry of the brain increasing the risk of contracting a mental illness
  • Environmental factors such as a person’s relationships, their family life, stressful life experiences such as abuse, trauma and other stressors
  • Genetics – mental illness may be part of a person’s genetic makeup, partly or wholly inherited. It is also possible for a person to inherit a gene but not experience any mental health issues
  • Constant negative thinking patterns can make a mental illness worse


Who is susceptible to mental illness?

Mental illness is common among young adults but can affect anyone at any stage of their life; it can vary from a mild or temporary condition to a more severe or prolonged ongoing concern.

  • People in high stress situations such as refugees and people fleeing persecution are at high risk of contracting a mental illness


Early Warning Signs

Mental illness warning signs are different for everyone but commonly you will see behavioral changes, either sudden or gradual. These changes may be a reaction to a life event (especially in adolescents)



There are two main categories of mental illnesses – psychosis and mood disorders, both have varying symptoms specific to the individual and their personal experiences



Schizophrenia is one type of psychotic disorder. People with bipolar disorder can also experience symptoms of psychosis. Other problems that can induce psychosis include some drugs and alcohol, brain infections, brain tumors, and stroke.


Common symptoms of a psychotic disorder/episode may include:



Confused and disturbed thoughts

Lack of insight and self-awareness


More generalized symptoms may include:

Difficulty concentrating, depressed mood, sleeping too much or not enough, anxiety, suspiciousness, withdrawal from family and friends, depression and suicidal thoughts or actions.



The patient tastes, smells, feels, hears or sees things that are not there

  • Taste – a taste when there is nothing in the mouth
  • Smell – an odor that other people can’t smell
  • Touch – feeling touched when there is nobody there
  • Sounds – hearing voices or other sounds
  • Sight – seeing colors, shapes or people



A delusion is where a person absolutely believes something to be true when the evidence shows that it is not true.

  • A person with persecutory delusions may believe an organization or individual is planning to hurt or kill them
  • A person suffering with grandiose delusions may believe they have great power or authority. (They may believe that they have the power to bring the dead back to life or that they are the president of a country)


Confused And Disturbed Thoughts

Signs Of Confused And Disturbed Thoughts May Include:

  • Constant, rapid speech
  • Disturbed speech – for example, they may completely switch topic mid sentence
  • A sudden loss in their train of thought causing an abrupt and prolonged pause in conversation and/or activity


Lack Of Insight

The psychotic patient may not be aware that they are delusional or hallucinating which can be very frightening for all concerned.


Mood disorders

In mood disorders your mood or emotional state is inconsistent with your circumstances and affects your ability to function normally.

You may experience signs of depression such as overwhelming sadness, irritability or feeling empty inside. You may experience depression with periods of excessive happiness (mania)


Common Signs Of Mood Disorders May Include:

Anxiety, fear, inability to sleep, loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed, changes in appetite, withdrawal from friends and relationships and suicidal thoughts.


Common Types Of Mood Disorders

Major depressive disorder

Bipolar disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Cyclothymic disorder 

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder 

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia

Disruptive mood dysregulation

Depression related to medical illness 

Depression induced by substance use or medication 


Treatment and Recovery

Most mental illnesses can be treated with medications to counteract the chemical imbalance and some form of counseling and/or psychotherapy


People with a mental illness often feel isolated and may be discriminated against as people react to them with embarrassment, rejection and sometimes abuse due to a lack of understanding of the person’s behavior.

One in five adults will experience a mental illness at least once in their lives. Compassion and understanding can be a crucial element in speeding up their recovery.