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Mental Illness


Mental illness comprises a wide range of mental health conditions that diminish a person’s ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life—disrupting mood, thinking, behavior, relationships, and daily functioning. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in a given year, the burden of seriously debilitating mental illness afflicts about 6 percent or 1 in 17 adults in the United States.

Highly effective treatments for serious mental illnesses are available today. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 70 to 90 percent of individuals experience significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.

The NIMH defines the following mental illnesses.

Mood Disorders

Also called affective disorders, these conditions manifest in persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and mania.

A person suffering from true clinical depression experiences sustained feelings of sadness, loss, anger or frustration that disrupt everyday life for weeks or longer. NIHM statistics indicate 2 percent of the adult U.S. population experience severe depression in a given year, while 16.5 percent struggle with a depression episode within their lifetime.

Other forms of depression develop under special circumstances, such as postpartum depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Anxiety Disorders

According to the NIMH, anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults in a given year. These conditions last at least six months and can worsen if not treated. Each anxiety disorder exhibits different symptoms, but the symptoms cluster around excessive, irrational fear, and dread. Common anxiety disorders are:

  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder)
  • Specific phobias
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder

A group of developmental brain disorders, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability in children. While symptoms vary, they generally fall into three areas:

  • Social impairment
  • Communication difficulties
  • Repetitive and stereotyped behaviors

A 2009 Centers for Disease Control survey found that approximately 1 in 110 children in the United States has ASD. Boys face a four to five times higher risk for this condition than girls.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are characterized by extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, more than 10 million females and 1 million males in the United States struggle with an eating disorder. In addition, the NIMH reports that eating disorders are frequently accompanied by other conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, or substance abuse. Common eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder (BED)
  • Eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)

Borderline Personality Disorder

A serious mental illness, borderline personality disorder is marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships. According to the NIMH, about 1.6 percent of adults in the United States suffer from this condition in a given year.

Psychotic Disorders

Symptoms of these disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking, most commonly hallucinations and delusions. Schizophrenia is one example of a psychotic disorder. A chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder, schizophrenia affects about 1 percent (2 million) of the US population, according to the NIMH. Schizophrenia often interferes with a person's ability to think clearly, distinguish reality from fantasy, manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity are key behaviors of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While all children occasionally may engage these behaviors, in children with ADHD they are more severe and frequent. Diagnosis is based on six months or more manifestation of these behaviors, at a greater degree of severity than other same-age children

Recent Research and News on Mental Illness-Related Topics at The Scripps Research Institute

Links to General Depression and Schizophrenia Information

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