A mental illness is a disorder of the brain that results in a disruption in a person's thinking, feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others. Mental illness is distinct from the legal concept of insanity.
Mental health, mental hygiene, behavioral health, and mental wellness are all terms used to describe the state or absence of mental illness.
Some psychiatrists attribute mental illness to organic/neurochemical causes that can be treated with psychiatric medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments and other supportive measures; however, many of the causes of mental illness are still unknown. The battle between "nature" and "nurture" goes on as it has for years. Neuroscience and genetics are still unable to fully explain the effects of genetic inheritance and developmental environment.
Advocacy organizations have been trying to change the common perception of psychiatric disorders, which are frequently seen as signs of personal weakness and something to be ashamed of. Advocacy organizations instead likened psychiatric disorders to physical diseases like the measles.
Prevalence of and diagnosis of mental illness
According to the 2003 report of the U.S. President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, major mental illness, including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, when compared with all other diseases (such as cancer and heart disease), is the most common cause of disability in the United States. According to NAMI (the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), an American advocacy organisation, 23% of North American adults will suffer from a clinically diagnosable mental illness in a given year, but less than half of them will suffer symptoms severe enough to disrupt their daily functioning. Approximately 9% to 13% of children under the age of 18 experience serious emotional disturbance with substantial functional impairment; 5% to 9% have serious emotional disturbance with extreme functional impairment due to a mental illness. Many of these young people will recover from their illnesses before reaching adulthood, and go on to lead normal lives uncomplicated by illness.
The treatment success rate for a first episode of schizophrenia is 60%, 65% to 70% for major depression, and 80% for bipolar disorder.
At the start of the 20th century there were only a dozen recognized mental illnesses. By 1952 there were 192 and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) today lists 374. Depending on your perspective, this could be seen as the result of one or more of:
* more effective diagnosis and better characterization of mental illness, due to over a century of research in a new field of science and academia;
* a highly increased incidence of mental illness, due to some causative agent such as diet or the ever-increasing stress of everyday life
* an over-medicalisation of human thought processes, and an increasing tendency on the part of mental health experts to label individual "quirks and foibles" as illness.
Controversy over the nature of mental illness
The subject is profoundly controversial. For example, homosexuality was once considered such an "illness" (see DSM-II), and this perception varies with cultural bias and theory of conduct.
Neurochemical studies have proven that there are systemic lacks of certain neurotransmitters in the brains of certain individuals. Also, some structural differences between brains of people with behavioral differences can be detected in brain scans. Some mental illnesses tend to run in families, and there have also been strongly suggestive, but not conclusive, links between certain genes and particular mental disorders. Routine tests for these conditions are, however, not generally required for prescription of drugs, and are not always employed in law either.
It is not clear whether these differences in brain chemistry are the cause or the result of mental disorders. Traumatic life experiences may exceed an individual's coping ability and result in lasting changes in brain chemistry. Patterns of learned behavior can also alter brain chemistry, for better or for worse. Cognitive behavior therapy focuses on changing patterns of thinking through learning, which may ultimately restore so-termed "healthy" brain chemistry.
Drug therapies for severe mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and clinical depression, which are consistent with biochemical models, have been remarkably effective, and there are reports of increasingly effective treatments for schizophrenia. Some argue that drugs merely mask the symptoms of mental suffering by physically crippling the brain's emotional response system. Studies have shown that many patients' symptoms return once drug treatment is ceased. Others reply that many physical conditions, such as diabetes, must also be controlled with use of medications for an indefinite period of time.
It is important to note that the existence of mental illness and the legitimacy of the psychiatric profession are not universally accepted. Some professionals, notably Doctor Thomas Szasz, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Syracuse, are profoundly opposed to the practice of labelling "mental illness" as such. The anti-psychiatry movement often refers to what it considers to be the "myth of mental illness" and argues against a biological origin for mental disorders, or else suggests that all human experience has a biological origin and so no pattern of behavior can be classified as an illness per se.
Other arguments against psychiatry include controversal treatments, such as Electroconvulsive therapy, or the practice of placing patients in a mental institution with other mentally ill people. This does much to increase the emotional stress levels of the patient by influence of the other patients, causing the mental illness to worsen.
Categorization of mental illness
In the United States, mental illnesses have been categorised into groups according to their common symptoms in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, compiled by the American Psychiatric Association. There are thirteen different categories, some containing a myriad of illnesses and others only a few.
Symptoms of mental illness
In addition to the categorized illnesses, there are many well-defined symptoms of mental illness, such as paranoia, that are not regarded as illnesses in themselves, but only as indicators of one of the illnesses belonging to one of the classes listed above.
Crime is not a symptom of mental illness; however, movies often portray murderers as being mentally ill. This makes a villain more emotional, interesting, and dramatic. In truth, mentally disturbed people commit fewer crimes than the elderly.
Treatment of mental illness
Strictly speaking, there is no cure for mental illness. Many conditions, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, can be treated with medication, however. The function of the psychiatrist is in administering, monitoring, and managing the prescription of these medications and their effects on the patient.
Since mental illness is at its base behavioral illness, most mentally ill patients also benefit from psychotherapy, either from a psychiatrist or some other qualified clinician, like a social worker or psychologist. The most basic treatment involves identifying maladaptive, self-destructive, or inappropriate behaviors and finding ways, with the patient, of coping with, eliminating, or altering those behaviors to promote overall mental health.
Often individuals with serious mental illness will engage in several different treatment modalities, all with specific goals. For example, a patient with chronic schizophrenia may be involved in treatment with a psychiatrist for medication, and he or she may also be engaged in psychotherapy to help manage their life-long condition, as well being engaged in case management (sometimes referred to as "service coordination") or a day treatment or vocational program to help move them towards a more productive and independent role in the community.
The information above is not intended
for and should not be used as a substitute for the diagnosis and/or treatment
by a licensed, qualified, health-care professional. This article is licensed
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