What Is Mental Illness?

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some form of mental health condition. Like any physical disease, there is a range of severity and conditions. Because of this, mental illness is not only challenging to treat and talk about because it can vary so greatly, but also because unlike physical ailments, mental maladies are usually unseen.

Largely, there are two categories of mental disorders: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI). The first distinction is used to classify any and all mental disorders with varying levels of impairment from mild to severe, while SMI is defined by illnesses that significantly debilitate an individual’s ability to function and carry out daily tasks.

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Mental Health Statistics

52.9

million

adults 18 and older qualified as having AMI in 2020 (21% of adults in the US.)

30.6

percent

of those with AMI are adults aged 18-25

10

percent

difference in prevalence of AMI between females and males (rate of 25.8% in females; 15.8% in males.)

Common Mental Illnesses

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):

    Those with ADHD struggle with their ability to focus, overactivity, or are otherwise unable to control various behaviors. There are 3 different forms of the disorder and the diagnosis of which depends on the symptoms exhibited: inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or a combination of the three.

  • Anxiety:

    There are several different illnesses that fit in this category (such as social anxiety or panic disorder), but the overall umbrella term is Generalized Anxiety Disorder. While anxiety is a normal and healthy response in warranted situations, those suffering with an anxiety disorder live in a heightened state of being even when not in stressful scenarios. Roughly 40 million Americans 18 and older are impacted by a disorder that falls into this division.

  • Bipolar Disorder:

    A condition affecting mood regulation, individuals struggling with bipolar disorder experience intense mood shifts between manic highs and devastating lows. Similar to ADHD, there are several types and diagnoses which depend on both the length and severity of the manic and depressive periods.

  • Body Dysmorphia (BDD):

    This disorder is defined by intrusive and incessant thoughts about one’s physical flaws, both real and perceived, and interferes with their ability to carry out daily functions. Unable to control negative and hurtful thoughts, people with body dysmorphia do not believe others when they reassure them and live in a constant state of self-deprecation.

  • Depression:

    Categorized by feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, and despair, this illness causes people to live perpetually in negative emotion. Often, energy is decreased, activities that once caused joy no longer interest the person, and thoughts of suicide are at a higher risk.

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  • Eating Disorders:

    Only recently more studied in greater depth and thus more understood, these conditions have a significant impact on the way an individual relates to food as well as body image. Though there are a few different types of the illness, each stems from a place of internal distress and a desire to control not only the food they’re eating, but their body’s response.

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

    Considered an anxiety disorder, OCD is marked by recurrent thoughts, impulses, and/or images that interfere with daily life. As many of these intrusions are ritual-based and repetitive actions, people struggling with OCD spend a lot of time trying to equilibrize their irrational thoughts and physical state of being.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

    Caused by the experience of a devastating, dangerous, or otherwise traumatizing event, those living with PTSD experience physical, fear-based responses even after the catalyzing circumstance. A trigger can cause a fight or flight response even when there is no obvious danger.

  • Schizophrenia:

    Due to distorted perception of reality, this condition is one of psychosis. Those suffering with schizophrenia experience hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, and jumbled thought processes. Though widely thought to equate to split personalities, individuals with schizophrenia often hear voices or see things that aren’t really there as opposed to the presence of other selves found in multiple personality disorder (also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID).

Forms Of Treatment For Mental Illness

Depending on both the illness itself and the severity, most mental illness treatment involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is common because it helps the individual examine the root cause(s) of various behaviors and therapists work with their clients to develop healthier and more conducive thought patterns. Options like support groups can help those struggling feel less alone while still receiving support and encouragement from a professional. In severe cases of distressed mental health, hospitalization might provide the right level of intensive care.

Medications can help to regulate the chemicals and synapses in the brain that may not be functioning as effectively as they should. Like therapy there are multiple categories of medication used to treat various illnesses and should always involve consultation and prescription from a licensed mental health professional. Contact a treatment provider today to investigate your options.

COVID’s Impact On Mental Health

The onset and continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic for roughly 2 years has certainly had a negative impact on mental health across the board. However, professionals say that even before 2020, mental health in America, especially among adolescents, was rapidly declining. Mental Health America (MHA), a nonprofit organization committed to addressing and normalizing mental health concerns, reported that suicide ideation among adults has risen every year since 2011-2012.

As of 2022, 4.58% of adults reported serious thoughts of suicide; an increase of 664,000 people from the previous year. Factors like insurance coverage (or lack thereof), an absence of available professionals, and socioeconomic status were in play even before the nation was grappling with the devastation of a global health crisis. The most current statistics MHA provides say that 60% of young people with major depression do not seek out or receive any form of treatment; for adults, the numbers of those struggling with a mental illness but have not received treatment has been steadily increasing since 2011. 2019 saw 24.7% of qualifying adults untreated. While COVID may not have instigated this crisis, it has absolutely exacerbated it.

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When Should I Seek Help For My Mental Health?

Part of life is learning, living, and growing through everything thrown our way. Anxiety, sadness, fear, and stress are all normal and healthy human responses; it’s when these thoughts and feelings overtake and cloud our vision that they become intensely problematic and require professional assistance. We often forget the power of the mind and its influence in all that we say and do and when we feel out of control, it feels easier to succumb to the alluring euphoria seemingly provided by drugs and alcohol.

If you or someone you know is grappling with mental health concerns, there are treatment providers available to answer any questions you might have about receiving care. Reach out to discuss your mental health treatment options and begin living wholly and presently; you’re not alone.

Published:

Author

Hannah Zwemer

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  • Hannah Zwemer graduated with a BA in dance and a minor in educational studies from Denison University in 2017 before moving to Orlando to work as a performer at Walt Disney World. While at Disney, she discovered her passion for writing and pursued a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in nonfiction. She is passionate about helping people in any way she can while simultaneously sharing stories that remind us that the best of us are still only human.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

David Hampton

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  • David embarked on his journey into sobriety in June of 2005, which led him to his current career path as a Certified Professional Addiction Recovery Coach in private practice in Greater Nashville. David is also a public speaker and the author of two books. David is cohost of the weekly Positive Sobriety Podcast, as well as being a frequent contributor to various articles and recovery based materials. As a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC), David works closely with area treatment centers, recovery orientated nonprofit organizations, as well as being a keynote speaker for various recovery-focused events.

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Reviewed by Doctor of Addiction Medicine:

Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD

Photo of Dr. Ashish Bhatt
  • Throughout his career, Dr. Bhatt has been a leader in substance abuse treatment programs, including administrative and medical directorship positions for inpatient and outpatient programs, detox units, and inpatient residential dual-diagnosis facilities. He is a Board Certified Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in both Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a Certified Medical Review Officer, and is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine. He has served as the Chief Medical Officer for regional and national behavioral health companies and worked to develop public and private substance abuse and dual diagnosis facilities.

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