Mental illness and disorders are prevalent in the world population. Here we provide brief explanations of some more commonly diagnosed mental illnesses.
Anxiety is a normal reaction that many people experience. An anxiety disorder, however, is diagnosed when various symptoms of anxiety create significant distress and some degree of functional impairment in daily living. A person with an anxiety disorder may find it difficult to function in areas of life such as social interactions, family relationships, work or school
- Panic Disorder: A panic attack is a sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness, or terror, often associated with feelings of impending doom. These attacks include symptoms such as shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain or discomfort, and choking or smothering sensations. Panic disorder is diagnosed when there are recurrent unexpected panic attacks.
- Agoraphobia: Often when people have panic attacks the episodes are so overwhelming they will do anything to avoid having the experience again. This avoidance behaviour is called agoraphobia. People often think agoraphobia means fear of crowds or open spaces, but it is actually a fear of having a panic attack in a situation where you feel your escape might be difficult (or embarrassing), or where help might not be available.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: Social anxiety disorder or social phobia is the most common anxiety disorder. It is a condition that involves fear of being appraised or judged negatively by others and as a result, feeling embarrassed or humiliated. People with social anxiety disorder, can become quite afraid of making presentations or public speaking, eating in restaurants or in front of anyone, going to social gatherings, blushing in public, meeting new people, etc.
- Specific Phobia: Many people admit to being afraid of snakes and spiders but they can manage their fears quite well. With specific phobias, however, the fear is not manageable. Instead, the person experiences overwhelming fear when faced with a particular object or situation, and this often leads to avoidance behaviour. There are many types of objects, animals and situations that can trigger this type of fear, including flying, driving, snakes, spiders, other animals, heights, bridges, tunnels, dentists, doctors, elevators, blood, injections, storms, etc.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs when a person has been exposed to traumatic events that cause them to experience distressing psychological symptoms that can become disabling. Common symptoms include nightmares, feelings of anger, irritability or emotional numbness, detachment from others, and flashbacks, during which the person re-lives the traumatic event. Frequently, the person will try to avoid situations or activities that remind them of the event.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Obsessive compulsive disorder is a condition in which a person experiences intrusive thoughts, images or impulses. These are often very disturbing to you and may make the person feel anxious (obsessions). In turn, the person may perform certain acts or rituals in order to feel better or less anxious (compulsions). Typically, obsessions include fears of contamination, doubting (such as worrying that the iron has not been turned off), thoughts of hurting others, disturbing thoughts that go against the person’s religious beliefs, or thoughts of performing acts the person feels are highly inappropriate. Compulsions can involve repeated checking, counting, washing, touching, or organizing things over and over again until they are symmetrical or ‘just right.’
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Everybody worries from time- to-time. It is considered a normal part of life, but when worry starts to interfere with life, a person might have generalized anxiety disorder. The disorder is characterized by chronic anxiety and worry. Symptoms are mainly physical and include nausea, fatigue, muscle tension, restlessness and problems with concentration.
- Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder can affect how a person feels, thinks and acts. It involves dramatic shifts in mood – from the highs of mania to the lows of major depression. More than a fleeting good or bad mood, the cycle of bipolar disorder lasts for days, weeks or months and is disruptive to work/social relationships. Bipolar disorder can rarely be overcome without medical treatment. For some, the periods between episodes of illness can be normal and productive. However, research suggests that when left untreated, episodes of illness occur more often and are more severe. During a manic episode, a person might impulsively quit a job, charge up huge amounts of debt, or feel rested after sleeping two hours. During a depressive episode, the same person might be too tired to get out of bed and full of self-loathing and hopelessness over his or her unemployment status and credit card bills.
- Depression: Most people feel depressed at some time in their lives. Feelings of discouragement, frustration and even despair are normal reactions to loss or disappointment and may last for days before gradually disappearing. For some, however, depression is at the root of continuing lows. Depression is a serious, debilitating illness that intensely affects how an individual feels, thinks, and behaves. It can last for years and without treatment, can cause permanent disability. Depression affects the whole body and can alter eating and sleeping patterns, increase restlessness and overall fatigue, and even cause mysterious physical symptoms.
- Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an obsession with controlling the amount of food eaten. It is often caused, at least in part, by a belief that if the individual can control their body, they can control their life.
- Binge Eating Disorder: People living with binge eating disorder eat excessive amounts of food at one time, often because dieting has made them hungry or to comfort themselves in stressful situations. A common myth is that people living with binge eating disorder compensate for binging by vomiting, fasting, over-exercising or abusing laxatives; this behaviour is more characteristic of people affected by bulimia nervosa and anorexia.
- Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia nervosa is characterized by cycles of binging and purging. As with anorexia nervosa, the desire to regulate feelings and worries about body weight and shape contribute to bulimia nervosa and its characteristic behaviour. The cycle begins with the person rapidly eating large amounts of food in a single sitting, which can lead to discomfort and anxiety about weight gain. As a consequence, the person tries to rid the body of the food that was consumed by vomiting, using laxatives, enemas or diuretics, by exercising excessively, by skipping meals or by dieting.
The word ‘psychosis’ is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, in which there is distortion of, or some loss of contact with, reality. Hallucinations, delusions (false beliefs), paranoia, disorganized thoughts and speech are symptoms of psychosis. These symptoms can seem so real that often the person does not realize that he is experiencing psychosis. Psychosis also affects feelings and behaviour. There are many disorders that can cause psychotic symptoms. Common ones include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychotic depression, and delusion disorder.
Schizophrenia is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, disturbances in thinking and withdrawal from social activity. The illness affects an estimated 1 in 100 people and their families. There isn’t yet widespread agreement on the cause of schizophrenia. While there is no cure, there are effective treatments. Many people living with schizophrenia manage symptoms with the help of treatment and enjoy life to its fullest.
While there are many different types of personality disorders, as a group they are characterized by long-term patterns of thoughts and behaviours that cause people to feel and behave in socially distressing ways, which often limit their ability to function in relationships and at work.