14 Aug by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

The signs of mental illness are often associated with stigma and negativity. However, mental illness is a medical issue, just like heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. Furthermore, mental illness is also common. In a standard year, approximately one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness in some form. Furthermore, approximately one in twenty-four individuals experiences a serious mental illness, and one in twelve has a diagnosable substance use disorder.

If you, or someone that you know, is experiencing the signs of mental illness, then we at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY can help.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illnesses are health conditions which comprise a broad range of problems, with a range of different symptoms. The signs of mental illness are typically characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, emotional changes, or changes in thinking or behavior. It can also be a combination of these. Mental illnesses are also associated with distress and difficulties functioning at home, work, or in school. It can also affect relationships with others.

Examples of mental illnesses include:

Most of these disorders can be treated with high rates of success.

Causes of Mental Illness

Although the specific causes of most mental illnesses are unknown, research has shown that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors.

Psychological Factors

The psychological factors which could potentially contribute to mental illness include:

  • Childhood trauma, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
  • Significant loss, such as the loss of a loved one.
  • Neglect.
  • Poor ability to relate to others.

Biological Factors

The biological factors which may contribute to the signs of mental illness include:

  • Chemical imbalances and abnormal functioning of nerve cell circuits or pathways that connect certain brain regions.
  • Genetics – mental illnesses tend to run in families, suggesting that people with a family member with a certain illness may be more prone to developing one themselves.
  • Infections – brain damage and the subsequent development of mental illnesses have been linked to certain infections. Infections may also worsen the symptoms of a pre-existing mental illness.
  • Brain injury has been linked to certain mental illnesses
  • Prenatal damage – evidence exists to suggest that early brain development or trauma may be a factor in specific mental illnesses.
  • Substance abuse, in particular long-term abuse, has been linked to mental illnesses such as anxiety, and depression.
  • Additional factors such as poor nutrition and toxin exposure, may also be causative of mental illnesses.

Environmental Factors

There are specific stressors which can trigger a mental illness in an individual who may already be susceptible. These may include:

  • Death.
  • Divorce.
  • A dysfunctional family life.
  • Social or cultural expectations (e.g. the association between weight and beauty).
  • Substance abuse (either personal or by someone close).
  • Feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.
  • Changing schools or job.

Symptoms of Mental Illness

The signs of mental illness often develop over time. Oftentimes, this is noticed by the significant people in an individual’s life; they may notice that there have been small changes to their actions, thoughts, and feelings before a mental illness manifests in its fully developed form.

Fifty percent of mental illness begins by age 14, and three quarters by age 24. Learning to identify the signs of mental illness and taking early action can help mitigate the symptoms, as early intervention can help to reduce the severity of an illness. It may even be possible to delay or prevent the onset of the illness altogether. Therefore, early intervention is key in the successful management of these health conditions.

The following signs and symptoms may be indicative of a mental illness:

  • Mood changes – dramatic shifts in emotions, or depressed feelings.
  • Sleep or appetite changes.
  • Decline in personal care.
  • Withdrawal – recent social withdrawal or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Decreased functioning – drop in performance at school, work, or social activities.
  • Concentration problems.
  • Apathy.
  • Increased sensitivity – sights, sounds, smells, may have become over-stimulating in certain situations.
  • A sense of disconnection from one’s surroundings.
  • Illogical thinking – exaggerated beliefs about oneself, events, or specific meanings.
  • Nervous behavior.
  • Unusual behavior – actions that are uncharacteristic or peculiar.

If an individual is experiencing several of these symptoms, then it is advisable to consult a professional as they may need immediate attention.

Treatment of Mental Illness

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the treatment of mental illness, as there is no treatment that works for everyone. The treatment would depend on the signs of mental illness, its severity, and what works best for the individual. However, there are many different options to treatment available, and an individual can modify the treatment, or combination of treatments, that works best for them.

A team approach is often appropriate in order to ensure that the psychiatric, medical, and social needs of the individual are met. A treatment team may include:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Counselors
  • Pharmacists
  • Social workers
  • Family members

Treatment options for mental health may include:

  • Psychotherapy – this is a therapeutic treatment which is provided by a trained mental health professional. Psychotherapy explores thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, in order to improve the individual’s sense of well-being.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Medication – medication is not a cure for mental illness; however, it can help with the management of symptoms. A combination approach of medication and therapy is likely to be the most effective approach.

Other forms of treatment may include brain-stimulation treatments such as electro-convulsion therapy, as well as hospital and residential treatment programs. These may be more appropriate forms of intervention for mental illnesses which have not been responsive to therapy or medication. An individual may also need a substance abuse program if they have a co-morbid substance abuse problem, as people with the signs of mental illness often choose to self-medicate in order to manage their symptoms.

It is also important that the individual play an active role in their treatment plan, as together with medical professionals, they can decide what works best for them. In some severe cases, a doctor or loved-one may temporarily have to guide treatment until they are well enough themselves to do so.

To find out more about caring for your mental health, or to learn about the mental health services provided at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY contact us at 518-218-1188.