Mental illnesses are disorders of the brain that disrupt a person’s thinking,
feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others. Mental illness is an illness
that affects or is manifested in a person’s brain that often results in a
diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. It may
affect the way a person thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people.
Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income.
Five million people in the United States alone suffer from a serious chronic
The term "mental illness" encompasses numerous psychiatric disorders, and
just like illnesses that affect other parts of the body, they can vary in
severity. Many people suffering from mental illness may not look as though
something is wrong, while others may appear confused, agitated, or withdrawn.
The term "mental illness" is an unfortunate one because it implies a
distinction between "mental" disorders and "physical" disorders. Research
shows that there is much that is "physical" in "mental" disorders (and
vice-versa). For example, the brain chemistry of a person with major
depression differs from that of a non-depressed person, and medication can be
used (often in combination with psychotherapy) to bring the brain chemistry
back to normal. Similarly, a person who is suffering from hardening of the
arteries in the brain—which reduces the flow of blood and thus oxygen in the
brain—may experience "mental" symptoms such as confusion and forgetfulness.
The term ‘psychiatric disability’ is used when mental illness significantly
interferes with the performance of major life activities, such as learning,
thinking, communicating, and sleeping, among others.
Someone can experience a mental illness over many years. The type, intensity
and duration of symptoms vary from person to person. They come and go and do
not always follow a regular pattern, making it difficult to predict when
symptoms and functioning will worsen, even if treatment recommendations are
followed. Although the symptoms of mental illness often can be controlled
effectively through medication and/or psychotherapy, or may even go into
remission, for some people the illness continues to cause periodic episodes
that require treatment. Consequently, some people with mental illness will
need no support, others may need only occasional support, and still others
may require more substantial, ongoing support to maintain their productivity.
Unfortunately, in most parts of the world, mental health and mental disorders
are not regarded with anything like the same importance as physical health.
Instead, they have been largely ignored or neglected. Partly as a result, the
world is suffering from an increasing burden of mental disorders, and a
widening "treatment gap". Today, some 450 million people suffer
from a mental or behavioral disorder, yet only a small minority of them
receives even the most basic treatment. In developing countries, most
individuals with severe mental disorders are left to cope as best they can
with their private burdens such as depression, dementia, schizophrenia, and
substance dependence. Globally, many are victimized for their illness and
become the targets of stigma and discrimination.
Mental and behavioral disorders are estimated to account for 12% of the
global burden of disease, yet the mental health budgets of the majority of
countries constitute less than 1% of their total health expenditures. The
relationship between disease burden and disease spending is clearly
disproportionate. More than 40% of countries have no mental health policy and
over 30% have no mental health program. Over 90% of countries have no mental
health policy that includes children and adolescents. Moreover, health plans
frequently do not cover mental and behavioral disorders at the same level as
other illnesses, creating significant economic difficulties for patients and
their families. And so the suffering continues, and the difficulties grow.
In this paper I will focus on some major psychological disorders that are
Alzheimer's disease, autism, depression, eating disorders, panic disorder,
posttraumatic stress disorders, and schizophrenia.
Alzheimer's Disease is a disorder occurring in the middle age and
characterized by relatively consistent changes in the aging brain. This
disease usually begins with a defect in recent memory; there is a failure to
register current events. As the disease progress, there is a loss of remote
memory and a decline in reasoning capacity, confusion, impaired judgment,
disorientation, and loss of language skills. Depression and some personality
changes are common in early stages of this disorder.
The chances of getting Alzheimer's disease increase with age. It usually
occurs after age 65. However, most people are not affected even at advanced
Approximately 100,000 victims die and 360,000 new cases of Alzheimer's
disease are diagnosed each year. It is estimated that by 2050, 14 million
Americans will have this disease. America is not alone in dealing with this
terrible affliction. In every nation where life expectancy has increased, so
has the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is becoming
tragically common. It is estimated that by 2020, 30 million people will be
affected by this devastating disorder worldwide and by 2050; the number could
increase to 45 million.
A variety of possible causes have been suggested. For example, a genetic
basis has been suggested by high incidence of AD in certain families. A
possible viral origin has been investigated. Also, an autoimmune basis has
been hypothesized in which brain protein leaks into circulation through a
defective blood brain barrier. In addition, trace metals such as aluminum may
be involved in AD. Elevated aluminum levels have been found in the brains of
patients who died from AD.
A variety of therapies have been applied in AD, but the results were
disappointing. Unsuccessful treatments have included hyperbaric oxygen and
chemical agents of many types such as vitamins, vasodilators, and numerous
Infantile Autism is considered to be the most severe psychological disorder
affecting children. The autistic child has little or no language either
receptive or expressive. The child may be mute, or if speech is present it is
echolalic, which means that the child will echo other people’s voices or what
he hears on television. Receptive speech is also deficient, in that the child
may be able to respond only to simple commands ("sit down", "eat", "shut the
door", etc), and not to abstract speech such as pronouns (yours, mine, his,
etc). The child’s failure to express or understand language is the most
common complaint that the parents have when they bring their child for
examination. The problem of language can be identified during the child’s
second year of life.
The child behaves as if he or she has an apparent sensory deficit; that is;
behaves as if blind and deaf. Usually, autistic children will not maintain
eye-to-eye contact with the parents and/or will not orient their head in a
reliable manner to other people’s speech.
Autistic children usually do not develop close relationships with their
parents and do not develop toy play the way average children do. They show no
particular interest in toys and do not usually spend their spare time playing
with them. Autistic children often are delayed or fail to develop common
self-help skills such as dressing, eating, and toileting themselves.
It is generally accepted that autism is caused by abnormalities in brain
structures or functions. Using a variety of new research tools to study human
and animal brain growth, scientists are discovering more about normal
development and how abnormalities occur.
Today, more than ever before, people with autism can be helped. A combination
of early intervention, special education, family support, and in some cases,
medication, is helping increasing numbers of children with autism to live more
normal lives. Special interventions and education programs can expand their
capacity to learn, communicate, and relate to others, while reducing the
severity and frequency of disruptive behaviors. Medications can be used to
help alleviate certain symptoms.
Depression is a term used to describe a mood, a symptom, and syndromes of
affective disorders. As a mood, it refers to a transient state of feeling
sad, cheerless, unhappy, and down. As a symptom, it refers to a complaint
that often accompanies a group of biopsychosocial problems. In contrast the
depressive syndromes include a wide spectrum of psychobiological dysfunctions
that vary in frequency, severity, and duration. Normal depression is a
transient period of sadness and fatigue that generally occurs in response to
identifiable stressful life events. The moods associated with normal
depression vary in length but do not exceed 7 to 10 days. If the problems
continue for a longer period and if the symptoms grow in complexity and
severity, clinical levels of depression may be present; clinical depression
generally involves sleep disorders, anergia, hopelessness, and despair. Some
times problems assume psychotic proportions, and the depressed individual may
attempt suicide and/or may experience hallucinations, delusions, and serious
psychological and motor retardation.
There are three major common types of depressive disorders, which differ in
the number of their symptoms, severity and persistence.
· Major depression: it is manifested by several
symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and
enjoy once pleasurable activities. Such a disabling episode of depression may
occur only once but more commonly occurs several times in a lifetime.
· Dysthymia: involves long-term, chronic
symptoms that do not disable, but keep one from functioning well or from
feeling good. Many people with dysthymia also experience major depressive
episodes at some time in their lives.
· Bipolar disorder: also called manic-depressive
illness. Not nearly as prevalent as other forms of depressive disorders,
bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes: severe highs
(mania) and lows (depression). Sometimes the mood switches are dramatic and
rapid, but most often they are gradual. When in the depressed cycle, an
individual can have any or all of the symptoms of a depressive disorder. When
in the manic cycle, the individual may be overactive, over talkative, and
have a great deal of energy. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and
social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment.
The eating disorders anorexia nervosa and bulimia, have attracted a
considerable amount of attention in the past few years
· Anorexia nervosa: occurs when someone
deliberately restricts their food intake beyond
a point where the body is able to sustain itself. Someone is defined as
anorexic at the point at which they have lost 25 per cent of their body
weight. Anorexic are often teenage girls, although not always. Anorexic tend
to be preoccupied by their weight, and seem to have a severely distorted body
image, such that they regard themselves as fat even when they are not. This
means that they refuse to eat. Anorexic will often hide food away to avoid
There have been a number of theories to explain anorexia. One theory is that
girls who become anorexic are unconsciously trying to hold back the onset of
maturity, because they do not want to face up the full social role as women
in modern society. Another view is that it is unconsciously seen as a way of
avoiding pregnancy because fatness and pregnancy are seen as the same thing.
Anorexic patients often have to be hospitalized, and closely watched to sure
that they start eating again. Often the treatment will follow a
behavior-shaping pattern in which any privilege is dependent on their eating
· Bulimia: is an eating disorder that is similar
to anorexia and which also often affects
teenage girls, though it can affect older people too. In this syndrome, the
person is still extremely concerned about her own weight, but she becomes
obsessed by food. Bulimic patients tend to alternate between eating
excessively and by trying to get rid of what they have eaten by throwing up.
This problem can lead to a number of serious physiological problems like
serious digestive problems. A bulimic person turns to food to compensate for
loneliness, temporary stress or feeling of social inadequacy. As a
consequence, the treatment of bulimia often involves teaching the patients
new ways of living, such as social interaction skills and alternative ways of
Generally, bulimics tend to hide their behavior from others because they feel
very ashamed of it. As a result, they can suffer from loneliness without any
close friends. This leaves them alone with their problem; consequently, it
may become more severe.
Five criteria have been established as defining panic disorder and are as
1- At some time panic attack occurs that is
unexpected and not tied to a specific situation.
2- Four such attacks occur within a 4-week
3- The following symptoms: chest pain, heart
palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness or abdominal distress.
About 1.7% of the adult U.S. population ages 18 to 54 - approximately 2.4
million Americans has panic disorder in a given year with a higher rate among
Heredity, other biological factors, stressful life events, and thinking in a
way that exaggerates relatively normal bodily reactions are all believed to
play a role in the onset of panic disorder. The exact cause or causes of
panic disorder are unknown and are the subject of intense scientific
Treatment for panic disorder includes medications and a type of psychotherapy
known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches people how to view panic
attacks differently and demonstrates ways to reduce anxiety. Appropriate
treatment by an experienced professional can reduce or prevent panic attacks
in 70% to 90% of people with panic disorder. Most patients show significant
progress after a few weeks of therapy. Relapses may occur, but they can often
be effectively treated just like the initial
Posttraumatic stress disorder:
Posttraumatic stress disorder is unique among other psychiatric diagnoses
because of the great importance placed on the etiological agent, the
traumatic stressor. In fact, one cannot make a PTSD diagnosis until the
patient has actually the stressor criterion, which means that he or she has been
exposed to a historical event considered traumatic. Clinical experience with
the PTSD has shown, however, that there are individual differences regarding
the capacity to deal with catastrophic stress. Although some people exposed
to traumatic events do not develop PTSD, others go on to develop the
full-blown syndrome. Because of individual differences in this appraisal
process, different people appear to have different trauma thresholds.
Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of
flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially
when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma.
Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD also
experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety,
and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also
common. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the
ordeal. PTSD is diagnosed when symptoms last more than 1 month.
About 3.6 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 54 (5.2 million people) have PTSD
during the course of a given year. About 30 percent of the men and women who
have spent time in war zones experience PTSD. One million war veterans
developed PTSD after serving in Vietnam. PTSD has also been detected among
veterans of the Persian Gulf War, with some estimates running as high as 8
PTSD can develop at any age, including in childhood. Symptoms typically begin
within 3 months of a traumatic event, although occasionally they do not begin
until years later. Once PTSD occurs, the severity and duration of the illness
varies. Some people recover within 6 months, while others suffer much longer.
Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy,
group therapy, and exposure therapy, in which the patient gradually and
repeatedly relives the frightening experience under controlled conditions to
help him or her work through the trauma.
Schizophrenia is a complex psychobiological
illness in which the individual experiences major changes in personality and
major disabilities in the conduct in his or her life. The name of
schizophrenia refers to a split between the mind and reality, which means
that Schizophrenic have retreated from reality into a private world. The
illness has a predictable course with a predictable outcome. Till now,
neither the exact cause of Schizophrenia nor its cure is known. However, we
do know some of the genetic pre-determinants, some of the biological
reactions, and some of the interpersonal and social situations that induce
symptoms in individuals who suffer from Schizophrenia.
Overall, there seem to be four main factors involved in the onset of
Schizophrenia. Each of these four factors have at some time or other been
proposed as the sole cause of the disorder, but modern thinking suggests that
all of them act together. The four factors are: genetics, family influence,
brain chemistry, and the role of society.
The official diagnostic system of the American psychiatric Association known
as (DSM IV) requires the existence of Schizophrenic illness for at least 6
months, thus defining Schizophrenia as a chronic illness. It also requires
the presence of at least one of the following during the active face of the
1- Bizarre delusions.
2- Somatic, grandiose, religious, or other
delusions without persecutory or jealous content.
3- Delusions with persecutory or jealous
4- Auditor hallucination.
5- Incoherence, marked loosening of
associations, or marked illogical thinking.
The DSM also requires evidence of deterioration from previous level of
function in work, social relations, and self care. The diagnostic manual
subdivides Schizophrenia into the disorganized type, the catatonic type, the
paranoid type, the undifferentiated type, and the residual type. The subtypes
are characterized by various symptoms.
Children over the age of five can develop schizophrenia, but it is very rare
before adolescence. Although some people who later develop schizophrenia may
have seemed different from other children at an early age, the psychotic
symptoms of schizophrenia – hallucinations and delusions – are extremely
uncommon before adolescence.
The illness begins usually in adolescence (ages 13 to 17). Often this early
episode is misdiagnosed. The initial episode is usually self-limiting,
lasting few weeks, followed by remission in which the patient appears near
normal. The second episode appears within 6 months to 1 year and tend to be
more severe than the first; it lasts for few weeks and demonstrate
psychiatric symptoms. The third episode of the illness is considered to be
the most definable episode of psychosis. This occurs within a year or two of
the initial episode and results in major disruptions in the patient’s life.
The subsequent course of the illness is marked by exacerbations and
remissions. The number of exacerbations the patient experiences each year is
related to the age and not to the treatment received or the environment.
Between the age of 20 and 30, the patient will experience an average of six
exacerbations per year. Between the age of 30 and 40, the patient will
experience two exacerbations per year, and between 40 and 50 one exacerbation
per year. During the exacerbations the patient has frank psychotic symptoms,
including delusions and hallucinations, disorganization of thought, and
inability to function. During the remissions, the patient is quite often free
of psychotic symptoms, particularly if given appropriate
There is one type of schizophrenia that has a somewhat later onset-paranoid
schizophrenia. The usual of onset is in the early 20s for that particular
Suicide is a serious danger in people who have schizophrenia. If an
individual tries to commit suicide or threatens to do so, professional help
should be sought immediately. People with schizophrenia have a higher rate of
suicide than the general population. Approximately 10 percent of people with
schizophrenia (especially younger adult males) commit suicide. Unfortunately,
the prediction of suicide in people with schizophrenia can be especially
Schizophrenia seems to occur in approximately 1 % of the population. The
incidence is very similar in all cultures and subcultures, in industrial as
well as preindustrial societies, and in all human races. There no evidence
that social class differences affect the incidence of schizophrenia.
Starting the 1980’s, treatment of schizophrenia consisted of psychopharmacology,
psychotherapy, and environmental manipulation. With good supportive therapy,
the quality of life of schizophrenic patients could greatly improve. The
patient could spend most of his or her life in the community rather than in
the hospital. Environmental manipulation consists of helping the patient to
create a psychosocial milieu in which disabilities are minimized and the
patient is most comfortable.
The outlook for people with schizophrenia has improved over the last 25
years. Although no totally effective therapy has yet been devised, it is
important to remember that many people with the illness improve enough to
lead independent, satisfying lives. As we learn more about the causes and
treatments of schizophrenia, we should be able to help more patients achieve
Mental illness is a term rooted in history that
refers collectively to all of the diagnosable mental disorders. Mental
disorders are characterized by abnormalities in cognition, emotion or mood,
or the highest integrative aspects of behavior.
Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An
estimated 22.1 percent of Americans ages 18 and older—about 1 in 5
adults—suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
It is a myth that mental illness is a weakness or defect in character and
that sufferers can get better simply by "pulling themselves up by their
bootstraps." Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack
of character, or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are real illnesses—as real
as heart disease and cancer—and they require and respond well to treatment.
Psychology: Bernstein, Clarke-Stewart, Penner, Roy, Wickens. Fifth Edition.
Foundations of Psychology: Nickey, Hayes, 1994.
Concise Encyclopedia of Psychology: Corsini, Auerbach, Second Edition.
Behavior and Personality, Psychological Behaviorism: Arthur, W. Staats.