When people talk about health and health care they often think about the physical health of their bodies. In fact, your mental health is as much part of your overall health as your body.
What is mental illness?
Mental illnesses are understood to be health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses often lead to distress and problems functioning in society, at work, or in relationships.
Every year, according to the CDC, nearly one in five adults in the US experiences some form of mental illness, one in 24 has a serious mental illness, and one in 12 has a diagnosable substance use disorder. It is therefore extremely common for people to experience some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. You can also have more than one mental illness at once, such as you might be both depressed and addicted to something.
However, not all mental health concerns are mental illnesses. A mental health concern becomes an illness only if ongoing and long-lasting symptoms or signs of it harm your ability to function in some way. Many people have mental health concerns at some point, but that does not necessarily become a mental illness.
What are some mental illnesses?
As with physical illnesses, mental illnesses are very varied. They include commonly known ones such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia, as well as eating disorders and addictive behaviors. However, as mentioned, some people can be anxious from time to time without having diagnosed anxiety because it does not have a long-term impact on their lives.
Because mental illnesses include illnesses that change your thinking or behavior, eating disorders and addiction are included because these are conditions that originate in the brain.
How do you become mentally ill?
Mental illnesses are caused by a range of factors. Sometimes they’re environmental, and sometimes they’re genetic.
- Inherited or genetic traits: Mental illnesses can be more common if you have a relative who has had a mental illness. Some genes can make you more at risk of developing a mental illness and what is going on in your life may make it even more likely.
- Exposures before birth: Sometimes mental illness can be linked to someone’s exposure to toxins like alcohol or drugs before birth or if the mother was pregnant in a particularly stressful environment.
- Brain chemistry: If your brain chemistry changes, this can lead to emotional disorders like depression.
Stressful situations or traumatic events can trigger mental health concerns and even mental illnesses. These might be things that happen once, or regularly.
When should I go to a doctor about my mental health?
Mental illnesses are understood to be health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior over time. If you are noticing that your behavior or that of someone you know has changed, it might be time to consult a doctor. It could look like this:
- Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits – sleeping a lot, or not at all
- An increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
- Substance abuse
There are other signs, but it essentially comes down to noticing changes in thinking or behavior over a period of time. Sometimes it can be hard for the person to notice these changes in themselves, which is why it can help to have other people look out for you and vice versa.
Can you prevent mental illness?
There is no guaranteed way to prevent becoming mentally ill, but you can build up your emotional and mental resilience to prevent some mental illnesses and if you have a mental illness, there are certain ways you can act that will help manage your symptoms.
- Take care of yourself: Sleep, eating healthily, and getting regular exercise are important parts of maintaining both your mental and physical health.
- Go to your routine doctor appointments: Make sure you go to all your regular doctor appointments, particularly if you’re not feeling well.
- Be aware of your warning signs: If you have previously had a mental illness, make sure you know what the warning symptoms are so that you know if you might be experiencing it again. Keep an eye out for the kind of situation that might trigger your symptoms and make sure you contact your doctor if you notice any changes.
- Don’t wait to get help: If you wait until your mental illness is bad, it can be harder to treat so make sure you get the help as soon as you can.
How do you diagnose mental illness?
Diagnosing mental illness involves looking at both the body and the mind. Some mental illnesses can be related to, or mimic a medical condition. For example, symptoms of depression can relate to a thyroid condition. When visiting the doctor at Keefe Memorial Hospital to discuss your mental health, you may have:
- A physical exam and lab tests so that we can rule out any physical problems that could cause your symptoms
- A psychological evaluation when we will talk to you about your symptoms, thoughts, feeling, and behavior patterns
How do you treat mental illnesses?
Mental illnesses are treatable and nothing to be ashamed of. They are medical problems, just like heart disease or diabetes. Many people with mental health conditions return to a normal life.
Treatment choices for mental health conditions vary from person to person. There is no single “fix” for everyone. Nowadays, many tools can help people with mental illnesses. These include counseling such as talk therapy, medications, social support, and education. People suffering from mental illnesses should work with their doctors to define an individual treatment plan for them.
At Keefe Memorial Hospital, we have behavioral health specialists who provide general counseling services and can prescribe medication to people dealing with challenges like addiction or mental illness. We offer psychiatry services via video, including evaluations, therapy, and medication management. We also offer a telepsychiatrist in our Emergency Room for consultation.
If you would like to talk to your doctor about mental health concerns about you or someone you know, please get in touch with our Prairie View Clinic.
You can also find out more about our mental health services on our Mental Health page.