Mental illnesses are diseases or conditions that affect how you think, feel, act, or relate to other people or to your surroundings. They are very common. Many people have had one or know someone who has.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can also vary from person to person. In many cases, it makes daily life hard to handle. But when an expert diagnoses you and helps you get treatment, you can often get your life back on track.
A person with obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD) may experience:
Excessive and irrational concern about contamination or serious illness
Too much concern with keeping everything arranged in an exact way
Intrusive thoughts or horrible mental images
Sexual or religious thoughts felt to be unacceptable
Excessive fear of your house burning or flooding, of causing a car wreck, of spreading an illness, of losing something, of being responsible for another person getting hurt or killed
Doctors don’t know the exact cause of most mental illnesses. A combination of things, including your genes, biology, and your life experiences, seem to be involved.
Many mental illnesses run in families. But that doesn’t mean you will have one if your mother or father did.
Some conditions involve circuits in your brain that are used in thinking, mood, and behavior. For instance, you may have too much, or not enough, activity of certain brain chemicals called “neurotransmitters” within those circuits. Brain injuries are also linked to some mental conditions.
Some mental illnesses may be triggered or worsened by psychological trauma that happens when you’re a child or teenager, such as:
Severe emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
A major loss, such as the death of a parent, early in life
Major sources of stress, such as a death or divorce, problems in family relationships, job loss, school, and substance abuse, can trigger or aggravate some mental disorders in some people. But not everyone who goes through those things develops a mental illness.
It’s normal to have some grief, anger, and other emotions when you have a major setback in life. A mental illness is different from that.
There are many different mental illnesses, and their symptoms vary. Some common symptoms include:
Problems with thinking (like being confused, suspicious, or unusually angry or sad)
Keeping to themselves
Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
Abusing alcohol or drugs
Feeling low on hope and not enjoying things that they used to like
Thoughts of suicide or harming themselves or others
Sleep problems (too much or too little)
If you’ve had symptoms like these, talk to your doctor or a counselor to find out what’s going on and what would help you.