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Mental Health Center

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Mental Illness Basics

Can Mental Illness Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, most mental illnesses are caused by a combination of factors and cannot be prevented.

How Common Is Mental Illness?

Mental illnesses are very common. In fact, they are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 25% of American adults (those ages 18 and older) and about 13% of American children (those ages 8 to 15) are diagnosed with a mental disorder during a given year.

Major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are among the U.S.'s top 10 leading causes of disability.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It can affect people of any age, income or educational level, and cultural background. Although mental illness affects both males and females, certain conditions -- such as eating disorders or depression -- tend to occur more often in females, and other disorders -- such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) -- more commonly occur in male children.

How Is Mental Illness Treated?

A mental illness, like many chronic illnesses, requires ongoing treatment to control symptoms. Fortunately, much progress has been made in the last two decades in treating mental illnesses. As a result, many mental conditions can be effectively treated with one or a combination of the following therapies:

  • Medication
  • Psychotherapy, such as individual or group therapy
  • Day treatment or partial hospital treatment
  • Specific therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and behavior modification

Other treatments available include:

  • Alternative therapies, such as water therapy, massage, and biofeedback
  • Creative therapies, such as art therapy, music therapy, or play therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

What Is the Outlook for People With Mental Illness?

When diagnosed early and treated properly, many people fully recover from their mental illness or are able to successfully control their symptoms. Although some people become disabled because of a chronic or severe mental illness, many others are able to live full and productive lives. In fact, as many as eight in 10 people suffering from a mental illness can effectively return to their normal activities if they receive appropriate treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 11, 2014
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