What is a Mental Illness

Mental illness refers to a group of disorders which cause severe and persistent disturbances in a person’s ability to think, feel, and relate to others. Left untreated, they can result in a significantly lowered ability to cope with the ordinary demands of life. Mental illness can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, and ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural background. These brain disorders are more common than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. While we do not know the causes of these brain disorders, we do know that individuals with mental illness can recover and live successful lives.

Important Facts About Mental Illness and Recovery

Mental illnesses are serious medical illnesses that are caused by biological changes in the brain. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are unrelated to a person’s “character” or intelligence.

Mental illness falls along a continuum of severity. Even though mental illness is widespread throughout the population, a smaller proportion suffers from the most severe mental illnesses. There are about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans, who live with a serious mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults – approximately 57.7 million Americans – experience a mental health disorder in a given year.

The U.S. Surgeon General reports that 10 percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, in school, and with peers.

The World Health Organization has reported that four of the ten leading causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries are mental disorders. By 2020, Major Depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.

Mental illness usually strikes individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and old are especially vulnerable.

Without treatment, the consequences of mental illness for the individual and society are staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide, and wasted lives. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States.

The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective. Between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.

With appropriate, effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. The key treatment involves developing strategies to manage your symptoms and illness process.

Early identification and treatment are of vital importance. By ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm related to the course of illness is minimized.

Informative Links

National Institute of Mental Health Links

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