This page includes some information on mental illnesses. We will shortly be adding a list of other resources that may be of service such as those dealing with medication management, employment, housing, and financial concerns. For now though, here is a webpage through which you can access emergency services information for each city’s Community Services Board.
FIRST, SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
Is your life being negatively affected by symptoms and is this going on for too long or getting worse?
One of the most important aspects of diagnosing a mental illness is to see if life functioning is impaired: is the person having trouble making friends, are the familial and social relationships suffering, is he/she failing classes or often getting fired from jobs, eating and/or sleeping too much or too little, getting into fights, getting kicked out of school, has he/she gotten in trouble with the police….in other words, is the person’s life being negatively affected by the symptoms experienced. Sometimes these symptoms are temporary reactions to stressors, but if they stick around and are really disrupting lives, they should be evaluated and potentially treated. Also, look out for drastic changes; changes that either occurred very quickly or one day you look at your child, yourself, your friend or spouse and realize that they are completely different.
We both have the SAME DIAGNOSIS so why are we SO DIFFERENT?
Example: One child who is diagnosed with depression may isolate, lack energy, sleep a lot, and express sadness; on the other hand, there may also be a child with depression who is hyperactive, aggressive, has trouble sleeping, and expresses more irritability than sadness.
Example: One adult with schizophrenia may completely withdraw from life, barely move, not talk, and lose all abilities for self-care like eating and showering; whereas another may be roaming around, talking back to voices they hear, and energetically investigating the facts involved in their paranoid delusions or trying to sell their brilliant ideas based on their grandiose delusions.
***This is why individualized or person-centered treatment is important.***
Here is a description of some mental health disorders. Try your hardest not to diagnose yourself. If you have concerns, seek an evaluation from a mental health professional. Remember, too, that these symptoms need to be negatively affecting your life or functioning to be diagnosable, and they have to be somewhat chronic. If they are not affecting your functioning but you feel like they may, then you may want to seek help to prevent things from getting worse:
Depressive Disorders (e.g., Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymia, Seasonal Affective Disorder): These typically involve many of the following: chronic feelings of sadness, apathy (not caring about anything), worthlessness, hopelessness (no sense that things will get better or can change), helplessness, excessive guilt, lack of motivation, concentration problems, fatigue, changes and/or disruptions of sleeping, eating and sexual habits, and sometimes thoughts/plans/actions of suicide or self-harm. Sometimes (particularly in children), this can be expressed by irritability and excessive energy.
Bipolar Disorder: This is a disorder that is typically characterized by drastic mood shifts (more than just being “moody”). The disorder always has at least one manic episode, during which there is a drastic decrease in need for sleep (e.g. doesn’t sleep for days or sleeps 2-3 hours a night without any effect in energy or need for naps), a major increase in productivity or goal-directed behavior (e.g., paints the entire house, cleans out the entire garage, plans feverishly for the future), has an unrealistic positive self-image or sense of abilities (e.g., thinks can solve the world’s problems or run and win a marathon with no previous training), an increase in very irresponsible and risky behavior without any care for consequences (sexually promiscuous, reckless driving, spending sprees).
Anxiety Disorders (e.g. Social Phobia, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder): The biggest difference between all of these anxiety disorders is what the object or situation of fear is, the behavioral response, and sometimes the origin of the fear, such as with PTSD a trauma experience needs to preceed symptoms. Basically, though, these are anxiety reactions that have become maladaptive in that they have exceeded the self-preservation needs and (again) are negatively impacting daily living and functioning. Anxiety symptoms often include bodily reactions (e.g., rapid heartbeat, sweating, difficulty catching your breath), anxious thoughts (e.g., thinking that your physical symptoms mean you are having a heart attack, excessive worrying), and anxious behaviors (such as compulsively touching things, refusing to leave your house, refusing to go near a feared situation, refusal to be alone). Experiencing severe anxiety is very uncomfortable. The worst part about experiencing anxiety is that what relieves it in the short-term is what makes it worse in the long term. When you avoid anxiety-producing situations, you feel better, but then you are not facing your anxiety and so you are not only limiting your life experiences, but you are not dealing with your own fears and the fears may generalize and become bigger and bigger if you don’t face them.
Psychotic Disorders (such as Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder): One of the main distinguishing factors about psychosis is the experience of hallucinations or delusions which are basically when people experience a reality that is not shared with anyone else. Hallucinations have to do with the five senses (e.g., hearing voices, seeing visions, feeling things crawling on you, and smelling or tasting strange things). They are not occurring in reality, but are created by the person’s own brain but experienced as if real. Delusions have to do with thoughts or beliefs that are untrue. For instance, some people are paranoid thinking that people are plotting against or talking about them. Some people have grandiose delusions thinking that they have special powers or abilities such as the ability to heal people, or they believe they have millions of dollars. Some people have delusions about who they know or are related to, such as the President or certain pop culture icons. Some people’s delusions are religious in nature, such as thinking they are a holy person or have a specific relationship to G-d. Sometimes, delusions and hallucinations feed off of each other. For instance, someone may believe that they are on the earth to punish all sinners and then may hear G-d’s voice giving that command. Some hallucinations and delusions are positive and some are negative and dangerous. In addition to “breaks with reality,” people with psychoses often experience disorganized thoughts/speech and/or behaviors, and a flat or inappropriate affect (e.g., you could not interpret what emotion they are experiencing or they are laughing while being detained for a crime), Regardless, though, left untreated and without insight into the illness, this will have serious effects on all aspects of functioning. The main difference between Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder is that with Schizoaffective Disorder, in addition to the psychotic symptoms, the person has significant mood impairment (such as depression or mania). The hardest part about most psychotic disorders is that because of their unique experience of reality, afflicted persons often do not see that they are ill (which of course makes following treatment recommendations difficult). THINK ABOUT IT: If you woke up one morning, and someone told you that all the things you thought were real aren’t, would it be easy for you to accept?
Behavior/Impulse Control Disorders (such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, Conduct Disorder): Although ADHD has a cognitive component (such as inattention, distractibility, and/or memory problems), in children it often exhibits as hyperactive and impulse behaviors such as always being on the go, butting in a lot, not being able to wait, and acting before thinking. ODD and CD are disorders that are disruptive and often infringe on others, whether physically or emotionally. For instance, with ODD there are often negative reactions to authority figures, irritable reactions to peers, and a general expression of anger and temper problems. This often has verbal aggression with it and sometimes some minor physically aggressive infractions. CD is a more severe form of this wherein people, animals, property are often treated with disregard, spite, cruelty, or malice and infractions tend to be more severe with major law-breaking actions such as violence, fire-setting, theft, and total disregard for certain rules of the family or community such as curfew violations and truancy. It should be noted that often in children, such acting out behaviors are a symptom of mood or anxiety problems, as well as reactions to chronic stress or trauma.
Substance Use Disorders: There are many substances that can be abused such as alcohol, marijuana, crack/cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, methaphetamines, etc. but the most important thing about whether or not someone is abusing substances is, again, the impairment. If someone’s substance use is affecting their social, economic, academic, employment, legal, or familial spheres or their health and they do not want to or cannot stop, then most likely they have a substance abuse problem.
Remember, the important thing to look at is how symptoms are affecting lives. Mental illnesses can affect all parts of our functioning such as our mood, our eating habits (such as with Bulimia, Anorexia, or Binge Eating), behaviors, etc, so it is important to notice when they are interfering with life. At that point (or ideally even earlier when things are beginning to be affected), it’s time to seek professional help.
BUT WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Most mental illnesses are treatable to some extent. Some can be “cured,” and some can be managed. JUST LIKE WITH PHYSICAL AILMENTS, some mental health disorders are treated with medication, psychotherapy, life style changes, or a combination. It is important to work with mental health professionals and follow their recommendations. It can be appropriate to seek more than one opinion if you wish, but after a few mental health professionals have told you the same thing, it’s probably time to listen;)