We all have times when we feel down or frightened of stressed. Most of the time these feelings pass but sometimes they develop into a more serious problem and this could happen to any one of us.
Mental ill health ranges from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life to serious long-term conditions. The majority of people who experience mental ill health can and do recover, especially if they get help early on. Mental health does not always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as people move through different stages of their lives.
Mental illnesses are usually defined and classified to enable professionals to refer people for appropriate care and treatment. In this section you will find a very brief summary of a number of the main mental illnesses. Only some of it will apply to you or your relative/friends and you may experience additional things not noted below.
Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness characterised by disturbances in a person's thoughts, perceptions, emotions and behaviour. It affects approximately one in every hundred people worldwide and first onset commonly occurs in adolescence or early adulthood although it can also occur later in life.
There are a number of signs and symptoms that are characteristic of schizophrenia. However, the expression of these symptoms varies greatly from one individual to another. No one symptom is common to all people and not everyone who displays these symptoms has schizophrenia (as some physical conditions can mimic schizophrenia).
Generally speaking, symptoms are divided into two groups, ’active’ symptoms (also referred to as ’positive’ or psychotic symptoms) that reflect new or unusual forms of thought and behaviour, and ’passive’ symptoms (also referred to as ’negative’ symptoms), which reflect a loss of previous feelings and abilities.
Positive / Active Symptoms:
Delusions are false personal beliefs held with extraordinary conviction in spite of what others believe and in spite of obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. For example, a person experiencing delusions may believe that thoughts are being inserted into their mind or that they have special powers or are someone famous (for example Jesus Christ or Elvis). People may also think that they are being spied on, tormented, followed or tricked, or may believe that gestures or comments are directed specifically at them. Delusions will occur during some stage of the disorder in 90% of people who experience schizophrenia.
These are unusual or unexplained sensations, which are most commonly heard but can also be seen, touched, tasted or smelt. For example, the person may hear voices repeating or mimicking their thoughts, commenting on their actions (often in a critical manner), or they may hear voices arguing with one another. Auditory hallucinations occur in 50% of people with schizophrenia, while visual hallucinations occur in 15%.
This is a change in patterns of thinking and is usually expressed through abnormal spoken language. For example, the person’s conversation jumps erratically from one topic to another, new words may be created, the grammatical structure of language may break down, and speech may greatly speed up or slow down. Most people with schizophrenia will experience some degree of disorganised thinking.
A person with schizophrenia may display behaviour that is considered inappropriate according to usual social norms, such as wearing unusual clothing, muttering aloud in public, or inappropriately shouting or swearing.
Negative / Passive Symptoms:
Withdrawal / Loss of Motivation
This may involve lack of energy, apathy or seeming absence of interest in things which loss of motivations were once previously enjoyed. There may be feelings of isolation and difficulties keeping up with work, school or daily routine.
Loss of feelings
This may manifest itself as an inability to experience pleasure in social and recreational activities or in close relationships. The ability to express or feel emotions can be greatly reduced, and consequently relationships can be severely affected.
Poverty of Speech
The amount of speech is greatly reduced and may sometimes be vague or repetitious. People may be slow in responding to questions or they may not respond at all.
This can be indicated by unchanging facial expressions, poor or no eye contact, reduced body language and decreased spontaneous movements. A person experiencing flattened affect may stare vacantly into space and speak in a flat toneless voice.
Although not included in diagnostic criteria, cognitive impairments such as problems with attention, concentration and memory, are often present in people with schizophrenia.
For more information on schizophrenia, please select the appropriate topic from the left hand of your screen.
Severe depression is a serious medical illness. Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss, or passing mood states, severe depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual's thoughts, behavior, mood, activity, and physical health.
Depression occurs twice as frequently in women as in men, for reasons that are not fully understood. More than half of those who experience a single episode of depression will continue to have episodes that occur as frequently as once or even twice a year. Without treatment, the frequency of depressive illness as well as the severity of symptoms tends to increase over time. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide.
Major depression, also known as clinical depression or unipolar depression, is only one type of depressive disorder. Other depressive disorders include dysthymia (chronic, less severe depression) and bipolar depression (the depressed phase of bipolar disorder or manic depression). People who have bipolar disorder experience both depression and mania. Mania involves unusually and persistently elevated mood or irritability, elevated self-esteem, and excessive energy, thoughts, and talking.
What are the symptoms of severe depression?
The onset of the first episode of severe depression may not be obvious if it is gradual or mild. The symptoms of severe depression characteristically represent a significant change from how a person functioned before the illness. The symptoms of depression include:
• persistently sad or irritable mood
• pronounced changes in sleep, appetite, and energy
• difficulty thinking, concentrating, and remembering
• physical slowing or agitation
• lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed
• feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness
• recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
• persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
When several of these symptoms of depressive illness occur at the same time, last longer than two weeks, and interfere with ordinary functioning, professional treatment is needed.
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org
Bi-polar disorder, or manic depression, is a medical illness that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. These changes may be subtle or dramatic and typically vary greatly over the course of a person's life as well as among individuals. Over 10 million people in America have bi-polar disorder, and the illness affects men and women equally. Bi-polar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition with recurring episodes of mania and depression. These episodes can last from days to months and often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally even in children. Most people generally require some sort of lifelong treatment. While medication is one key element in successful treatment of bi-polar disorder, psychotherapy, support, and education about the illness are also essential components of the treatment process.
What are the symptoms of mania?
Mania is the word that describes the activated phase of bi-polar disorder. The symptoms of mania may include:
• either an elated, happy mood or an irritable, angry, unpleasant mood
• increased physical and mental activity and energy
• racing thoughts and flight of ideas
• increased talking, more rapid speech than normal
• ambitious, often grandiose plans
• risk taking
• impulsive activity such as spending sprees, sexual indiscretion, and alcohol abuse
• decreased sleep without experiencing fatigue
What are the symptoms of depression?
Depression is the other phase of bi-polar disorder. The symptoms of depression may include:
• loss of energy
• prolonged sadness
• decreased activity and energy
• restlessness and irritability
• inability to concentrate or make decisions
• increased feelings of worry and anxiety
• less interest or participation in, and less enjoyment of activities normally enjoyed
• feelings of guilt and hopelessness
• thoughts of suicide
• change in appetite (either eating more or eating less)
• change in sleep patterns (either sleeping more or sleeping less)
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org