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What is Mental Illness?

May 26, 2020

What is Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a disorder that affects your mood, feelings, behavior, or thinking. One in five adults experience mental illness, and 17% of youth. 

Having a mental illness isn’t all in your head, nor is it your fault. Mental illnesses are real, medical conditions that affect your brain. 

What Causes Mental Illness?

Mental illness can exist for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Genetics – Like other chronic diseases, mental health disorders can be passed down through blood relatives.
  • Environment and lifestyle – Traumatic events and living conditions can trigger mental illness. 
  • Brain chemistry – The brain is an essential organ of the body. Just as issues with other organs like the heart or kidneys can cause disorders, changes in brain chemistry can cause mental illness.

While there may be recognizable causes of mental illness, every person’s experience of mental illness is different. Even people with the same diagnoses can have different underlying problems, symptoms, and treatment plans. 

Types of Mental Illnesses

There are many different types of mental illnesses. Here are some of the most common ones found by the National Institutes of Mental Health:

  • Anxiety. Anxiety disorders encompass a variety of disorders characterized by excessive worry in non-threatening situations. Nineteen percent of adults in the U.S. have experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year, and an estimated 31% will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Some symptoms include feeling nervous or on edge, having trouble controlling worry, experiencing restlessness, fearing impending doom, shortness of breath, and having an increased heart rate.
  • Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder can cause extreme mood swings, from mania to depression. Three percent of adults in the U.S. have bipolar disorder. There are different categories of bipolar disorder, but a common symptom is unpredictable changes in mood, which make everyday life difficult. 
  • Depression. Depression is a disorder that causes extreme feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and noticeable problems functioning in everyday life. Seven percent of U.S. adults experience depression. Symptoms include feeling hopeless, trouble sleeping and concentrating, tiredness or lack of energy or interest, physical aches and pains, irritability, changes in appetite, and thoughts of suicide.
  • Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a serious disorder that causes loss of touch with reality that can inhibit daily functioning. One percent of adults in the U.S. have schizophrenia. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, and distorted or disorganized thinking.

Warning Signs

It’s important to know the warning signs of mental illness. These may be indicators that an individual could be experiencing a mental health disorder and should seek help:

  • Struggling to function normally in daily life
  • Unusual changes in behavior
  • Detachment from reality or experiencing things that aren’t real
  • Excessive sadness, worry, or anger
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Extreme mood changes
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Substance abuse

What Does Recovery Look Like?

Recovery from mental illness is possible, and there are many different ways to get treatment. Therapy, support groups, medication, and practicing self-care can help individuals with mental illness recover and manage their illness better. Treatment plans often include a combination of different methods. These methods may include:

  • Psychotherapy or talk therapy. This involves meeting with a mental health professional to talk through your illness and related concerns. Psychotherapy can be ongoing or as needed. Therapy can take many forms, such as learning about your condition, acquiring relaxation and coping skills, and learning to adjust your thought processes.
  • Medication. Certain medication prescribed by a provider can often help you reduce your symptoms of mental illness. There are different types of medication for different disorders.
  • Support groups. Groups are an opportunity to connect with others facing similar challenges. Groups can create community and offer social support.
  • Hospital and residential treatment. Inpatient treatment can be utilized if your symptoms are extremely severe, if your ability to function is diminished, or if you are in danger of harming yourself or others.

How to Get Help for Yourself

If you have signs or symptoms of mental illness, reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional as soon as possible. Most mental illnesses do not resolve on their own, so it’s important to seek care. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, call 911 immediately or connect with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you are looking for services and resources related to mental health or experiencing a mental health crisis, Guild can help. Our Community Access team can discuss your situation and determine your eligibility for Guild services or other state resources. Call us at 651-925-8490 to get on the road to recovery today.

How to Get Help for a Loved One

Your support can be an important part of your loved one’s recovery. If you’re concerned a friend or loved one might be experiencing a mental illness, it’s important to talk to them about it.. Make sure that you are engaged in the conversation, actively listening, suspending personal judgment, and remaining calm. Though it’s important not to make treatment decisions for others, you can offer your support and encouragement to seek treatment. You can also help them find resources and services.

Guild Can Help

Guild offers integrated and person-centered services to help individuals stabilize their mental illness, create a successful care plan, and build a support network. We understand that there are often barriers to receiving care, which is why our services are community-based. We come to you, when and where you need help. Call us at 651-291-0067 to get help.


American Psychological Association (2012, June). The roots of mental illness. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/06/roots

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Anxiety Disorders. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Bipolar Disorder. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Depression.  https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression 

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Know the Warning Signs. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Mental Health Conditions. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Mental Health Medications. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Treatment/Mental-Health-Medications

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Mental Health Treatment and Services. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Treatment

National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Schizophrenia. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Schizophrenia

National Institutes on Mental Health (2018, January). Statistics. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/index.shtml