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Mental Illness: An Overview

Detailed explanation of mental illness and what severe mental illnesses are and aren't. Overview of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Detailed explanation of mental illness and what severe mental illnesses are and aren't. Overview of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and substance abuse.

Just the Thought of "Mental Illness" is Scary for Many

When people hear the phrase "mental illnesses," often they will conjure up the images of a person tortured by the demons only he or she sees, or by the voices no one else hears. Or they may think of a benign, foolish person who, like Jimmy Stewart's character in "Harvey," talks to nonexistent friends.

This, of course, is the version of mental illnesses that most of us have developed from movies and literature. Films and books trying to create dramatic effect often rely on the extraordinary symptoms of psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia, or they draw on outmoded descriptions of mental illnesses that were evolved during a time when no one had any idea what caused them. Few who have seen these characterizations ever realize that people suffering even from the most severe mental illnesses actually are in touch with reality as often as they are disabled by their illnesses.

Detailed explanation of mental illness and what severe mental illnesses are and aren't. Overview of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Moreover, few mental illnesses have hallucinations as symptoms. For example, most people suffering from a phobia do not have hallucinations or delusions, nor do those with obsessive compulsive disorder. Most people with depression aren't so seriously ill that they act on bizarre sensory perceptions or thought processes. The unrelenting hopelessness, helplessness and suicidal thoughts of depression, the despair brought by alcoholism or drug abuse, may be hard to comprehend, but these are real, painful emotions, not hallucinations or delusions.

These widespread assumptions about mental illnesses also overlook one other important reality: as many as eight in ten people suffering from mental illnesses can effectively return to normal, productive lives if they receive appropriate treatment--treatment which is readily available. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals can offer their patients a wide variety of effective treatments.

It is vital that Americans know that this help is available, because anyone, no matter what age, economic status or race, can develop a mental illness. During any one-year period, up to 50 million Americans -- more than 22 percent -suffer from a clearly diagnosable mental disorder involving a degree of incapacity that interferes with employment, attendance at school or daily life.


 

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  • 20 percent of the ailments for which Americans seek a doctor's care are related to anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks, that interfere with their ability to live normal lives.
  • Some 8 million to 14 million Americans suffer from depression each year. As many as one in five Americans will suffer at least one episode of major depression during their lifetimes.
  • About 12 million children under 18 suffer from mental disorders such as autism, depression and hyperactivity.
  • Two million Americans suffer from schizophrenic disorders and 300,000 new cases occur each year.
  • 15.4 million American adults and 4.6 million adolescents experience serious alcohol-related problems, and another 12.5 million suffer from drug abuse or dependence.
  • Nearly one-fourth of the elderly who are labeled as senile actually suffer some form of mental illness that can be effectively treated.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.

continue: Many with Mental Illness Go Untreated

Last Updated: 11 July 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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