Not just in the mind
The label of mental illness is often unhelpful as it assumes a rigid separation between body and mind and tends to stigmatise people. In fact, body and mind are impossible to define as separate entities. Psychological stress tenses the muscles, alcohol affects mood. Around 75% of so-called mentally ill people have physical problems too.
Maybe it's best to define mental illness in terms of mental health. If a good state of mental health refers to a feeling of stability and satisfaction, then a mental health problem implies the opposite, that someone feels unhappy or distressed to the point that they cannot enjoy a normal life. Mental health is always relative. It depends entirely on what the individual and the community find acceptable or tolerable.
How common are mental health problems?
Mental health problems in the UK are as common as heart disease and three times more common than cancer. According to official figures up to 10% of the population could be experiencing difficulties at any one time. It is believed that around a third of people with mental health problems are not receiving any professional help.
What are the most widespread mental illnesses?
About 80% of disorders take the form of anxiety, depression or stress-related illnesses. The rest stem from the abuse of drugs and alcohol, resulting in personality and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. Dementia being more common in the older age groups.
What causes mental illness?
A whole range of factors can bring on mental health problems, from stressful or traumatic events to environmental or family factors. Different people respond in totally different ways to the same kind of circumstances. Nutritional experts are increasingly identifying deficiencies of key nutrients as a significant factor behind mental - and physical - disorders.
How is mental illness treated?
Psychiatric drugs remain the most common treatment in conventional
medicine. Their success rate is far from impressive and they may have
unpleasant side effects. Various other therapies, including nutritional
counselling, are used. Read More.
Schizophrenia is a severe illness
involving extreme disorders of thought, perception, experience and interaction.
It comes in many varied forms, ranging from feelings of persecution
and paranoia to the notion that thought has been taken over by an outside
force. Sometimes schizophrenics appear to lose all contact with reality,
hence the myth of the 'split personality'. Often schizophrenia involves
a crisis of identity but not in the simplistic form of switching between
two different characters. Another feature is hallucinations or voices.
Emotions range from being dull and flat to feelings of being overwhelmed
by images and sensations.
What is depression?
Everybody experiences fluctuations of mood but the term depression is commonly used to mean a fluctuation of mood in a down ward direction. Clinically this alteration in mood would usually be prolonged and severe before being considered as a true depression requiring treatment. Prolonged desperation, hopelessness, anti-social behaviour, lapses in personal appearance and hygiene are some of the signs of depression. Acute worry, insomnia, very low self-esteem and suicidal feelings are among the others. A rising number of British adults, particularly males, are taking their own lives as the depression becomes unbearable.
Depressives need professional help and should consult a doctor or call The Samaritans - Tel: 0845 790 9090 - if they recognise any of the above symptoms.
Who gets depressed?
Anyone can get depressed and many people do. Around one in 25 seeks medical help for depression at some point in their lives and it afflicts twice as many women as men. It is a medically recognised illness rather than just a sign of mental weakness, as it was often considered to be. It is more common than schizophrenia although schizophrenia usually involves some form of depression.
All kinds of causes are put forward to account for this disorder. From family relationships to a genetic predisposition towards depression. Changes in body chemistry stemming from addiction to drugs or alcohol can also trigger it. Diet is seen as increasingly important as a factor.
A specific event such as bereavement can trigger depression; childbirth
can lead to postnatal depression; it can also follow viral infections
such as glandular fever and chronic fatigue syndrome. Guilt, anger and
resentment are often major features found in this illness which may
be partly due to family problems and an unhealhty lifestyle.
Bipolar disorder - what used to be known as manic depression - is so
called because mood fluctuates between extreme highs and lows. Euphoria
and recklessness alternate with feelings of intense desperation, each
mood seeming to bounce off the other. Highs and lows can last for weeks
at a time.
Psychiatrists draw a distinction between mania, where behaviour is
outrageous and often violent, and hypomania, which is marked by less
extreme behaviour. Episodes of depression and mania can be separated
by long periods of mental wellbeing.
Anxiety - this state can be helpful in normal life as it may stimulate positive action in response to a perceived threat. If, however, anxiety turns into a permanent state it can have bad effects to physical and mental health. Often it will lead to depression, phobias or obsessive/compulsive states.
The physical signs of anxiety include increased pulse rate, clammy skin, disturbed sleep and loss of appetite. If it's really severe the symptoms can resemble those of a heart attack.
What causes anxiety?
Again there are multiple triggers. Food allergies, hyperventilation
and hypoglycaemia - a low level of glucose in the blood - can all set
off anxiety. Sometimes it is a way of coping with a concealed depression.
What are phobias?
A phobia is an extreme fear of an object or situation that to most other people appears not at all threatening. The phobic cannot keep his or her fear in check in the way in which most people manage to deal with these every day occurences, eg going up in a lift.
What causes phobias?
A bad personal experience can trigger a phobia. Or sometimes a parent passes on a phobia directly to children. It can also be a transferral of fear from one situation or object to another.