The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illnesses as health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, and/or behavior. Mental illnesses are more common than most people realize and it includes many different conditions that vary in severity. Here in the United States, nearly one in five adults live with a mental illness (51.5 million in 2019). Several factors can contribute to mental illness such as genetics, a traumatic experience, environmental stressors, or a chemical imbalance. It is treatable and many who suffer from mental illness can function well in their daily lives. As an ER physician, I routinely saw mentally ill patients. Many you never would have known were battling mental illness but because I was privy to their list of medications and past medical history I instantly became aware. Plus, due to my training, I can recognize mental illness as well.
There are several forms of mental illness and here I will discuss four of the most common ones. Anxiety is the most common form of mental illness. Each year, it affects 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or approximately 18.1% of the population. Symptoms of anxiety can include:
Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge.
Being easily fatigued.
Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank.
Having muscle tension.
Difficulty controlling feelings of worry.
Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep.
It's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Depression has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. People have lost family members, jobs, homes, etc. Others have experienced increased sadness during quarantine because they aren’t able to socialize and experience the amount of human interaction they are accustomed to.
Depression symptoms can include:
Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Loss of energy or increased fatigue
Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, hand-wringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others)
Feeling worthless or guilty
Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
Thoughts of death or suicide
Other common but more severe forms of mental illness are bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. One in 25 Americans lives with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. If you or a loved one is experiencing severe mood swings, personality changes, hallucinations, hears voices, has delusions, or no longer practices proper hygiene you/they may be experiencing a severe mental illness. A licensed psychiatrist can diagnose these disorders and prescribe the proper medications to help return or obtain a more normal daily function. It is also important to have supportive and understanding family and friends.
Mental illness has been a taboo subject for far too long. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s important to seek the proper help because those who suffer from it can sometimes be a danger to themselves and/or others. If you believe that you or a loved one is experiencing a mental illness, contact a local mental health professional or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.