Mental illness

Recognizing mental illness

Mental illness/disorder is a clinical definition used to describe mental health problems which severely limit an individuals’ ability to feel and function well.

Some 25 % of adults go through mental illness in their lifetime and 20 % of children face mental health problems or mental illness.1 Estimates suggest that at least 70 % of mental health problems and illnesses have their onset during childhood and adolescence.

The cause of mental illness is often multifactorial, with a range of risk factors across the life course across individual attributes, social circumstances, and environmental factors (see table). 

Mental ilness

People who experience mental illnesses (diagnosed according to internationally agreed upon criteria) can require treatments/interventions from properly trained health care providers. Treatments can improve symptoms and functioning, they may prevent the illness from recurring as well as preventing the negative impact of the illness on their well-being (e.g., early effective treatment of depression may prevent job loss or relationship breakdown).

It is possible to be diagnosed with a mental illness and achieve optimal mental well-being, through treatment and adequate support. Regaining mental well-being is an integral part of the journey of recovery and well-being for people of all ages living with mental health problems and illnesses. When an illness first develops or is first diagnosed, it can feel devastating and difficult to manage.

With early intervention and appropriate support, infants, children, youth, and adults experiencing mental health problems or illnesses, can become mentally healthy as they develop.

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Children and adolescents

  • Anxiety disorders:
    Anxiety disorders in children are persistent fears, worries or anxiety which inhibit their ability to participate in play, school or age-appropriate social situations.

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD):
    Children with ADHD have difficulty with attention, impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity or a combination of these problems, exceptionally more than their peers.

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD):
    Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that appears in early childhood — usually before age 3. The severity of ASD varies, but generally, a child with this disorder has difficulty communicating and interacting with others.

  • Eating disorders:
    Eating disorders involve disordered thinking about weight and weight loss, and unsafe eating and dieting habits which can result in emotional and social dysfunction and life-threatening physical complications.

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  • Depression and other mood disorders.
    Depression is persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that disrupt a child's ability to function and interact with others. Bipolar disorder results in extreme mood swings between depression and extreme emotional or behavioral highs that may be unguarded, risky or unsafe.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    PTSD is prolonged emotional distress, anxiety, distressing memories, nightmares and disruptive behaviors in response to violence, abuse, injury or other traumatic events.

  • Schizophrenia
    Schizophrenia is a disorder in perceptions and thoughts that cause a person to have hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behaviors.

Adults and eldery

  • Anxiety & panic attacks:

    Anxiety is to some extent a natural state. Anxiety helps us to concentrate better or face the dangerous situation that threatens us. It becomes a real problem if it occurs more and more often and if it does not stem from a specific situation. Anxiety is a complex combination of emotions including fear, and bad forebodings. It is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as palpitations, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, and trembling of the hands. Anxiety can be acute, lasting a short time or long term. The intensity of anxiety varies, from mild restlessness to a state of panic. 

  • Bipolar disorder:
    Bipolar disorder is a diagnosis given to someone who experiences extreme periods of low (depressed) and high (manic) moods.

  • Depression:
    Depression is a very used term nowadays. It is a diagnosis given to someone who is experiencing a low mood and who finds it hard or impossible to have fun or enjoy their lives. It is a serious, long-lasting disorder of the psyche, manifested by a decrease or even disappearance of the ability to experience pleasure, by decreased mood, and pathological sadness. Depressed people often feel frustrated and hopeless, lack motivation. They also live with anxiety, loneliness, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, low self-esteem, fatigue, or impaired attention and concentration. Sometimes increased aggression may be noticeable. 

  • Eating disorders:
    An eating disorder is a diagnosis given to someone who has unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviour about food and their body shape.

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  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):
    Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis given to people who develop a certain set of symptoms following a traumatic event.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder:
    Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health diagnosis given to someone who experiences obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.

  • Personality disorders:
    If someone has a personality disorder, some aspects of their personality might affect them in a way which makes it very difficult to cope with day to day life, especially when it comes to relationships.

  • Adjustment Disorder (AD):
    Adjustment Disorder (AD) with Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood is more commonly known as situational depression. It occurs when an individual is unable to adjust to or cope with a particular stress or a major life event.

  • Psychosis:
    A person experiencing psychosis perceives the world in a different way to those around them, including hallucinations, delusions or both.

  • Schizophrenia:
    Schizophrenia is a diagnosis given to people who experience symptoms of psychosis, alongside what are called ‘negative symptoms’.

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