Mental health disorders, which are often referred to as mental health concerns or mental illnesses, are conditions that can affect how a person thinks, feels, behaves, perceives their environment and interacts with others.
Mental health disorders are common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 50% of people will meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of a mental health disorder at least once in their lifetime.
The good news is that most mental health disorders can be addressed with professional care. When a person who has a mental health disorder gets the help they need, they can experience improved health.
Signs of Mental Health Disorders
The signs of mental health disorders can vary considerably depending on a variety of factors, including the person’s age, the type of mental health disorder they have developed and the presence or absence of any co-occurring disorders.
Many outward signs of mental health disorders involve changes in mood and behavior. The following are among the more common signs of mental health disorders:
- Dramatic mood swings
- Elevated energy levels
- Persistent fatigue or exhaustion
- Altered sleep patterns (including sleeping too much or too little)
- Significant change in appetite and resultant weight loss or gain
- Acting with uncharacteristic anger, violence or recklessness
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Apparent lack of attention to hygiene or grooming
People who demonstrate signs of mental health disorders may be in crisis, and they should be brought to the attention of a qualified professional. With the right type and level of care, people whose lives have been impacted by signs of mental health disorders can achieve better health and improved quality of life.
Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders
In addition to the outward signs of mental health disorders, most people who develop these concerns also experience symptoms of mental health disorders that affect their thoughts, emotions and ability to interact with the world around them.
Common symptoms of mental health disorders include:
- Having difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Losing interest in topics or pursuits that used to be very important
- Inability to feel joy or pleasure
- Diminished self-confidence or self-esteem
- Feelings of grandiosity or invincibility
- Powerful compulsions to engage in dangerous or risky behaviors
- Recurrent intrusive thoughts of death and dying
- Feeling detached from your body or your surroundings
- Seeing or hearing things that are not there
- Believing things that are easily disproved or clearly untrue
Symptoms of mental health disorders can cause people to feel isolated or ashamed, which can exacerbate their distress. But when a person receives appropriate care from a qualified provider, they can overcome these negative emotions and learn to manage the mental health disorder symptoms they’ve been experiencing.
Common Causes & Risk Factors of Mental Health Disorders
There is no single cause of all mental health disorders, nor are there distinct sets of mental health disorder risk factors that apply to all people. The following are examples of the many mental health disorder causes and risk factors that have been identified by researchers:
- Family history of mental illness
- Having a parent or sibling who develops certain mental health disorders
- Inheriting certain genetic features
- Childhood adversity, including being abused or neglected
- Living through one or more traumatic experiences
- Significant life changes, including job loss, divorce and the death of a loved one
- Using alcohol or other drugs
- Developing certain chronic medical conditions
- Exposure to considerable stress or pressure
Mental Health Disorder Statistics
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has reported the following statistics about mental health disorders in the United States:
- In a typical year, mental health disorders affect more than 51 million adults, or about 20% of the population age 18 and older.
- In an average year, about 13 million adults, or about 5% of the adult population, experience mental health symptoms that are severe enough to meet the criteria for serious mental illness.
- Less than 45% of adults who have a mental health disorder received professional care in the previous 12 months.
Effects of Mental Health Disorders
The many potential effects of untreated mental health disorders include damage to a person’s physical, psychological, social and economic well-being. Circumstances may vary from person to person, but the following are among the more common effects of mental health disorders:
- Chronic unemployment
- Substandard performance in school
- Strained or ruined relationships with family members and friends
- Substance use and addiction
- Financial problems
- Inability to maintain a satisfying independent lifestyle
- Injuries and other physical health problems due to reckless behaviors, poor self-care or an inability to follow medical advice
- Social isolation
- Pervasive sense of helplessness and hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Anyone who experiences any mental health disorder effects should consult with a qualified healthcare provider. When a person receives appropriate professional help, they can minimize their risk for further effects of mental health disorders. Professional care can also help a person heal from any negative mental health disorder effects that have already impacted their life.
What Happens If the Mental Health Disorder Symptoms Return?
Learning to manage the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders can be a key benefit of receiving professional care.
But it’s important to understand that getting help doesn’t mean that the mental health disorder signs and symptoms you’ve been experiencing will disappear, or that you will never again be impacted by the negative effects of mental health disorders.
In addition to helping you manage the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, an effective program will also teach you how to respond in the healthiest manner if these symptoms return.
Depending on your specific circumstances, this response may involve adjusting any prescription medications you’re taking, scheduling an extra session with a counselor or therapist, making certain other lifestyle adjustments or entering a program.
In short, the skills you develop while you’re getting professional care can prevent a minor setback from becoming a long-term problem.