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Mental Illnesses

The most familiar of these diseases are:
  • Major Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizo-affective Disorder
  • Bipolar or manic-depressive illness
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome
  • Panic Disorder

Mental illnesses, also nowadays often called brain illnesses or neurobiological disorders, are medical diseases. Just as the blood, lung, heart or knee can malfunction & cause problems, so can the physical organ called the brain. With the new tool of magnetic resonance imaging, researchers can see & study certain obvious, physical differences between healthy & ill brains. Though brain research is bounding ahead, nobody is yet able to pinpoint the cause or causes of brain illnesses. Nowadays there seems to be general consensus that genetic & environmental influences both play a role in a person coming down with these illnesses.

Mental illnesses are disorders of the brain that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses... often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life." They are a major trigger for suicide or suicide attempts.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. Five million people in this country alone suffer from a serious, chronic brain disorder. These illnesses (disorders) greatly affect family members and society in general. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing.

Most importantly, these brain disorders are treatable. As a diabetic takes insulin, most people with serious mental illness need medication to help control symptoms. Supportive counseling, self-help groups, housing, vocational rehabilitation, income assistance, and other community services can also provide support and stability, leaving the focus on recovery."

People with schizophrenia often have hallucinations, delusions, confused thinking and blunted emotions. They cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. "Three-quarters of those with the disorder develop it between the ages of 16 and 25...

People with bipolar disorder experience mood swings that alternate from periods of severe highs (mania) to lows (depression). These abnormally intense moods may last for days, weeks, or months and are often separated by periods of fairly normal moods."

The medical illness of major depression, which "is much more than temporarily feeling sad or blue,... involves disturbances in mood, concentration, sleep, activity, appetite, and social behavior." Low energy and hopeless feelings are characteristic.

OCD or "obsessive-compulsive disorder [is] an anxiety disorder characterized by involuntary thoughts, ...impulses, or worries that run through one's mind (obsessions) and [by] purposeless repetitive behaviors (compulsions)... that interfere with one's life." A good example would be endlessly checking to be sure if a certain door is really locked.

A person who experiences sudden and often unexpected dread or fear accompanied by... uncontrollable panic responses to ordinary, nonthreatening situations" would suffer from panic disorder. Such irrational responses could be sweating, choking, racing heartbeat, or fear of going out in public places or of dying.

-from NAMI's "An Illness Like Any Other: Mental Illnesses Are Brain Disorders"-

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