Mental illnesses: symptoms and causes (2023)

general description

Mental illness, also known as mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions, disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illnesses include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors.

Many people have mental health problems from time to time. But a mental health problem becomes a mental illness when persistent signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and interfere with your ability to function.

Mental illness can make you unhappy and cause problems in your daily life, e.g. B. at school, at work, or in relationships. In most cases, symptoms can be controlled with a combination of medication and psychotherapy (psychotherapy).


The signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary depending on the disorder, circumstances, and other factors. The symptoms of mental illness can affect emotions, thoughts, and behavior.

(Video) Mental Illness Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment | Merck Manual Consumer Version

Examples of signs and symptoms are:

  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fear or worry or extreme guilt
  • Extreme ups and downs of mood swings
  • Delete friends and activities
  • Significant fatigue, low energy, or difficulty sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia, or hallucinations
  • Inability to deal with everyday problems or stress.
  • Difficulty understanding and relating to situations and people.
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use
  • Big changes in eating habits.
  • Changes in sexual desire
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • suicidal thoughts

Sometimes the symptoms of a mental disorder appear as physical problems, such as an upset stomach, back pain, headache, or other unexplained pain.

when to the doctor

If you have any signs or symptoms of mental illness, see your doctor or a mental health professional. Most mental illnesses don't get better on their own and, if left untreated, can get worse over time and cause serious problems.

if you have suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common in some mental illnesses. If you think you might hurt yourself or try to kill yourself, get help right away:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Call your mental health specialist.
  • Contact a suicide hotline. In the US, call or text 988 to talkCrisis and Suicide Lifeline 988, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use thelifeline chat. Services are free and confidential.
  • Seek help from your GP.
  • Get in touch with a close friend or loved one.
  • Consult a minister, spiritual leader, or another person in your faith community.

Suicidal thoughts do not get better on their own, so seek help.

help a loved one

If your loved one shows signs of mental illness, be open and honest with them about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to seek professional help, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find and schedule an appointment with a qualified psychologist. You could even join the date.

If your loved one has been hurt or is considering getting hurt, take them to the hospital or call 911.

(Video) The Warning Signs of Mental Illness

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(Video) What are signs or symptoms of mental illness?


It is widely believed that mental illness is caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors:

(Video) Early Warning signs for children with Mental Illness

  • Inherited traits.Mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness. Certain genes can increase your risk of developing mental illness, and your living situation can trigger this.
  • environmental exposure before birth.Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory diseases, toxins, alcohol, or drugs in utero can sometimes be associated with mental illness.
  • brain chemistryNeurotransmitters are natural brain chemicals that transmit signals to other parts of the brain and body. When the neural networks surrounding these chemicals are compromised, the function of nerve receptors and the nervous system changes, leading to depression and other emotional disturbances.

risk factor's

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing mental illness, including:

  • History of mental illness in a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling
  • Stressful life events, such as financial problems, the death of a loved one, or divorce.
  • A persistent (chronic) disease, such as B Diabetes
  • Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (brain trauma), such as B. a strong blow to the head
  • Traumatic experiences such as B. military combat or raid
  • Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • A childhood history of abuse or neglect.
  • Few friends or few healthy relationships
  • A previous mental illness

Mental illnesses are widespread. Approximately 1 in 5 adults suffer from a mental illness each year. Mental illness can start at any age, from childhood to adulthood, but most cases begin earlier in life.

The effects of mental illness can be temporary or long-lasting. They can also suffer from several mental disorders at the same time. For example, you may have depression and a substance use disorder.


Mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability. Untreated mental illness can cause serious emotional, behavioral, and physical health problems. Complications sometimes associated with mental illness include:

  • Dissatisfaction and decreased enjoyment of life.
  • family problems
  • relationship difficulties
  • Social isolation
  • Problems with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs
  • Missed work or school or other work or school related problems
  • Legal and financial problems
  • poverty and homelessness
  • Harming yourself and others, including suicide or manslaughter
  • Weakened immune system, making it harder for your body to resist infections
  • heart disease and other diseases


There is no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, if you have a mental illness, taking steps to manage stress, build your resilience, and increase low self-esteem can help you manage your symptoms. Follow these steps:

  • Pay attention to warning signs.Work with your doctor or therapist to find out what might be triggering your symptoms. Make a plan for what to do if your symptoms return. Contact your doctor or therapist if you notice any changes in your symptoms or how you feel. Consider involving family or friends to watch for warning signs.
  • Get routine medical care.Don't neglect checkups or skip visits to your GP, especially if you're not feeling well. You may have a new health problem that needs treatment, or you may be experiencing medication side effects.
  • Get help when you need it.Mental illness can be more difficult to treat if you wait until the symptoms get worse. Long-term maintenance therapy can also help prevent a recurrence of symptoms.
  • Take care of yourself.Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular physical activity are important. Try to keep a regular schedule. Talk to your GP if you have trouble sleeping or have questions about diet and physical activity.
(Video) Mental Health Minute: Anxiety Disorders in Adults

By Mayo Clinic staff

December 13, 2022


What is the main causes of mental illness? ›

What causes mental illness?
  • Early adverse life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse (for example, child abuse, sexual assault, witnessing violence, etc.)
  • Experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes.
  • Biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain.

What are the 7 major mental disorders? ›

What Are the 7 types of Mental Disorders?
  • Anxiety Disorders.
  • Mood Disorders.
  • Psychotic Disorders.
  • Eating Disorders.
  • Personality Disorders.
  • Dementia.
  • Autism.
Apr 6, 2021

What are the 20 types of mental disorders? ›

  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Dissociative disorders.
  • Mood disorders.
  • Trauma and stressor related disorders.
  • Neuro-developmental disorders.
  • Sleep-wake disorders.
  • Neuro-cognitive disorders.
  • Substance-related and addictive disorders.

What are signs of being mentally unstable? ›

  • Feeling sad or down.
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate.
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt.
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows.
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities.
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping.
Dec 13, 2022

Can mental illness be cured? ›

While there is no cure for mental illnesses, help is available to help you lead a more productive life that you will enjoy more. Working with a mental health professional is essential because it allows you to find the right treatment plan for you.

How does a mentally ill person behave? ›

The outward signs of a mental illness are often behavioral. A person may be extremely quiet or withdrawn. Conversely, they may burst into tears, have great anxiety or have outbursts of anger. Even after treatment has started, someindividuals with a mental illness can exhibit anti-social behaviors.

What can untreated mental illness lead to? ›

Untreated mental health conditions can result in unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, and suicide, and poor quality of life.

At what age does mental illness start? ›

50% of mental illness begins by age 14, and 3/4 begin by age 24.

What is the most painful mental illness? ›

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) has long been believed to be a disorder that produces the most intense emotional pain and distress in those who have this condition. Studies have shown that borderline patients experience chronic and significant emotional suffering and mental agony.

What is the biggest mental illness? ›

Depression. Impacting an estimated 300 million people, depression is the most-common mental disorder and generally affects women more often than men.

What are the deadliest mental illnesses list? ›

If you think depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder are the mental illnesses most commonly linked to an early death, you're wrong. Eating disorders—including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating— are the most lethal mental health conditions, according to research in Current Psychiatry Reports.

What is the most difficult mental illness to treat? ›

Personality disorders are some of the most difficult disorders to treat in psychiatry. This is mainly because people with personality disorders don't think their behavior is problematic, so they don't often seek treatment.

How many mental illnesses can a person have? ›

Technically, according to DSM-5*, a person can receive more than one personality disorder diagnosis. People who are diagnosed with a personality disorder most often qualify for more than one diagnosis. A person with a severe personality disorder might meet the criteria for four, five or even more disorders!

What are the 12 major psychological disorders? ›

On this page
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Behavioural and emotional disorders in children.
  • Bipolar affective disorder.
  • Depression.
  • Dissociation and dissociative disorders.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • Paranoia.

How can you tell if someone is schizophrenic? ›

  1. Delusions. These are false beliefs that are not based in reality. ...
  2. Hallucinations. These usually involve seeing or hearing things that don't exist. ...
  3. Disorganized thinking (speech). Disorganized thinking is inferred from disorganized speech. ...
  4. Extremely disorganized or abnormal motor behavior. ...
  5. Negative symptoms.
Jan 7, 2020

What is a mental breakdown? ›

What is a Mental Breakdown? The term mental breakdown is often used when a person has a mental health crisis that overcomes their emotions. It can stem from other conditions like depression and anxiety but tends to be a severe case.

When should you walk away from someone with mental illness? ›

As much as you might love or care for the individual, if they are emotionally, mentally, or physically abusive, it is okay to step away from the situation. Some examples of emotional, mental, and physical abuse include: Emotional & Mental Abuse: Being dissatisfied, no matter how hard you try or how much you give.

Is mental illness a form of brain damage? ›

Brain injury and mental health are often seen and treated as two entirely separate diagnoses, or sometimes confused as being the same thing. However, both can be true; brain injury is sometimes an entirely separate issue to mental health, whereas other times brain injury can lead to mental health issues developing.

How do I stop being mentally ill? ›

Here are some ways people have found to stay mentally well.
  1. Talk about your feelings. ...
  2. Get a good night's sleep. ...
  3. Eat well. ...
  4. Stay active. ...
  5. Practice mindfulness, a way to be fully engaged and present in the moment.
  6. Keep in touch.
Oct 4, 2021

How long can mental illness last? ›

Some people may only have one experience (known as an “episode”) of mental illness that might only last a few days, weeks or months but others may have long term conditions which do not go away which are managed often with medication.It is also possible to have long periods when you are not ill between episodes, known ...

Do mentally ill people know they are sick? ›

Early studies of anosognosia indicated that approximately 30% of people with schizophrenia and 20% of people with bipolar disorder experienced "severe" lack of awareness of their diagnosis. Treating mental health conditions is much more complicated if lack of insight is one of the symptoms.

How can you tell if someone is psychotic? ›

This might involve hallucinations or delusions. The two main symptoms of psychosis are: hallucinations – where a person hears, sees and, in some cases, feels, smells or tastes things that aren't there; a common hallucination is hearing voices.

Does mental illness come from the mother or father? ›

You might worry that you could develop or 'catch' the same illness as your ill parent – but you cannot catch a mental illness from anyone. People might say 'it runs in families' or talk about the genetics or genes causing the illness.

Can you overcome mental illness without medication? ›

Medication works, and research consistently proves that therapy combined with medication is the most effective treatment for mental illness. It is sometimes possible to treat mental illness without medication, but it's rarely the best option.

What are long term effects of mental illness? ›

The Long-Term Effects of Untreated Mental Illness

However, there are some commonalities. When mental illness is left untreated, it can lead to long-term issues with emotional stability, behavior regulation, relationship difficulties, substance abuse, and even physical illness.

Is ADHD a mental illness? ›

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children. Symptoms of ADHD include inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought).

Can mental illness come on suddenly? ›

Each person also varies from day to day, depending on the circumstances. However, a sudden, major change in personality and/or behavior, particularly one that is not related to an obvious event (such as taking a drug or losing a loved one), often indicates a problem. (See also Overview of Mental Illness.

What mental illness worsens with age? ›

Personality disorders that are susceptible to worsening with age include paranoid, schizoid, schizotypal, obsessive compulsive, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, avoidant, and dependent, said Dr. Rosowsky, a geropsychologist in Needham, Mass.

At what age do psychotic breaks happen? ›

These changes happen gradually, typically in three phases: early, acute, and recovery. The onset of first episode psychosis typically presents when an individual is between the ages of 18-25, however, may present between the ages of 15-40. It is uncommon for first episode psychosis to present in childhood.

What is one of the hardest mental illnesses to live with? ›

But in the shadows are a cluster of conditions that continue to face deep discrimination: schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder, and BPD. BPD in particular is one of the lesser-known mental illnesses, but all the same it is one of the hardest to reckon with.

What is a person with a mental disorder called? ›

Don't use: “Mentally ill person” or “Person who is mentally ill” Instead, use: “Person with a mental illness” or “Person living with a mental health issue”

How can you tell if someone else has borderline personality disorder? ›

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a common mental condition that affects the way a person thinks or feels about themselves and others. If a person has BPD they'll have intense mood swings, dread being abandoned, struggle maintaining healthy relationships, and may act impulsively.

What is the easiest mental illness to treat? ›

Anxiety disorder is the most treatable of all mental illnesses. Anxiety disorder produces unrealistic fears, excessive worry, flashbacks from past trauma leading to easy startling, changes in sleep patterns, intense tension and ritualistic behavior.

What mental illness is hereditary? ›

Scientists have long recognized that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting potential genetic roots. Such disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.

What illness is similar to bipolar? ›

Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, causes mood changes – from feeling low to emotional highs. Cyclothymia has many similarities to bipolar disorder.

What are the three main mental illnesses? ›

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1 in every 5 Americans is currently living with a mental illness. Of those, the three most common diagnoses are anxiety disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What are the 4 types of mental illness? ›

mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder) anxiety disorders. personality disorders. psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia)

Who is more prone to mental illness? ›

The lifetime prevalence of mental disorders was higher among females (51 percent) than males (48 percent).

How do you deal with a mentally unstable person? ›

The Dos and Don'ts of Supporting Someone with Mental Illness
  1. DO Listen with an open mind. ...
  2. DON'T Make comments such as “You're fine” or “Cheer up” ...
  3. DO Ask Questions. ...
  4. DON'T Say you know how they feel if you don't. ...
  5. DO Encourage them to seek help. ...
  6. DON'T Question their medical decisions. ...
  7. DO Help out with daily tasks.
Aug 2, 2016

What mental illnesses run in families? ›

Scientists have long recognized that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting potential genetic roots. Such disorders include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia.

What is the number 1 mental illness? ›

Impacting an estimated 300 million people, depression is the most-common mental disorder and generally affects women more often than men.

What are the top 10 worst mental illnesses? ›

The top 10 mental health issues and illnesses include anxiety disorders, bipolar affective disorders, depression, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, paranoia, PTSD, psychosis, schizophrenia and OCD. One in four adult Americans will have a diagnosable mental disorder at any given time.

How is mental illness diagnosed? ›

A medical professional determines a diagnosis by interviewing you about your history of symptoms. Sometimes a doctor will require a couple of medical tests to rule out possible physical ailments, but we cannot evaluate mental health itself through blood tests or other biometric data.

What is the difference between mental illness and mental disorder? ›

Once psychologists and scientists found that mental illnesses are a disease of the body, they began to use the term mental illness more widely. The main difference between a mental disorder and a mental illness is the origin of the condition.


1. Complex Psychiatric Cases: Diagnosis and Treatment
(NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital)
2. 8 Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness
3. 10 Common Warning Signs Of A Mental Health Condition
4. Bipolar disorder (depression & mania) - causes, symptoms, treatment & pathology
(Osmosis from Elsevier)
5. Understanding Mental Health Disorders
(InHealth: A Washington Hospital Channel)
6. 7 Warning Signs Of A Mental Illness
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