Are mental disorders treatable?
Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refer to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviours.
Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.
A mental illness can make you miserable and can cause problems in your daily life, such as at school or work or in relationships. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and talk therapy (psychotherapy).
There are many different mental disorders, with different presentations. They are generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others.
Mental disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, and developmental disorders including autism.
There are effective strategies for preventing mental disorders such as depression.
There are effective treatments for mental disorders and ways to alleviate the suffering caused by them.
Access to health care and social services capable of providing treatment and social support is key.
The burden of mental disorders continues to grow with significant impacts on health and major social, human rights and economic consequences in all countries of the world.
Depression is a common mental disorder and one of the main causes of disability worldwide. Globally, an estimated 264 million people are affected by depression.1 More woman are affected than men.
Depression is characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, tiredness, and poor concentration. People with depression may also have multiple physical complaints with no apparent physical cause. Depression can be long-lasting or recurrent, substantially impairing people’s ability to function at work or school and to cope with daily life. At its most severe, depression can lead to suicide.
There are also effective treatments. Mild to moderate depression can be effectively treated with talking therapies, such as cognitive behaviour therapy or psychotherapy. Antidepressants can be an effective form of treatment for moderate to severe depression but are not the first line of treatment for cases of mild depression. They should not be used for treating depression in children and are not the first line of treatment in adolescents, among whom they should be used with caution.
Management of depression should include psychosocial aspects, including identifying stress factors, such as financial problems, difficulties at work or physical or mental abuse, and sources of support, such as family members and friends. The maintenance or reactivation of social networks and social activities is important.
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health disorders that includes generalised anxiety disorders, social phobias, specific phobias (for example, agoraphobia and claustrophobia), panic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder. Untreated, anxiety disorders can lead to significant impairment on people’s daily lives.
Behavioural and emotional disorders in children
Common behaviour disorders in children include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Treatment for these mental health disorders can include therapy, education and medication.
Dissociation and dissociative disorders
Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. Dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, dissociative fugue, depersonalisation disorder and dissociative identity disorder.
Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia nervosa and other binge eating disorders. Eating disorders affect females and males and can have serious psychological and physical consequences.
Paranoia is the irrational and persistent feeling that people are ‘out to get you’. Paranoia may be a symptom of conditions including paranoid personality disorder, delusional (paranoid) disorder and schizophrenia. Treatment for paranoia include medications and psychological support.
After-traumatic stress disorder
After-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop as a response to people who have experienced any traumatic event. This can be a car or other serious accident, physical or sexual assault, war-related events or torture, or natural disasters such as bushfires or floods.
People affected by psychosis can experience delusions, hallucinations and confused thinking. Psychosis can occur in a number of mental illnesses, including drug-induced psychosis, schizophrenia and mood disorders. Medication and psychological support can relieve, or even eliminate psychotic symptoms.
Schizophrenia is a complex psychotic disorder characterised by disruptions to thinking and emotions, and a distorted perception of reality. Symptoms of schizophrenia vary widely but may include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, social withdrawal, lack of motivation and impaired thinking and memory. People with schizophrenia have a high risk of suicide. Schizophrenia is not a split personality.
Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviours.
Examples of signs and symptoms include:
o Feeling sad or down, Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate, Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
o Extreme mood changes of highs and lows, Withdrawal from friends and activities, Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping, Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations, Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
o Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
o Problems with alcohol or drug use, Major changes in eating habits
o Sex drive changes, Excessive anger, hostility or violence
o Suicidal thinking
Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches and pains.
Helping a loved one
If your loved one shows signs of mental illness, have an open and honest discussion with him or her about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to get professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified mental health professional and make an appointment. You may even be able to go along to the appointment.
If your loved one has done self-harm or is considering doing so, take the person to the hospital or call for emergency help.
Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors:
o Inherited traits. Mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness. Certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and your life situation may trigger it.
o Environmental exposures before birth. Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illness.
The five main warning signs of mental illness are as follows:
Excessive paranoia, worry, or anxiety. Long-lasting sadness or irritability., Extreme changes in moods., Social withdrawal., Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
There’s no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, if you have a mental illness, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost low self-esteem may help keep your symptoms under control. Follow these steps:
Pay attention to warning signs. Work with your doctor or therapist to learn what might trigger your symptoms. Make a plan so that you know what to do if symptoms return. Contact your doctor or therapist if you notice any changes in symptoms or how you feel. Consider involving family members or friends to watch for warning signs.
Get routine medical care. Don’t neglect checkups or skip visits to your primary care provider, especially if you aren’t feeling well. You may have a new health problem that needs to be treated, or you may be experiencing side effects of medication.
Get help when you need it. Mental health conditions can be harder to treat if you wait until symptoms get worse. Long-term maintenance treatment also may help prevent a relapse of symptoms.
Take good care of yourself. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating and regular physical activity are important. Try to maintain a regular schedule. Talk to your primary care provider if you have trouble sleeping or if you have questions about diet and physical activity.
For further information: email to [email protected], send only text messages to Dr Azadeh WhatsApp 002207774469 from 3 to 6pm.
Dr. Hassan Azadeh MD, senior lecturer at the University of The Gambia, Clinical Director at Medicare Health Services.