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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

05-17-19 | By

What is Mental Illness and What Exactly Causes It?

Mental Illness is defined as a group of disorders that affect a mood, thinking, and behavior. There are eight main classifications of Mental Health Disorders, and each has its own set of generalized symptoms. Within each classification, there are symptoms specific to each sub-type within.

Classifications of Mental Health Disorders

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are conditions that are characterized by fluctuations in mood, ranging from slight to extreme highs and lows in mood. The length of time these mood swings last varies from one disorder to the next and even more depending on the sub-type of each disorder.


Depression is a disorder characterized by a markedly depressed mood and loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed severely impairing daily functioning. This disorder is very serious but also very common. There are more than three million US cases per year of depression, 300 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. There are a number of sub-types of depression, each with their own individual symptoms unique to that sub-type, but there are a number of symptoms that are common as well.

  • Depressed mood
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Weight and appetite changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thoughts of death and/or suicide

Bipolar Disorder

With Bipolar disorder, the person experiences any number of symptoms, depending on the type, but will always experience periods of mania (elevated mood) and depression (low moods). This disorder causes dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and the ability to think clearly.  There are a number of separate subtypes including:

  • Bipolar mania/hypomania where mania is the primary feature of the Bipolar Disorder. Hypomania is mania but at a level not as severe as regular mania.
  • Bipolar depression is when depression is the primary feature of the disorder, often with severe depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar with mixed episodes or rapid cycling is where both mania and depression are present at the same time, cycling many times within a single episode.
  • Bipolar with psychotic features is when the person experiences hallucinations, paranoia and other psychotic features along with the otherwise specified bipolar symptoms.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a group of disorders characterized by the general feeling of unease, intense unwarranted worry, and a feeling of impending doom. With these come racing heartbeat, intense fear, unusual sweating, and the feeling of needing to get away somewhere “safe”. Panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, and generalized anxiety disorder fall into this category. Each has its own specific set of symptoms, ranging in severity from mild to severe.


Most people would not think that dementia is a Mental Illness but it is. Dementia defined is “a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental process caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory loss, personality changes and impaired reasoning.” A well-known cause of Dementia is Alzheimers’ Disease, but there are a number of other causes for dementia, including but not limited to, head trauma, health issues, untreated STI’s, HIV, prolonged substance use, “Wet Brain”, and diseases such as Parkinson’s.

Schizotype Disorders

These disorders are marked by hallucinations, confused thought and speech, paranoia, delusions, and trouble concentrating. Disorders in this classification include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Child Onset Schizophrenia

Other Disorders

  • Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  • Personality Disorders-Clusters A, B, and C

What Causes Mental Illness?

The exact causes are unknown, but there are a number of things that are known to contribute. Genetic susceptibility, social and environmental factors, psychological (trauma and abuse) factors, and a family history of mental illness are all thought to play a part in the development of mental illness.

What are the Treatment Options?

Treatments usually consist of medication therapy in conjunction with psychotherapy. There are also different types of support groups and group therapies that may work for some people. There are people who choose to not take medication, and that is a wholly personal decision for the person and their psychiatrist to discuss.

Life On the Other Side

Many people feel that their life is over when a mental illness diagnosis is given. I am here to tell you that it is possible to live a happy and fulfilling life with mental illness. It’s all about your mindset and finding a therapeutic regimen that works for you. I was diagnosed with mental illness as a teenager. Although it took me a long time to come to a place of acceptance, once I did, I took the necessary steps to get my Illness under control, and I have never been happier than I am now.


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