Mental illness covers a broad range of mental health conditions which affect your mood, thinking and behaviour.
Most people have mental health concerns occasionally. However, these are termed a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms affect your ability to function.
Mental illnesses have overlapping symptoms so sometimes it can be difﬁcult to reach an accurate diagnosis. The psychiatrist will always check that symptoms do not have a physical cause such as a head injury or an infection.
A split between what’s real and what isn’t is the usual symptom of psychosis. With other disorders there is an understanding of what is going on, but if someone is psychotic they don’t. Psychosis can be present if someone is schizophrenic, schizoaffective, as a result of cocaine or speed misuse and during mania.
One percent of the population are schizophrenic and 1% have bipolar disorder. It is possible that overproduction of dopamine in the brain may trigger psychosis though certain circumstances could also be a catalyst. Mild psychosis can be helpful in some ways, and has been known to enhance creativity.
This usually refers to someone hearing their own thoughts as if they are coming from outside their own body. It is less common to see, smell or taste things that are not real.
People who are delusional may hallucinate and link them to beliefs that others may ﬁnd strange. They may think voices are coming from the television, speaking directly to them or
plotting against them - especially if the voices are critical or abusive. This kind of distorted thinking may lead to severe anxiety or paranoia.
This is a form of psychosis that results from a physical trauma such as a head injury or when someone comes out of a coma.
Schizophrenia can cause people to hallucinate, develop feelings of confusion and fear, and believe their deepest thoughts, feelings and acts may be known to, or controlled by others. It can be successfully treated and the majority of people with schizophrenia will lead ordinary lives.
Symptoms: during an acute episode thoughts and experiences can become distorted. When they are severe this can lead to panic, anger, depression, elation or over activity, at times people can seem withdrawn.
Bipolar disorder or manic depression
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. The symptoms are severe mood changes that are far more extreme than the normal ups and downs that everyone experiences.
Bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.
People may have bipolar disorder for years before it is properly diagnosed and treated. Like diabetes or heart disease, it is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person’s life. Mania or depression can reoccur, sometimes a short manic episode can be followed by depression, though some people are free of symptoms between episodes.
Symptoms: feelings of elation followed by a deep depression. During the ‘manic’ phase of the illness the person may experience delusions.
A diagnosis of this illness is given when both schizophrenic symptoms and mood disorder (such as manic depression) symptoms are present, but the schizophrenia is more pronounced. If the mood disorder is more pronounced the condition is called depressive or manic psychosis.
Symptoms: often a combination of mood disorders, like depression or mania, and symptoms of schizophrenia are present at the same time, or within a few days of each other.
Severe or prolonged depression can affect the way a person eats, sleeps, feels and the way they think about things. People with a depressive illness cannot ‘pull themselves together’ and get better without treatment. The symptoms can last for weeks, months or years.
Symptoms: fatigue and sleep problems, forgetfulness and concentration difﬁculties, irritability, worry, panic, hopelessness, obsessions and compulsions. Also low mood, loss of interest, reduced energy, suicidal ideas, sleep and appetite disturbance over and above normal mood ﬂuctuation.
This term describes someone who has severe disturbances of their character and behaviour. Personality disorders usually appear in late childhood or adolescence and continue into adulthood. The thought patterns and behaviours cause distress to the person or to those around them. (Source: Royal College of Psychiatrists)
Anxiety, worry and fear are feelings everyone experiences from time to time. Over short periods they can be useful emotions that help us to respond to challenging or dangerous situations. They prepare us to take action to protect ourselves - a ‘ﬁght or ﬂight’ response.
If the anxiety is disproportional to the threats around them they can have profound consequences on life and are the most common form of psychiatric illness. Anxiety disorders include conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and panic attacks.
Symptoms: feeling excessively anxious in certain situations, possibly when travelling on public transport, or anxious a great deal of the time. Fear and anxiety can be triggered by particular things such as spiders or heights, whilst others cannot pinpoint the cause.