Mental Illness


The World Health Organization (WHO) explains mental health as "a state of well-being that enables everyone to recognize their capacities, to achieve fulfillment, to overcome the normal tensions of life, to perform productive work. And fruitful and to contribute to the life of its community". According to this definition, being in good mental health is not just about not having an illness.

Mental illness is defined by changes that affect a person's thinking, mood, or behavior and causing him distress or suffering. Mental illness manifests itself by:

  • Signs of change, which those around you can observe in the behavior of the affected person;
  • Symptoms, which the person feels.

For example, relatives of an affected person may notice that they are isolating themselves. On the other hand, the affected person may have difficulty concentrating or feeling sad or anxious.

The health care professional or doctor considers all the signs and symptoms to assess the person's condition and diagnose.

Most people will take one day or another to be affected by mental illness, either personally or in a relative, friend, or colleague. Like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can strike anyone, regardless of age, gender, social status, level of education, nationality, or ethnicity.

Almost 20% of the USA population, or 1 in 5 people, will have a mental illness in their lifetime. Yet less than half of people with mental illness see a professional. The WHO estimates that by 2020, depression will be the two e due to illness and disability, after heart disease.

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Most Famous Mental Illnesses

The most famous mental illnesses are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Phobia
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Panic disorder and agoraphobia
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Mood disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

There are also other types of mental illnesses, for example, eating disorders.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of mental illness can be more or less intense. Their intensity varies according to:

  • The type of mental illness;
  • The personality of the affected person;
  • The ties and relationships of the person with his family and his entourage;
  • Social and economic factors (living environment, financial capacities, etc.).

Here are some signs of behavior change that people around a person with mental illness may see:

  • Isolation;
  • Drug or alcohol abuse;
  • Stopping the medication;
  • Disorganization, that is to say, a major difficulty in organizing and functioning normally. The person may lack judgment or have strange ideas;
  • Memory loss;
  • Difficulty taking care of family, professional and common obligations.

Here are some of the common symptoms that an affected person may experience:

  • Loss of appetite;
  • Insomnia;
  • Nausea;
  • Dizziness;
  • Sadness;
  • Euphoria (state of great excitement);
  • Difficulty concentrating.

Signs and Symptoms in Children

The first signs of mental illness are often seen in childhood. To learn how to recognize these signs in your child, see recognizing mental illness signs in children.

When to Consult

Do not wait until you have become unable to do your usual activities to consult resources for help or information. Do not hesitate to do this, even if you are not sure you need it. Unfortunately, many people wait until they are in an emergency before seeking help. Here are some clues that may indicate you should consult:

  • Your symptoms have been going on for a while;
  • Your anxiety attacks are repeated;
  • You are in distress;
  • You feel that the comfort of those close to you is no longer enough for you;
  • Your start to have difficulty with your daily activities;

people around you see that you need help and tell you.

Remember that physical symptoms often accompany psychological suffering. These symptoms often have the effect of reducing the ability to adapt to everyday situations. Pay attention to these symptoms, and don't hesitate to seek help. See the Help and Resources section for the resources available to you.


There are recognized treatments available to treat mental illness or relieve their symptoms. Treatments allow people with the disease to regain control over their lives and daily activities. The earlier the sufferer consults, the better their chances of recovery.

In most cases, mental illness is treated very effectively with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of these two treatments.

Recommendations for Taking Medication

If your doctor prescribes medication for you, you must take it carefully as directed.

Even if you feel better, you should continue the treatment prescribed to prevent your symptoms from reoccurring.

If you have any unwanted side effects from medication, see your pharmacist or doctor as soon as possible to discuss them. If necessary, your doctor may regulate your medication or recommend another medication.


People with mental illness sometimes develop problems with excessive alcohol or drug use or dependence on these substances.

People who have both a mental illness and an addiction are at greater risk:

  • not to benefit from the positive effects of their treatments;
  • to be hospitalized;
  • experience social difficulties, for example, homelessness, violence, or problems with the law;
  • having suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Protection and Prevention

If you have symptoms of mental illness or want to prevent the onset of mental illness, you can take the following tips:

  • Get support
  • Take steps to maintain good mental health
  • Overcome the stigma associated with mental illness

Get Support

Having the support of a loved one, friend or colleague can make all the difference in preventing or recovering from mental illness. So do not hesitate to confide in you if you are experiencing difficulties.

Health professionals can also help and support you. Avoid being alone if you have symptoms. See the Help and Resources section for the resources available to you.

Take Steps to Maintain Good Mental Health

Don't hesitate to change your habits by following the tips for maintaining good mental health. These changes will help you eliminate factors that are making or sustaining your condition.

Overcome the Stigma Associated With Mental Illness

Sometimes we may be reluctant to see a health professional because of our own or other people's prejudices about mental illness. Thus, some people do not consult either because they are afraid of others' judgment or because they believe it is impossible to have a mental illness. Mental illnesses are not personal weaknesses. They are diseases, and they can be cured.

Risk Factors

The exact causes of each mental illness are not known. They result from a combination of several factors that can promote the development of a mental illness, for example:

  • heredity that is, whether other people in the family have or have had mental illnesses;
  • biological factors, which modify the chemical balance of the brain (prolonged state of stress, consumption of substances, etc.);
  • characteristics of the person's temperament, for example, low self-esteem, difficulty adapting to different life situations;
  • chronic diseases or physical health problems, for example, cancer, diseases affecting the thyroid gland, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases;
  • the presence of stressors in the person's life, which may be related:
  • their family environment (examples: the death of a loved one, childhood marked by abuse, domestic violence, frequent exposure to conflicts);
  • their social environment (examples: homelessness, isolation);
  • their professional or financial environment (examples: job loss, low income);
  • the addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling and money.

People at Risk

Some people are more likely to have a mental illness:

  • children and adolescents who have had difficult family experiences or who are exposed to violence at school;
  • people who take care of a family alone;
  • people who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence;
  • adults who do not work or lose their jobs; 
  • low-income people;
  • older adults alone or with a loss of autonomy.

Children who have or have had a mental illness are more likely to have social or other health problems than adults.