A depcition of what mental illness may feel like.

Understanding Different Types of Mental Illness

Knowing the Types of Mental Illness

In the United States, approximately half of the adult population will experience a form of mental illness during their lifetime. 5% of Americans – about 43.8 million people – will experience types of mental illness each year. Of those diagnosed, only 41% will have received professional healthcare within the past year.

Although the medical community recognizes approximately 200 mental illnesses, there are thought to be five types of mental health disorders. Let’s look at what these are.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million adults over the age of 18. Anxiety is characterized by feeling distressed, apprehensive and having feelings of fear. Though anxiety can be situational, it can also be frequent and chronic.

Diagnoses that occur under the anxiety disorder category include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social phobia (social anxiety disorder)

Mood Disorders

Mood is characterized by sadness, irritability and poor mood. Further symptomology is dependent on the type of mood disorder. Mood disorders are much more than just feeling off or having a bad day. One in 10 adults suffer from a mood disorder, with the most common types being depression and bipolar disorder.

Misdiagnosis or improper treatment of a mood disorder can lead chronic physical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Common symptoms of mood disorders include:

  • An ongoing sad mood
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Feeling worthless
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Having thoughts of suicide, voicing a plan of suicide, or attempting suicide
  • A loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in weight
  • Reduction in energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Physical complaints, such as a headache or stomachache
  • Irritability or aggression

Schizophrenia and Psychotic Disorders

MedLine Plus states that psychotic disorders are “…severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions. People with psychoses lose touch with reality.”

People with psychotic disorders suffer from delusions and hallucinations.

  • Delusions are false beliefs, such as a belief that someone is plotting against you.
  • Hallucinations are false perceptions, such as seeing or hearing things that are not there.

Schizophrenia is the most common type of psychotic disorder. People with bipolar disorder can also have psychotic symptoms. Psychosis can also be caused by certain medications, due to infections, and from other medical conditions.


Often considered a mental health disorder, many people also consider dementia an illness that affects someone’s memory to the point where it affects how they live. Common symptoms include:

Cognitive changes

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty remembering words
  • Difficulty with spatial abilities, such as getting lost driving
  • Difficulty with problem solving
  • Difficulty with complex tasks
  • Difficulty with organization
  • Difficulty with motor function
  • Confusion and disorientation

Psychological changes

  • Depression
  • Personality changes
  • Anxiety
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Hallucination
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia

There are several different types of dementias; they all have similar symptoms, but all vary slightly in symptomology and pathology:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Vascular dementia
  • Lewy body dementia
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • Mixed dementia

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders often begin in adolescence and worsen as the years go along. Without proper treatment, eating disorders can be fatal.

Though the various eating disorders manifest in different ways, they all involve obsessive thoughts and distressing behaviors:

  • Reduction of food intake
  • Overeating
  • Feelings of distress and depression
  • Concern of weight and body image

Examples of eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa - self-starvation
  • Bulimia nervosa - binging with periods of purging, fasting, or excess exercise
  • Binge eating disorder - uncontrollable eating without the use of purging

Treatment of Mental Health Disorders

There is no “one size fits all” treatment approach to treatment of mental health disorders. Treatment is also generally multifaceted.

Treatment often entails use of prescription medications such as:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Mood-stabilizing medications
  • Antipsychotic medications

Psychotherapy or talk therapy may also be prescribed.

Staying active can improve feelings of well-being, which improves symptoms of depression, reduces stress and reduces anxiety. It can also help to control weight

Joining a support group can be especially helpful, as connecting with those who are going through the same challenges provides community.

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