Mental health affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It also influences how we cope with stress, connect with others, and make decisions. Taking care of your mental health is essential at every stage of life—from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Similarly, mental illnesses influence a person’s mood. Mental health conditions can interfere with daily life and may affect an individual’s ability to think clearly, connect with others, and manage stress.
A single event doesn’t cause a mental health condition.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), multiple risk factors contribute to the development of mental illnesses, including genetics, family history, and the environment. Stressful home life or a traumatic event can make some people more susceptible to mental health issues. Biochemical processes and brain structure may also play a role in mental health.
Mental health problems are common, but mental health care is available. With proper treatment, people with mental health problems can thrive, find much career success, attain loving, healthy relationships, and lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.
How common are mental health disorders?
If you have—or think you have—a mental disorder, the first thing you should know is that you’re not alone. Mental illnesses are more common than you think, but many people face stigma talking about their mental health. According to behavioral health statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health:
- One in five adults in the United States experience mental illness each year
- One in 25 adults experience in the United States serious mental illness each year
- One in six youth aged 6-17 in the United States experience a mental health disorder each year
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness in the United States begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
Common Mental Health Issues
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some of the most common mental illnesses include:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): ADHD is a developmental mental health disorder categorized by inattention, disorganization, and hyperactivity-impulsivity.
- Anxiety disorders: Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but persistent feelings of anxiety that interfere with daily life may be signs of an anxiety disorder.
- Bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder causes dramatic changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to think clearly. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience extreme highs and lows, known as mania and depression.
- Depression: Depression involves recurring changes in mood, thought processes, and motivation. Individuals with depression experience negative thoughts, hopelessness, and changes in sleep, energy, and appetite.
- Dissociative disorders: Dissociative disorders, a type of mental health condition frequently associated with trauma, interfere with every area of psychological functioning, including identity, emotion, motor control, and memory.
- Eating disorders: Eating disorders are characterized by changing food consumption to the point that physical health or social behaviors are affected. Some mental disorders in this category include bulimia, anorexia, and binge-eating disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD is characterized by persistent and intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that can cause significant distress.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD involves psychological and physiological responses to a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, car accident, or war.
- Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia, a complex and serious mental illness, affects an individual’s ability to think, manage emotions, and relate to others. Schizophrenia can also make it difficult for people to distinguish between real and unreal experiences.
- Substance use disorders: Substance use disorders affect an individual’s brain and behavior, making it challenging to control substance use. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, commonly abused substances include alcohol, illicit drugs, and prescription medications.
Early Warning Signs
The defining symptoms for each mental illness are defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental illnesses.
The symptoms of mental health conditions vary depending on the person and condition. However, some early warning signs of mental health challenges include:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Substance use, such as drinking or using drugs
- Feeling confused or forgetful
- Fighting with family members and friends
- Mood swings
- Intrusive or persistent thoughts and memories
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Suicidal thoughts
- Inability to function in daily life or perform simple tasks like getting to work or school
Mental Health Treatment Options
If you’re experiencing a mild mental illness with well-controlled symptoms, treatment from your primary care provider may be sufficient. However, in most cases, a holistic approach is the most effective treatment for mental health disorders, according to the World Health Organization. Positive mental health allows people to work toward their full potential, cope with everyday stresses, maintain relationships, and work productively. Most treatment plans include:
- Therapy: Psychodynamic psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and other forms of talk therapy can be effective treatments for mental health disorders. Working with a trained therapist in a safe environment allows patients to understand their feelings, manage their symptoms, and develop coping skills.
- Check-ups: The symptoms of mental health conditions can be linked to medical conditions and chronic diseases, such as heart disease, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s important to schedule regular check-ups with your primary care provider to rule out underlying health conditions.
- Medication: Some people with mental health disorders find medications an essential part of their treatment plan. Asking your health care provider about the potential benefits and side effects can help you make the right choice.
- Social support: Social support, acceptance, and encouragement from friends and family members can significantly impact the success of your mental health treatment. Education about managing a mental disorder, along with other medical conditions, can be helpful in the journey toward recovery and wellness. NAMI offers numerous support groups and educational resources, including NAMI Peer-to-Peer, NAMI Family-to-Family, the NAMI Family Support Group, NAMI Basics, NAMI Homefront, NAMI Connection, NAMI Hearts and Minds, and NAMI FaithNet.
- Helplines: If you need immediate mental health support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI.
How can therapy help?
If you have—or think you have—a mental health condition, researching mental health services is the first step. Taking the time to find the right therapist is essential to receiving an accurate diagnosis and determining the most effective treatment.
If you’re experiencing mental health symptoms, consider reaching out to a mental health provider through WithTherapy. We’ll match you with a mental health professional you feel comfortable with, regardless of your preferences and requirements. One of the qualified therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you understand your symptoms and diagnosis to manage your mental health effectively.