Mental Health & Mental Illness

Through education, empathy, and compassion, we can better understand one another.

What is Mental Health?

As defined by the CDC: Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental disorders are conditions that adversely affect your thinking, mood, behavior, and feelings. They may be occasional or chronic (long-lasting). They can affect your ability to function and to relate to others.

Mental illnesses manifest in many ways. Some are mild and only interfere in limited ways while other mental health conditions may severely impact someone’s ability to function in relationships, at work, and in other aspects of everyday life. Some are so severe that a person may need hospitalization.

What Causes Mental Illness?

There is no one cause but several factors can contribute to a person’s risk for mental illness, some of these may include:

  • Genetics and family history
  • Biological factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Stress or a history of abuse, especially in childhood
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ongoing chronic medical condition
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Environmental stress
  • Loneliness or isolation
Having a mental disorder isn’t easy, and it’s even harder when people assume you can just “get over it.”

Who is at Risk for Mental Illness?

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, social status, income, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, geography, religion/spirituality, background, or other characteristic of cultural identity.

Mental disorders are common. More than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental disorder at some time in their life.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Unlike diseases such as cancer or diabetes, there is no medical test that can diagnose mental illness. Steps to getting a diagnosis involve a mental health screening, a physical exam to rule out other medical conditions, a medical history, and a psychological evaluation.

Common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include:

  • Intense or prolonged feelings of irritability or anger
  • Excessive fear or worrying
  • Problems concentrating or confused thinking
  • Avoiding friends, family, and social activities
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle problems and stress
  • Extreme changes in appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Extreme mood changes, including feelings of euphoria or having excessive energy
  • Feeling excessively low or sad
  • Overuse of alcohol and other substances
  • Problems sleeping or significant tiredness

Some symptoms in adolescents and teens may include:

  • Frequent nightmares
  • Excessive anxiety or worry
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Frequent stomach aches or headaches
  • Frequent aggression or disobedience
  • Changes in school performance
  • Isolating

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

Having a mental disorder isn’t easy, and it’s even harder when people assume you can just get over it. Mental illness is no one’s fault and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Having a mental health condition doesn’t mean you’re broken, or you did something wrong. It’s a medical condition, like heart disease or diabetes and there are many treatments available to help people successfully manage mental health conditions.


Drug use affects the brain and can aggravate the symptoms of existing mental health conditions. Often, someone with a mental health condition may try to self-medicate by treating symptoms of anxiety or depression by using alcohol or drugs. While the substances may give temporary relief, when they wear off, their symptoms are often much worse.

How to Get Help

If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to your primary care doctor, county or state mental health authority, or to your insurance company.

If you or someone you love needs immediate help, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”