Not Just Your Nerves

Health vs. Health Care: You Decide

Health is what you do health care is what others do for you

 The preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality. — Herbert Spencer

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. — The World Health Organization

Mental health is how we think, feel and act as we cope with life. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

I want us to work toward changing the attitude of the agencies and organizations charged with taking care of our mental health needs. They struggle without much success to address the problems through programs and services that do not provide the patients and clients with what they need most. That is to help them change how they think not tell them what to think. It has not/will not lead to a satisfactory outcome for recipient or provider. It is a temporary fix, not a solution. Before help can be accepted you have to help your Self. There is no therapy, counseling or medication that will be effective until you do. When I say you, I am talking about the Self, your Self, her Self and him Self, all of us.—    James R. Yarbrough

Mental Illness 

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.

Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function. A mental illness can make you miserable and can cause problems in your daily life, such as at work or in relationships. In most cases, mental illness symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and counseling (psychotherapy).

What Is Normal

Understanding what is considered normal mental health can be tricky. See how feelings, thoughts and behaviors determine mental health and how to recognize if you or a loved one needs help.

What is the difference between mental health and mental illness? Sometimes the answer seems clear. For instance, a person who hears voices in his or her head could have schizophrenia. A person who goes on a frenzied shopping spree or starts an ambitious project — such as remodeling the bathroom — without any plans might be having a manic episode caused by bipolar disorder.

In some cases, however, the distinction between mental health and mental illness is not so obvious. If you are afraid of giving a speech in public, does it mean you have a mental health condition or a run-of-the-mill case of nerves? If you feel sad and discouraged, do you have the blues, or is it full-fledged depression?

Here is help understanding how mental health conditions are identified.

Why is it so tough to tell what is normal?

It is often difficult to distinguish normal mental health from mental illness because there is no easy test to show if something’s wrong. Mental health conditions are diagnosed and treated based on signs and symptoms, as well as on how much the condition affects your daily life. Signs and symptoms can affect your:

Behavior: Obsessive hand washing or drinking too much alcohol might be signs of a mental health condition.

Feelings: Sometimes a mental health condition is characterized by a deep or ongoing sadness, euphoria or anger.

Thinking: Delusions — such as thinking that the television is controlling your mind — or thoughts of suicide might be symptoms of a mental health condition.

Is it Mental Illness Deciding when a symptom might mean you have a mental illness can be difficult. For instance, what is considered an excessive fear — for example a fear of spiders or of public speaking — can vary from person to person. And in some cultures and situations, certain behaviors or thoughts may be considered normal, while in other cultures and situations they may be considered abnormal.

In general, signs and symptoms may indicate a mental illness when they make you miserable and interfere with your ability to function in your daily life. You may have trouble coping with stress, anger or other emotions. Or you may find it difficult to handle family, work or school responsibilities.


Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the particular disorder and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems.

Helping a Loved One If you have a loved one who you think may have symptoms of mental illness, have an open and honest discussion with him or her about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to seek professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider and make an appointment. You may even be able to go to an appointment with him or her. If you have a loved one who has harmed himself or herself, or is seriously considering doing so, take him or her to the hospital or call for emergency help.


There is no specific identifiable cause of mental illness. Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors:

Inherited traits. Mental illness is more common in people whose biological family members also have a mental illness. You may have a genetic vulnerability to developing a mental illness, and your life situation may trigger the actual mental illness if you are already at risk.

Biological factors. In addition to inherited traits, outside forces can sometimes be linked to mental illness — for example, traumatic brain injury or exposure to viruses or toxins while in the womb.

Life experiences. Challenging situations in your life, such as the loss of a loved one, financial problems and high stress, can play a role in triggering mental illness. Life experiences can also be a factor, such as an upbringing leading to poor self-esteem or a history of sexual or physical abuse. Life experiences can lead to unhealthy patterns of thinking linked to mental illness, such as pessimism or distorted ways of thinking

Brain chemistry. Known as biochemical causes, changes occurring in the brain are thought to affect mood and other aspects of mental health. Naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters play a role in some mental illnesses. In some cases, hormonal imbalances affect mental health. It is thought that inherited traits, life experiences and biological factors can all affect brain chemistry linked to mental illnesses.

Risk Factors

Although the precise cause of mental illness isn’t known, certain factors may increase your risk of developing mental health problems, including:

  • Having a biological relative, such as a parent or sibling, with a mental illness
  • Experiences in the womb — for example, having a mother who was exposed to viruses or who had poor nutrition may be linked to schizophrenia
  • Undergoing stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one’s death or a divorce
  • Having a chronic medical condition, such as cancer
  • Undergoing traumatic experiences, such as military combat or being assaulted
  • Use of illegal drugs
  • Being abused or neglected as a child
  • Having few friends or few healthy relationships

Mental illness is common. About 1 in 4 adults has a mental illness in any given year. And nearly half of them have more than one mental illness at the same time. Mental illness can begin at any age, from childhood through later adult years.


Mental illness is a leading cause of disability. Aside from reducing your overall quality of life, untreated mental illness can cause severe emotional, behavioral and physical health problems. Mental illness can also cause legal and financial problems. Complications linked to mental illness include:

  • Unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life
  • Family conflicts
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Social isolation
  • Substance abuse
  • Missed work or school, or other problems related to work or school
  • Heart disease and other medical conditions
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Suicide

 Classes of Mental Illness The main classes of mental illness are:

Mood disorders. These include disorders that affect how you feel emotionally. Examples include depression and bipolar disorder.

Anxiety disorders. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by the anticipation of future danger or misfortune, accompanied by feeling ill at ease. Examples include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

 Substance-related disorders. These include problems associated with the misuse of alcohol and illegal or legal drugs.

 Disorders of detachment from reality (psychotic disorders). These disorders cause detachment from reality (delusions). The most notable example of this is schizophrenia, although other classes of disorders can be associated with detachment from reality at times.

Disorders of thinking (cognitive disorders). These disorders affect your ability to think and reason. They include delirium, dementia and memory problems. Alzheimer’s disease is an example of a cognitive disorder.

Developmental disorders. This category covers a wide range of problems that usually begin in infancy, childhood or adolescence. They include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities. But just because they’re all grouped in this category doesn’t necessarily mean they share a common cause or require the same treatment.

Personality disorders. A personality disorder is a characterized by a lasting pattern of emotional instability and unhealthy behavior that causes problems in your life and relationships. Examples include borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.

Other disorders. These include disorders of impulse control, sleep, sexual functioning and eating. Also included are dissociative disorders, in which your sense of self is disrupted, and somatoform disorders, in which there are physical symptoms with no clear cause.

Mental health disorders affect persons in all age, racial, ethnic, educational, and socioeconomic groups, as well as persons of both genders. Monitoring the prevalence of mental health problems and receipt of treatment is vital to ensuring that the health needs of all Americans are met.


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