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Mental Health

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Mental health issues and disorders cause distress for everyone involved; It affects family members, friends, co-workers, and especially the one suffering from a mental health disorder. Recent mental illness statistics show that approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. While there are no simple answers when it comes to common mental disorders and mental illness, here you will find mental health resources and services that can help those involved.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health refers to a person's emotional, social, and psychological well being. One's level of mental health determines how they handle stress, relate to others, and make decisions. It also refers to one's self awareness and belief in their abilities, ability to work productively, and ability to be a positive part of a community or group.

Typically, the term mental health encompasses the biological component of this aspect of wellness (versus behavioral health, which is more related to environmental or emotional abnormalities). Mental health is also the absence of a mental illness. Those who are well balanced, independent, and contribute to society are considered mentally healthy. Those who aren't are considered to be mentally unhealthy, and may require mental health services.

What is Mental Illness?

A mental illness causes suffering or difficulty with normal functioning. Mental illnesses affect one's thinking, mood, and/or behavior negatively. Different types of mental illness can cause poor decision making, inability to maintain close personal relationships, or an inability to remain stable and maintain a job. Those with common mental disorders may also be dangerous to themselves or to others.

Although many individuals may experience mental health concerns from time to time, a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when pervasive symptoms cause continual stress, thus affecting one's capacity to function normally. Mental health issues cause stress and disruption in one's life, and this often makes it difficult for mental illness sufferers to lead fulfilling, normal lives. Those battling mental illness may become depressed and withdrawn, or they may make decisions that other people find illogical. Those closest to the sufferer may be the first to recognize that they have a mental illness or one of the types of mental disorders.

The mental health conversation is very important to me. I have friends that struggle with various types of mental illness. I've struggled with depression and anxiety. I'm very interested in how we deal with that. - Matthew Quick

Examples of Common Mental Health Disorders

Addiction disorders (alcohol/drug, internet, gambling)
Anxiety disorder (stress/panic disorder)
Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive)
Depression (depressive disorder, dysthymia)
Eating disorder (bulimia, anorexia)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Personality disorder (antisocial, narcissistic)
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

For those who do have a mental illness, there are many treatment options. Some conditions may be curable, and others may be lifelong conditions. However, proper treatment can improve nearly all mental health conditions.

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Causes of Mental Illness: Mental Disorders

What causes mental illness? Though some causes of mental illness remain unknown, those that have been identified tend to be complex and vary depending on the individual and the disorder. Biological, environmental, and psychological factors can all contribute to the development and progression of mental disorders. In fact, most mental illness causes are not related to a single factor, but the result of a variety of factors.

Certain mental disorders have specific risk factors. For example, depression can be triggered by adverse life events, unfair parental treatment, childhood trauma, discrimination, family estrangements, and bereavement, while marijuana use can precede psychosis and schizophrenia. In addition, child abuse, a pessimistic attitude, poor parenting, and familial history can prompt anxiety.

Biological Factors

Are mental disorders genetic? Genetics can be a contributing factor to mental disorders. Research on family-linkage and twins have shown that genetic circumstances often play a significant role in the development of mental illness. Also, the heritability of behavioral traits associated with a mental disorder may be greater in permissive versus restrictive environments, thus causing behavioral health risks.

Many professionals believe that the causes of mental disorders are typically grounded in the biology of the brain and nervous system. A biological factor is considered to be anything physical that produces an adverse effect on an individual’s mental health. This includes brain injuries and defects, chemical imbalances, exposure to toxins, genetics, infections, prenatal damage, and substance abuse.

See examples of biological factors below:

Prenatal Damage: When damage occurs to a fetus while in utero, it is deemed prenatal damage. For example, if a pregnant mother uses alcohol or drugs or is exposed to certain illnesses/infections, mental disorders may develop in the fetus;
Infection and Disease: Several mental disorders have been tentatively linked to microbial pathogens, especially viruses;
Injury and Brain Defects: The brain controls the entire body, including the nervous system. As a result, mental illness can be caused by any damage to it;
Chemical Imbalances: Chemical imbalances are often regarded as disorders of circuits in the brain. For example, when neurotransmitters in the brain are damaged, a mental illness can develop;
Substance Abuse: Any type of substance abuse, especially over a long period of time, can result in mental disorders. For example, alcoholism is linked to depression, while amphetamine and LSD use can result in anxiety and paranoia.

Environmental and Social Factors

Environmental factors are loosely defined in the mental health world because they are caused by stressors that a person must deal with in everyday life. They can range from having low self-esteem to financial issues. Environmental causes are more psychologically based, which makes them more closely related.

See examples of environmental factors below:

Life Events and Emotional Stress: This includes bouts of emotional stress experienced in childhood and adulthood, such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, bullying, and domestic violence. All have been linked to mental disorders;
Poor Parenting and Abuse/Neglect: Studies have found that an environment with lack of good and proper parenting is a risk factor for anxiety and depression, while bereavement and family separation are known risk factors for schizophrenia and psychosis;
Poverty: Studies have proven that the lower the socioeconomic status, the higher the risk of mental illness. Poor people are two to three times more likely to develop mental disorders than those in a higher income bracket;
Communities and Cultures: This includes migration, lack of social cohesion, poverty, and unemployment, all of which have been linked with the development of mental disorders;
Relationships: Though the exact impact is still being debated, relationship issues are contributors to the development of mental disorders.

Psychological Factors

Everyone reacts differently to psychological stressors. While some professionals believe that psychological characteristics are solely responsible for mental disorders, others believe that it is actually a mix of psychological and social factors.

See examples of psychological factors below:

Individual Stressors: Psychological stressors, which can trigger mental illness, are as follows: emotional, physical or sexual abuse, loss of a significant loved one, and neglect;
Inability to Relate to Others: Known as emotional detachment, this person cannot empathize or share their own feelings. They may attempt to apply logic or rationalize a situation in which there is no logical explanation;
Mental Characteristics: Mental characteristics, which are assessed by psychological and neurological studies, have been linked to the development and progression of mental illnesses. This includes how a person feels, perceives, or thinks about certain things.

Adult with mental health concerns

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signs & symptoms

Signs of Mental Illness

What are the symptoms of mental illness? Today, one-half of all mental illness begins by age 14; and 75% starts by age 24. Learning about progressing symptoms, or early warning signs, and taking action is crucial. Signs and symptoms of mental illness is diverse, depending on the circumstances, illness, and various other factors. Mental illness symptoms can influence thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Mental disorder symptoms are broad and can affect mood, thinking, as well as one's ability to interact with others.

Examples of common signs and symptoms of mental illness include withdrawal, depression, drop in functioning, problems thinking, feeling disconnected, nervousness, and changes in sleep or appetite.

How to know if you have a mental illness? It is of utmost importance to pay attention to sudden changes in thoughts, habits, and behaviors. Below are common indicators of the possible presence of a mental illness; also, it is worth mentioning that it is the onset of multiple symptoms, and not just any one change, is a better indicator that a problem exists and should be evaluated.

I had some experience in dealing with people who have mental illness and depression, but I didn't see the signs in myself. I couldn't ask for help because I didn't know I needed help. - Clara Hughes

Signs of Mental Illness In Adults

What are signs of mental illness? Symptoms of mental illness in adults vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. An attempt to know the difference between "expected behaviors" and what may be "warning signs" of mental illness isn't easy. Unfortunately, outside of professional help, there's no easy way to know if there is a mental illness; or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of an adult or the result of a physical illness.

Some general signs and symptoms in adults and young adults may include:

  • Depression/sadness: prolonged depression (sadness or irritability), significant tiredness or low energy
  • Alcohol or drug abuse: excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Mood changes: extreme mood changes of highs and lows, crying spells, excessive anger or hostility
  • Withdrawal: social withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Changes in sleep: dramatic changes in sleeping habits, problems sleeping, or insomnia
  • Problems thinking: confused thinking, reduced ability to concentrate, or denial of obvious problems
  • Nervousness: excessive fear, worry, anxiety, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Diminished sex drive: increasing lack of interest or desire for intimacy or sex
  • Feeling disconnected: trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Changes in appetite: major changes in eating habits, overeating, or loss of appetite
  • Decrease in functioning: increasing inability to cope with daily problems, activities or stress
  • Confused/Illogical thinking: detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Increased sensitivity: heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch

Often, symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as:

  • Stomach pain
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments

Signs of Mental Illness In Children and Teens

Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most noticeable symptoms are behavioral. Your knowledge and ability to take action can make a real difference in a child's life. Research confirms that if early signs of mental illness are left untreated, mental health issues can grow worse over time and are likely to affect school performance, social and emotional life, as well as future events.

Symptoms in adolescents and children may include:

  • Teens and Pre-Teens
    • Depression: prolonged sadness, long-lasting negative mood, or thoughts of death
    • Academics: changes in school performance, falling grades
    • Defiance: defying authority, skipping school, stealing, or damaging property
    • Substance abuse: excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol
    • Withdrawal: withdrawing from friends, socializing, and activities
    • Body Image: intense fear of gaining weight or changes in eating habits
    • Sleep: changes in sleeping habits, oversleeping, or insomnia
    • Mood: frequent outbursts of anger or crying
    • Coping: inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Younger Children
    • Hyperactivity
    • Persistent nightmares
    • Persistent disobedience and/or aggressive behavior
    • Frequent temper tantrums
    • Changes in school performance
    • Excessive worry or anxiety

It is crucial to understand that one or two of these isolated signs won’t predict the presence of a mental illness. However, if someone you know is undergoing several at one time; and the symptoms are causing serious problems with their ability to study, work, or relate to others, he or she should be seen by a mental health professional.

Children may be resilient and they have been able to deal with all sorts of difficulties they have faced, but the bottom line is, I believe very strongly children need a mother and a father in the home. - Timothy Murphy
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Mental Health Treatment

How to help someone with mental illness? A proper diagnosis and follow-up treatment is essential to helping a loved one with mental illness. The treatment depends on the type of mental illness one has, its severity, and what works best for the sufferer. In many cases, a combination of treatments works best. Choosing the right mix of treatments and supports that work is an important step in the recovery process.

If you have a mild mental illness with well-controlled symptoms, treatment from one health care provider may be sufficient. However, often a team approach is appropriate to make sure all your psychiatric, medical and social needs are met. This is especially important for severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

Your treatment team may include your: Family or primary care doctor, Nurse practitioner, Physician assistant, Psychiatrist, a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illnesses, Psychotherapist, such as a psychologist or a licensed counselor, Pharmacist, Social worker, or Family members.

Psychological treatments: Many kinds of psychotherapies exist. There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach. In addition, some therapies have been scientifically tested more than others. Psychotherapies can be adapted to the needs of children and adolescents, depending on the mental disorder.

Common mental illness treatment approaches are listed below:

Psychotherapy (talk therapy): psychotherapy, or "talk therapy", is a way to treat people with a mental disorder by helping them understand their illness.
Cognitive Therapy (CT): CT focuses on a person's thoughts and beliefs, and how they influence a person's mood and actions, and aims to change a person's thinking to be more adaptive and healthy.
Behavioral Therapy: behavioral therapy focuses on a person's actions and aims to change unhealthy behavior patterns.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the blend of Cognitive Therapy (CT) and Behavioral Therapy, helping a person focus on his or her current problems and how to solve them.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy: dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a form of CBT, was originally developed to treat people with suicidal thoughts and actions.
Interpersonal Therapy: interpersonal therapy (IPT) is most often used on a one-on-one basis to treat depression or dysthymia (a more persistent but less severe form of depression).
Family-focused Therapy: family-focused therapy (FFT) was developed for treating bipolar disorder. It was designed with the assumption that a patient's relationship with his or her family is vital to the success of managing the illness.
Brain Stimulation Therapies: although less common, brain stimulation therapies involve activating or touching the brain directly with electricity, magnets, or implants to treat depression and other disorders (more about brain stimulation therapy).

Although there are countless more types and forms of therapeutic treatment for mental illness, it is common for troubled teens and struggling young adults to undergo temporary stays in hospitals, inpatient residential treatment programs, and/or outpatient rehabs and substance abuse treatment facilities. Many people diagnosed with mental illness achieve strength and recovery through participating in individual or group treatment for mental health.

Early diagnosis is so important because the earlier a mental illness can be detected, diagnosed and treatment can begin, the better off that person can be for the rest of his or her life. - Rosalynn Carter

Medications as Treatment

The two most common treatments for mental health disorders are modern psychotherapy and prescription medications. Although treating yourself with over-the-counter medications for mental health issues can be very risky, it's recommended to have a trained mental health professional prescribe medication to treat a mental health condition.

Common medication types include:

Antidepressants: antidepressants are a class of drugs that reduce symptoms of depressive disorders by correcting chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Anti-Anxiety Medications: anti-anxiety medications can be very effective, but they shouldn’t be thought of as a cure. Anxiety medication can provide temporary relief, but it doesn’t treat the underlying cause of the anxiety disorder.
Stimulants: as the name suggests, stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy; and are prescribed to treat only a few health conditions, including ADHD, narcolepsy, and occasionally depression.
Antipsychotics: antipsychotic medicines are primarily used to manage psychosis. Also, antipsychotic medications are often used in combination with other medications to treat delirium, dementia, and other mental health conditions.
Mood Stabilizers: Primarily used to treat Bipolar disorder, mood stabilizers (lithium, antipsychotics, certain anticonvulsants, and sometimes benzodiazepines) are medicines that treat and prevent highs (manic or hypomanic episodes) and lows (depressive episodes).

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

In most cases, a mental illness won't get better if you try to treat it on your own without professional care. But you can do some things for yourself that will build on your treatment plan:

Avoid alcohol and drug use; using alcohol or recreational drugs can make it difficult to treat a mental illness.
Stay active; exercise can help you manage symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety.
Learn to adopt a positive attitude; focusing on the positive things in your life can make your life better and may even improve your health.
Stick to your treatment plan; don't skip therapy sessions. And even if you're feeling better, don't skip your medications.
Don't make important decisions when your symptoms are severe. Avoid decision-making when you're in the depth of mental illness symptoms.
Determine priorities; You may reduce the impact of your mental illness by managing time and energy.

Find a mental health professional in your area

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Mental Health Professionals

What is a mental health professional? A mental health professional is a health care practitioner or community services provider providing services and therapeutics for the purpose of improving an individual's mental health or to treat mental illness. There are many types of mental health professionals; and finding the right one for you may require some research.

Below is a List of Common Types of Mental Health Treatment Professionals

    • Psychoanalyst: psychoanalysts follow Sigmund Freud's theories that painful childhood memories contained in the unconscious are the cause of emotional disturbances.
    • Clinical Psychologist: psychologists are usually doctoral-degree professionals (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) trained to provide professional counseling on psychological and emotional issues.
    • Clinical Social Worker: according to 
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness, Clinical social workers have a master’s degree in social work and are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group counseling, case management and advocacy.
  • Licensed Professional Counselor: a licensed professional counselor with a masters degree in psychology, counseling or a related field. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
  • Mental Health Counselor: a counselor with a masters degree and several years of supervised clinical work experience. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
  • Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor: counselor with specific clinical training in alcohol and drug abuse. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling.
  • Marriage & Family Therapist: marriage & family therapists are counselors with a masters degree, with special education and training in marital and family therapy.
  • Psychiatrist (can prescribe medication): psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in the treatment of mental, emotional, or behavioral problems.

Mental health professionals near me? Below, you can find a list of local professionals to help you. Choosing the right doctor and/or therapist for your mental health needs may seem like a daunting task. But, finding the right doctor is an important step towards getting proper treatment.

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