National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from NAMI Hennepin County

Mental Illness

About Mental Illness
Affective Disorders
Anxiety Disorders
Other Disabling Mental Illnesses
What Causes Mental Illness?
Can Mental Illness Be Prevented or Cured?
For More Information

About Mental Illness

Mental illnesses are treatable biological brain disorders that can affect a person's ability to think,feel,and relate to other people and the environment. Serious mental illness can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income.Mental Illnesses are not the result of personal weakness or lack of character. Common diagnoses include schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, and anxiety disorders.

Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability
(measured in lost years of productive life) in the

  • Almost 175,000 Minnesotans have a diagnosable mental illness, and 1 out of every 4
    families in the U.S.
  • The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective;
    between 70-90% of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved
    quality of life.  Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. 

    By getting people the treatment they need early, recovery is accelerated and allows
    the individual to achieve his/her highest level of recovery.
  • Without treatment, the consequences of mental illness for individuals and society
    are staggering:
    unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness,
    inappropriate incarceration, and suicide.
    The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion/year in the
  • Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. 
    We have allowed stigma for too long.  Consequently, we now have an unwarranted
    sense of hopelessness that has erected attitudinal, structural, and financial barriers
    to effective treatment and recover. 
    It is time to take these
     barriers down.

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Schizophrenia is one of the most disabling of the mental illnesses. It affects approximately
one in a hundred, men and women equally.   The onset is usually in the late teens or early
 People with this brain disorder typically experience several of the following symptoms:

Disconnected, confused language
Poor reasoning, memory, lack of judgment
High levels of anxiety
Eating and sleeping disorders
Deterioration of appearance and personal hygiene
Loss of motivation, poor concentration
Social withdrawal, isolation
Hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not externally real)
Delusions (persistent false beliefs, contrary to facts or without evidence)

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Affective Disorders

Affective disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses. 
They are also called mood disorders. Many cases go unrecognized and untreated.
The disorders may be Bipolar in which a person swings between high and low moods,
or Unipolar in which a person suffers from persistent severe depression.
Without proper medical treatment, such persons experience repeated or continuous
periods of illness and perhaps hospitalization. 
About 6% of the population suffers
from an affective disorder. 
 These disorders are major causes of suicide.

Persons diagnosed as having bipolar disorder cycle between manic and depressive phases,
and usually have several of the following characteristics during a manic phase:

Boundless energy, enthusiasm and need for activity
Decreased need for sleep
Grandiose ideas and poor judgment
Rapid, loud disorganized speech
Short tempered and argumentative
Impulsive and erratic behavior
Possible delusional thinking

Persons with Unipolar Depression, or the depressive phase of Bipolar disorder,
may have several of the following symptoms:

Difficulty sleeping
Loss of interest in daily activities
Loss of appetite
Feelings of worthlessness, guilt and hopelessness
Feelings of despondence or sadness
Inability to concentrate
Possible psychotic symptoms
Suicidal thoughts or actions

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Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders cause people to feel excessively frightened, distressed and uneasy
during situations where most others would not experience these symptoms.
Left untreated these disorders can dramatically reduce productivity and significantly
diminish an individual’s quality of life.
Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in
The most common diagnoses include:

  • Panic Disorder - sudden feeling of terror that strikes repeatedly without warning.
    Physical symptoms include chest pain, hear palpitations,
    shortness of breath, dizziness, feelings of unreality and fear of dying.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - repeated, unwanted thoughts that seem impossible
    to control. 
    Behaviors include counting, rearranging objects, excessive hand washing
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing trauma
    such as abuse, extreme violence or natural disasters.
    Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotion, depression, feeling angry,
    irritable, distracted and easily startled.
  • Phobias - disabling and irrational fears of something that poses little of no danger.
    The fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause extreme feelings of terror,
    dread and panic which can substantially restrict one’s life.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorders - chronic, exaggerated worries about everyday,
    routine life events and activities that last at least six months.

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Other Disabling Mental Illnesses

Schizoaffective Disorder
Dissociative Disorder
Personality Disorders

What Causes Mental Illness?

The causes of mental illnesses are not as well understood as other physical diseases,
but research is providing useful information on the function of neurotransmitters
and brain chemistry that is involved. 
Hereditary is a factor as it is in diabetes and cancer. 
Stress and use of “street” drugs may contribute to the onset of an illness in a person who is
already vulnerable.

Mental illnesses are treatable biological medical conditions, just like heart disease
and diabetes.  The shame and fear once associated with cancer have been largely dispelled
by accurate information and understanding.
The same will happen with brain diseases-mental illnesses- once the facts are known and shared.
Until that time the stigma of mental illness will continue to keep people from seeking treatment
and serve to exasperate the suffering a person experiences due to their illness.

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Can Mental Illness Be Prevented or Cured?

Since the causes of serious mental illnesses are unknown, there is not effective form of prevention
at this time, nor cure. Treatment success rates are near 75% in effectively reducing symptoms
and improving a person’s quality of life.

For More Information

The National NAMI website. has extensive information on mental illness diagnosis
and related issues. 
The search feature at the top left of this site will link you directly to that information.
Additional sources of information on the web are listed in our LINKS section found in the menu on the left.

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