SUPPORT: A Comprehensive Guide to Mental Illness

SUPPORT: A Comprehensive Guide to Mental Illness

By Drugwatch

Mental illnesses are medical conditions involving changes in behavior, thinking or emotions that interfere with a person’s ability to do daily tasks or care for themselves. Common mental health disorders include anxiety disorders and mood disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and ADHD. Other disorders include autism, borderline personality disorder, disassociate disorders, eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder, also known as OCD.

People diagnosed with serious mental illness typically need a combination of medication and talk therapy to get better.


More than 46 million Americans live with mental illness.

Mental illness isn’t the fault of the person diagnosed. It’s a medical problem, just like diabetes or heart disease, and it’s also common in the United States.

For some people, symptoms of poor mental health such as feeling lonely, being overwhelmed or worrying become more serious mental illnesses.

More than 46 million Americans live with mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s about 1 in 5 Americans, and 1 in 24 has a serious illness.

The good news is that mental illness is highly treatable. For example, more than 80 percent of people with depression get better after treatment. As many as 90 percent of people with panic disorders get better, according to Mental Health America.

Anxiety Disorders

These disorders are marked by severe fear or dread associated with certain situations or objects. Patients have physical reactions to these objects and situations, including rapid heartbeat and sweating. They cannot control their responses. With anxiety disorders, these feelings do not go away and can get worse. They can interfere with things like job performance, school and relationships. These disorders include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder marked by panic attacks. Symptoms include fast heartbeat, chest pain, trouble breathing and dizziness. Patients with panic disorder often report intense feelings of terror or impending doom associated with attacks. These attacks can happen without warning. Fear of these attacks can control a person’s life, even making it difficult to leave the home.


Phobias are irrational fears. For example, acrophobia is fear of heights and agoraphobia is fear of public places. Some people have social phobia or phobias involving tunnels, highway driving, water, animals or flying. Phobias can be treated with medication and therapy.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

This happens to some people who experience or witness a terrifying or traumatic event, such as a war, a bad accident or rape. PTSD is marked by flashbacks, feeling alone, sleep disturbances and angry outbursts. People with PTSD may have uncontrollable thoughts and intrusive memories about the event, and may avoid specific places, objects or events that bring about memories of the trauma. PTSD is treated with medications and psychotherapy. The therapist may pursue various treatment techniques.

Mood Disorders

These disorders involve changes in mood or disturbances. These typically involve depression or elation, also known as mania. These disorders are highly treatable. They include major depression and bipolar disorder.


More than 17 million Americans had at least one major depressive episode in 2018, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Symptoms persist and interfere with normal life.

Symptoms include:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in things the patient used to enjoy
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sleeping troubles
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Causes can be genetic, environmental or biochemical. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic increased global rates of anxiety and depression by 25 percent, according to a 2022 World Health Organization study. Treatment options include antidepressant medications and talk therapy.

Bipolar Disorder

Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder causes extreme emotional lows and highs in known as depression and mania. According to an article in JAMA, about 10 million adults and children in the U.S. have this condition.

While depression has symptoms of extreme sadness or worthlessness, mania manifests as extreme elation, jumpiness and overblown feelings of self-esteem.

A person will cycle back and forth between these moods. This cycling affects their ability to perform daily tasks. The length and severity of symptoms determines whether a person has bipolar I, bipolar II or cyclothymia.

People with bipolar I have severe symptoms of mania and depression. Those with bipolar II have more serious bouts of depression, but a lesser form of mania. People with cyclothymia have less severe symptoms of depression and mania, but symptoms are more chronic in nature.

Treating bipolar disorder can be tricky because traditional treatments for depression such as antidepressants can worsen symptoms of mania. The most effective treatment plans include atypical antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and psychotherapy.


Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects a person’s emotions, behaviors, concentration and perception of reality. This disorder is rarer than depression or anxiety, but it can be crippling.

Symptoms of this disorder fall into three categories: positive, negative and cognitive.

Positive symptoms include movement disorders, hallucinations and delusions, or fixed false beliefs. Negative symptoms include reduced feelings of pleasure in life, reduced speaking and difficulty beginning activities. Cognitive symptoms include trouble paying attention, problems processing information and difficulty understanding information and using it.

The main treatments for schizophrenia are antipsychotics and psychotherapy. Coordinated specialty care combines psychotherapy, medication, case management education, family involvement and employment services to help people live better lives.


People with ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, have symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. ADHD is usually diagnosed in children, but adults can also have the disorder.

Symptoms of ADHD include trouble staying organized, trouble focusing on tasks, restlessness, forgetfulness, excessive talking or difficulty paying attention to instructions and conversations.

People with ADHD may also have co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression or autism spectrum disorder.

For younger children, the first line of therapy should be behavior therapy, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This therapy teaches children how to control symptoms by changing behaviors. It focuses on positive reinforcement of “good” behaviors and improves social skills. Other types of therapy for ADHD are cognitive behavior therapy and parental skills training.

The typical medications for ADHD are called stimulants. These include drugs such as Adderall (amphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate). But these should be used with caution because they are controlled substances and can be habit-forming.

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