Common Mental Illnesses

“The below information on each illness has been taken directly from

Anxiety Disorders

Everyone experiences symptoms of anxiety, but they are generally occasional and short-lived, and do not cause problems. But when the cognitive, physical and behavioural symptoms of anxiety are persistent and severe, and anxiety causes distress in a person’s life to the point that it negatively affects his or her ability to work or study, socialize and manage daily tasks, it may be beyond the normal range.

The six main categories of anxiety disorders are:

  • phobias
  • panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia)
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • acute stress disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder

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Bipolar Disorder

Everyone has ups and downs in mood. Feeling happy, sad and angry is normal. Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness, is a serious medical condition that causes people to have extreme mood swings. These swings affect how people think, behave and function.

Bipolar disorder typically consists of three states:

  • a high state, called mania
  • a low state, called depression
  • a well state, during which the person feels normal and functions well

One to two per cent of adults have bipolar disorder. In adolescents and young adults, the symptoms may be less typical and may be mistaken for teenage distress or rebellion. Men and women are affected equally. In some women, bipolar disorder may appear during pregnancy or shortly after it. In this case, symptoms of depression are more common than symptoms of mania.

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Depression is much more than simple unhappiness. Clinical depression, sometimes called major depression, is a complex mood disorder caused by various factors, including genetic predisposition, personality, stress and brain chemistry. While it can suddenly go into remission, depression is not something that people can “get over” by their own effort.

Types of depression

  • Seasonal affective disorder: This type of depression is usually affected by the weather and time of the year.
  • Postpartum depression: This occurs in women, following the birth of a child. About 13 per cent of women will experience this type of depression.
  • Depression with psychosis: In some cases, depression may become so severe that a person loses touch with reality and experiences hallucinations (hearing voices or seeing people or objects that are not really there) or delusions (beliefs that have no basis in reality).
  • Dysthymia: This is a chronically low mood with moderate symptoms of depression.

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Eating disorders

Eating disorders are a range of conditions involving an obsession with food, weight and appearance. This obsession negatively affects people’s health, relationships and day-to-day living. To be diagnosed with an eating disorder, a person must have both disordered eating and psychological disturbance.

About 90 per cent of people diagnosed with eating disorders are girls and women; however, boys and men are increasingly being diagnosed. Eating disorders typically begin during adolescence.

The DSM IV recognizes two types of eating disorders:

  • anorexia nervosa: People with anorexia have an intense and irrational fear of gaining weight and having body fat. They are obsessed with being thin. They may believe they are fat, even when they are well below the normal weight for their height and age.
  • bulimia: People with bulimia go through cycles of bingeing and purging. Bingeing involves eating large amounts of food quickly. This makes people feel physically ill and anxious about gaining weight. Then they will purge, which can involve vomiting, depriving themselves of food, over exercising or using laxatives and diuretics.

The DSM 5 (published in May, 2013) recognizes a third type:

  • binge eating disorder (BED): People with binge eating disorder overeat compulsively, consuming huge amounts of food, often all at once. Like the other disorders, people with BED often feel out of control and powerless to stop the behaviour.

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Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health problem. People with schizophrenia can have a range of symptoms including periods when they cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Schizophrenia seriously disturbs the way people think, feel and relate to others.

About 1 person in 100 develops schizophrenia. Men and women are affected equally; however, men tend to have their first episode of schizophrenia in their late teens or early 20s. For women, the onset is usually a few years later. In most cases, the symptoms develop gradually. In some cases the onset is rapid.

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