Mental Illness

Mental illness is a psychological or behavioral disorder, characterized by impairment of the person's cognitive, emotional and mental capacity. If left untreated, mental problems can result in severe disadvantage. The condition can curtail the ability of the individual to live independently and develop his or her potential. The understanding and treatment of mental illnesses has changed over the centuries. In the Middle Ages, Christian teachings attributed the cause of mental and emotional deviations to magical or diabolical influences. Enlightenment scholars explained madness as a physical condition, resulting from moral responsibility. The development of psychoanalysis in the 20th century gave a deeper understanding of emotional illnesses and disorders.

Definitions of mental illnesses vary considerably from country to country, depending on the national law. The legal definition of mental disorders is sometimes subject of heated debate as the law has to regulate the appointment of a guardian to mentally ill patients to represent him or her and give proxy consent, also known as a substituted decision. Mentally ill patients may be also forced to go through involuntary treatment. In the U.K., the 1983 Mental Health Act groups mental problems into four categories: mental illnesses, mental impairment, severe mental impairment and psychopathic disorders. These definitions include learning disabilities and aggressive and irresponsible behaviors. Clinical classification of mental illnesses is governed by two leading international medical standards: the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases and the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), mental health is determined by socio-economic, biological and environmental factors. WHO data shows that more than 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental disorders. The number of those suffering from mental problems is much higher. Researchers have detected a set of symptoms relating to mental disorders. These include changes in the person's mood, cognitive processes and behavior. People suffering from mental illnesses often experience hallucinations, delusions and mood disorders. Frequently diagnosed mental disorders include dementia, delirium, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders as well as substance abuse disorders. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are classified as severe mental disorders. Patients with these disorders lose their sense of reality. Mental disorders are caused by social, psychological, biochemical or genetic factors. Other prerequisites for the occurrence of emotional illnesses may be infections or head traumas. With regard to social factors, W.H.O. has identified stressful working conditions, discrimination, unhealthy lifestyle, social exclusion and violence as risk factors for mental illnesses. A number of countries have adopted national mental health programs, which aim to deal with labor, justice, environmental and welfare issues in a bid to promote mental health. Mental health promotion requires special attention to be paid to vulnerable groups such as children, women, the elderly and minorities. Governments are trying to fight mental disorders via housing improvement programs, violence prevention initiatives and stress prevention programs.

Mental disorders interfere with people's lives and productivity because of prejudices toward these illnesses. Governments and non-governmental organizations put forward special efforts to remove the social stigma associated with mental problems. The unemployment rate among the mentally ill is much higher than the average for their social group. Treatment of mental disorders includes medication, counseling and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is an interpersonal treatment method applied by clinical psychologists. This therapy can take the form of cognitive behavioral therapy. Mental health professionals can apply psychoanalysis to deal with underlying psychological conflicts. Some cases require the use of family therapy. Medication includes several groups of medicines: antidepressants, anxiolytics, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and stimulants. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a method used in severe cases. Psychosurgery involves deep brain stimulation. Mental health professionals insist that peer support, self help and lifestyle changes can be crucial for the treatment of mental disorders. Some researchers even campaign for the role of food supplements in the treatment of such illnesses.

Mental Illness: Selected full-text books and articles

From Madness to Mental Health: Psychiatric Disorder and Its Treatment in Western Civilization By Greg Eghigian Rutgers University Press, 2010
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
The Dilemma of Federal Mental Health Policy: Radical Reform or Incremental Change? By Gerald N. Grob; Howard H. Goldman Rutgers University Press, 2006
Screening for Mental Illness: The Merger of Eugenics and the Drug Industry By Sharav, Vera Hassner Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer 2005
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Bring Back the Asylums? the Tragic Consequences of Deinstitutionalization By Nasrallah, Henry A Current Psychiatry, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2008
'Rip That Book Up, I've Changed': Unveiling the Experiences of Women Living with and Surviving Enduring Mental Illness By McKay, Elizabeth Anne British Journal of Occupational Therapy, Vol. 73, No. 3, March 2010
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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