Do You Have A Mental Illness?

Mental health and mental illness are not the same medical condition. Treatments for mental illness are highly effective.

People often use the terms mental health and mental illness interchangeably, but just as with any other medical condition, you are healthy or you are ill. It is a serious mistake to call it a mental health issue when someone has a mental illness. They are sick. It is real, and because people do not understand the difference, it can interfere with proper treatment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), mental illness and mental health are related psychological states that fall along a spectrum. Mental illness is defined as having health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof), are associated with distress and/or impair daily functioning. Mental health is a state of well-being.  The individual can cope with the normal stress of life, works productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.  Someone who is experiencing a mental illness is not in good mental health.

If you have a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life, you may well have a mental illness. You are not alone. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, at least one in five people have a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that serious psychological distress, such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder and post traumatic stress disorder affected 24 million adults over the age of 18 in 2007. The CDC estimates that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease.

The good news is that treatments for mental illnesses are highly effective. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that with adequate treatment, 70 – 90 percent of seriously mentally ill individuals will have a significant reduction in symptoms and a greatly improved quality of life if they seek professional care.

The bad news is that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, barely more than half the people in need of treatment ever get it. The reasons are manifold: The affected person is weak, has a character flaw, or is not trying hard enough; mental illness is not real; seeking treatment means giving in. None of these are accurate and in fact could be harmful.

October 7 – 13 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, established in 1990 to raise awareness of the importance of treating people with mental illness. Make no mistake: Mental illness is a medical illness. It does not discriminate, affecting all ages, race groups, genders and economic situations. Mental illness crosses the swath of society.

More information on mental illness can be found on the National Alliance for Mental Illnesswebsite.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness, seek professional treatment.  Great strides have been made. Have hope. With proper treatment, changes to your life or that of a loved one can be made. It is possible to lead a productive, happy life.


Janet Isdaner, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Director of Social Work & Transitional Living Programs
Silver Hill Hospital

We look forward to your comments on this and all Silver Hill Hospital posts. 

Silver Hill Hospital’s blog is intended only to provide information; it is not intended to provide diagnosis or treatment. If this is an emergency, please call 911.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Glen K Dunbar October 09, 2012 at 03:03 PM
So, what is the solution if I may politely ask? Suppose a person is depressed by REAL life issues? They need those issues resolved. NOT treatment to just accept it. I have noticed that society and especially this town and around here (NO disrespect, just an observation) tend to go w/the tough love route. this is WRONG. People who are depressed need TLC Love and understanding. NOT a kick in the pants like people do to me at times...most times. GLEN
Sigurd Ackerman, MD October 09, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Glen, Thank you for you comment. Dr. Ackerman's May 16 post "Mental Illness Need Not Be Stigmatized" discusses this exact issue. I encourage you to read the entire post. Here is an excerpt you may find interesting: The ease that comes with familiarity [of those who are mentally ill] is something that each of us can work on. It is often very clear when someone is depressed or has a thinking problem. It is often very clear that someone has trouble behaving in socially conventional way, evidently because of some form of illness. In these situations we tend to avoid interacting with someone who, after all, may seem strange and perhaps frightening. But think of this: Inside that strange being is a person – a person who is more like you than different from you, with hopes and fears similar to yours, who may be struggling but who is also aware of being shunned, a person with his or her own humanity. If you know the person you might try saying hello, or smiling or acknowledging him or her in some way. You might ask how they are doing. You might, in other words, treat them as a person. With some simple generosity of spirit on your part you may soon have this unexpected benefit -- that mental illness doesn't seem so frightening anymore. With the comfort that comes with familiarity you may be helping yourself as well as someone else and may be contributing your small part to diminishing the stigma and fear still associated with mental illness.
Patrick Barnard October 09, 2012 at 05:28 PM
"The bad news is that according to the National Institute of Mental Health, barely more than half the people in need of treatment ever get it. The reasons are manifold: The affected person is weak, has a character flaw, or is not trying hard enough; mental illness is not real; seeking treatment means giving in. None of these are accurate and in fact could be harmful." Not to mention there's 50 million Americans with no health insurance who can't afford to see a professional...
NewCanaanVoter October 09, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Note that NIMH counts any 'treatment', not just evidence based medicine. So you could be given SSRIs and that would still count.
Alex Tytler October 10, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Most mental illness is never treated effectively, because its untreatable.
Peggy Lee October 11, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Alex, you are incorrect that most mental illness is untreatable. That is just not the case today. Most mental illness is treatable with medications which may not be for a lifetime--less than a year to several years. With therapy and healthy living, supported by the RIGHT medication, a majority of the 1 in 6 Americans effected by mental illness can lead normal, productive lives. There are also cases of short-term mental illness like depression caused by major life stress or trauma. It may be helpful or necessary to seek medical attention (short-term) meds, etc. in such cases, which are generally temporary, but can have the same symptoms as clinical depression. Alex, most mental illness is as treatable as diabetes.
Alex Tytler October 11, 2012 at 12:00 PM
The science is pathetically primative. Many if not most who are considered "treated" are not in fact well. They are different but not well.
Glen K Dunbar October 11, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Thanks for writing back Sig. You seem like a real nice guy. Wish I could afford to go to your Hospital to get well. But, I doubt the tax payers would pay the tab :( Pat: Not trying hard enough>?? I have to politely critique that. If a person is ill as I am they have no energy to fight this. It is NOT their/my fault we are emotionally ill. They system NEEDS to step in and help us. But, they do NOT Peggy and Alex: I see both points. I think it can be overwhelming. It can be treatable. I agree Peggy. Most people who are depressed like I am have real life issues that need to be solved FOR them. Moreover, lack of love, attention and affection and deeply scar a person. I would never wish my plight on anyone. It is a curse I have had all my life. yet, I am holding on best I can. GLEN
Lorna October 11, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Glen, thank you for your candor, and I hope your good days far outnumber your tough ones. Pat was just quoting from the article -- I don't think he agreed with that sentiment, as he pointed out how so many citizens can't afford help because they don't have health insurance. Wonder if this will cross people's minds on Election Day?
Glen K Dunbar October 11, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Thanks Lorna. Yea, I know the health insurance "system" is a mess. Honestly and politely. No citizens life is going to dramaticly change not matter who wins the election. There will always be a health insurance issue no matter what from what I see. Same w/any other issue out therer As for my good days??? Honestly...I really have none. I have never known what the term "happy" is or means. I must admit. I guess I dug myself in a hole. I can't blame those around me much as I like to. (don't tell them that LOL) But, I am miserable most all my days. Once in a while I will get a relief and so called happy moment. But, I do not ever see Glen as ever being happy. Too old (51) I am too emotionally ill and done too much damage too. thanks for being concerned though GLEN
Four Jacks October 11, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Even if you have insurance, the coverage for therapy is minimal, you get better coverage if you slit your wrists.
Faith Filiault December 12, 2012 at 06:14 PM
This is a wonderful topic and I hope you don't mind if I link to it from my blog (Advocate with Faith). Children with Mental Health Illness are entitled to educational modifications, and I will post information regarding this.


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