Mental illnesses or disorders can be defined as psychological patterns connected to distress or disability that do not belong to the normal development of a person. These patterns are reflected in how people behave: There is a correlation between people’s feelings, actions, thoughts and perceptions. Mental disorders are usually associated with specific parts and functions of the human brain or nervous system. Although there are standard criteria for definition, the classification of such illnesses is not uniform because of cultural differences.
It is reported that about a third of the world’s population states problems associated with mental illnesses at some point in their lives. But how are you diagnosed as being mentally ill? The diagnosis is generally made by a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist or a clinical socialworker who observes and questions clients. These services are offered by various institutions such as psychiatric hospitals or community centres while treatment is carried out by mental health specialists. The most common forms of treatment are psychotherapy and psychiatric medication, but also social interventions, peer support and self-help have shown significant success.
Mental illnesses are generally classified with the help of special systems, for example the International Classification of Diseases by the WHO and a manual by the American Psychiatric Association. However, there are also other methods, for example the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders. The most common groups of mental disorders are anxiety disorders such as phobias, mood disorders such as depression or mania, delusions and hallucinations including schizophrenia, personality disorders such as borderline or narcissism, eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, sleep disorders, sexual identity disorders, developmental disorders in children such as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorder in adults including psychopathy and sociopathy.
The causes for mental illnesses are varied: Generally speaking, it is not only one single cause but a plurality of causes that trigger a mental disorder. Moreover, the same disorder can have a different cause in another person. Biological psychiatry is of the opinion that mental illnesses stem from developmental problems in the human brain which are caused by genetic vulnerabilities. On the other hand, social influences like abuse or neglect are stated as an important factor.