Mental illness is a broad term for any condition that changes how someone thinks, feels, behaves or relates to other people and their surroundings. The causes of many mental illnesses are not known. Most are believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological and environmental factors.
Mental illness may run in a family. This may happen when certain changes in a gene or multiple genes increases a person’s risk for developing the condition. Then when other factors occur, the mental illness will develop. Biological factors may include certain infections, brain injury or defects, damage to the brain which occurs prenatally or during a pregnancy, long term substance abuse, poor nutrition or exposure to toxins. Psychological factors may include severe trauma such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse or witnessing or living through a traumatic event. Environmental factors may include social or cultural expectations (like being thin) or growing up in a dysfunctional home, but may also include exposure to certain toxins or experiences due to work or living conditions.
In any given year, about 20% of adults in the U.S. will experience a mental illness. Common mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and phobias. In addition, mental illnesses may cause substance use and eating disorders.
Mental illnesses require ongoing treatment for best results. Common treatments include medication and therapy, although different treatments are used for different disorders. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options. A genetic counselor can help discuss inheritance and risks to other family members. Support groups are also a good source of information and will help connect you with other individuals and families affected by mental illness.