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Mental illnesses

What is mental illness?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

Anxiety Disorders

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental illnesses that cause people to feel excessively frightened, distressed, or uneasy during situations in which most other people would not experience these same feelings. When they are not treated, anxiety disorders can be severely impairing and can negatively affect a person’s personal relationships or ability to work or study. In the most severe cases, anxiety disorders can make even regular and daily activities such as shopping, cooking or going outside incredibly difficult. Anxiety disorders can further cause low self-esteem, lead to substance abuse, and isolation from one’s friends and family.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America: they affect around 20 percent of the population at any given time. Fortunately there are many good treatments for anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, some people do not seek treatment for their illness because they do not realize how severe their symptoms are or are too ashamed to seek help. Furthermore, these disorders are often difficult to recognize for friends, family and even some doctors.

What are the most common anxiety disorders?

Panic Disorder—Characterized by “panic attacks,” panic disorder results in sudden feelings of terror that can strike repeatedly and sometimes without warning. Physical symptoms of a panic attack include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, upset stomach, feelings of being disconnected and fear of dying. Some people with this disorder may experience unrealistic worry of having more panic attacks and become very ashamed and self-consciousness. This can result in some people feeling too afraid to go to certain places (e.g., airplanes, elevator), which can be very intrusive in their daily lives.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)—OCD is characterized by repetitive, intrusive, irrational and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (compulsions). Some people with OCD have specific compulsions (e.g., counting, arranging, cleaning) that they “must perform” multiple times each day in order to momentarily release their anxiety that something bad might happen to themselves or to someone they love. People with OCD may be aware that their symptoms don’t make sense and are excessive, but on another level they may fear that the thoughts have are having might be true.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—When people experience or witness a traumatic event such as abuse, a natural disaster, or extreme violence, it is normal to be distressed and to feel “on edge” for some time after this experience. Some people who experience traumatic events have severe symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, being very easily startled or scared, or feeling numb/angry/irritable/distracted. Sometimes these symptoms last for weeks or even months after the event and are so severe that they make it difficult for a person to work, have loving relationships, or “return to normal”. This is when a person may be suffering from PTSD. Many people with PTSD have difficulty discussing their symptoms because they may be too embarrassed or scared to recall their trauma. This is common in victims of sexual abuse and in combat veterans.

Phobias— A phobia is a disabling and irrational fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger for most people. This fear can be very disabling when it leads to avoidance of objects or situations that may cause extreme feelings of terror, dread and panic. “Specific” phobias center on particular objects (e.g., caterpillars, dogs) or situations (e.g., being on a bridge, flying in an airplane). Many people are very sensitive to being criticized and are ashamed of their phobias which can lead to problems with self-esteem.

What treatments are available for anxiety disorders?

Effective treatments for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy, aerobic exercise and medications. Some psychotherapy techniques known as behavioral therapies or cognitive behavioral therapies are most useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders and are referred to as “first-line treatments”. Cognitive behavioral therapy involves examining the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This is used to teach a person to address their fears by modifying the way he or she thinks and responds to stressful events. Relaxation techniques including mindfulness and meditation are also useful for people with anxiety disorders to decrease their stress and to help them cope with severe worrying.


In most cases, a combination of psychotherapy and medications is most beneficial for people with severe anxiety disorders.

The importance of having a good diet and getting enough sleep are known to decrease symptoms in people with anxiety disorders. Regular exercise has also been scientifically proven to be effective.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are some of the most challenging mental illnesses. Untreated eating disorders can result in severe medical complications and even death in certain cases.

What is depression?

Major depression is a mood state that goes well beyond temporarily feeling sad or blue. It is a serious medical illness that affects one’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, mood and physical health. Depression is a life-long condition in which periods of wellness alternate with recurrences of illness.


Many people experience “problems sleeping”. This can include “not getting enough sleep”, “not feeling rested”, and “not getting good sleep”.” This problem can lead to difficulties functioning during the daytime and have unpleasant effects on a person’s work-life, social-life, and family-life. Problems sleeping can be secondary to a medical illness (e.g., sleep apnea) or a psychiatric illness (e.g., depression). In addition to effecting sleep itself, many medical and psychiatric illnesses (including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder) can be worsened by sleep-related problems. Therefore it is important to discuss sleep with one’s physicians and to make an effort to get an appropriate amount of restful sleep on a nightly basis. Lifestyle choices, such as aerobic exercise and eliminating the use of caffeine and alcohol, are important and often overlooked aspects of improving sleep patterns.

Insomnia is an inability to get the amount of sleep needed to function efficiently during the daytime. It is caused by difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep or waking up too early in the morning.

Insomnia is rarely a “primary disease” meaning an isolated medical or mental illness but rather a symptom of another illness to be investigated by a person and their medical doctors. In other people, insomnia can be a result of a person’s lifestyle or work schedule.


Insomnia related to a mental illness

More than one-half of insomnia cases are related to depression, anxiety or psychological stress. Often the qualities of a person’s insomnia and their other symptoms can be helpful in determining the role of mental illness in a person’s insomnia. Early-morning wakefulness can be a sign of depression which may also be associated with poor energy, impaired concentration, depressed mood or “sadness”, and a change in appetite or weight. On the other hand, a sudden dramatic decrease in sleep which is accompanied by increase in energy, or the lack of need for sleep, may be a sign of mania, (e.g., bipolar disorder).


Excessive – pretiran

To impair – škodovati

Intrusive – vsiljiv

To startle – prestrašiti

Irritable – vzdražljiv

Avoidance – izogibanje

Dread – strah, groza

Self-esteem – samospoštovanje

Mindfulness – čuječnost

Schedule – urnik, načrt