Mental Illness

Common Mental Health Issues and Illnesses

Just as physical health is important, so is good mental health. Millions of Americans suffer from various types and degrees of mental health problems. Listed below are some of the more common mental health issues that affect children, adolescents and adults.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are characterized by inattentiveness, hyperactivity, impulsive behaviors, and an inability to concentrate. Symptoms may begin in childhood and continue into adulthood. ADHD and ADD can cause problems at home, school, work, and in relationships.

Anxiety Disorders: 

Anxiety is a normal human emotion. When it escalates into panic attacks, phobias or chronic worries which disrupt normal activities, it may be an anxiety disorder. There are excellent treatments for anxiety disorders, including medication and psychotherapy.

Asperger’s and Autism:

Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively with others. Children with Asperger’s syndrome are often socially awkward and may display an all-absorbing interest in specific topics. Asperger’s syndrome is grouped within the broader spectrum of autistic disorders or pervasive developmental disorders.

These disorders all involve problems with social skills and communication. Asperger’s syndrome is generally thought to be at the milder end of this spectrum. While there’s no cure for Asperger’s syndrome, if your child has the condition treatment can help him or her learn how to interact more successfully in social situations.

Bipolar Disorder:

Bipolar disorder is a serious condition involving major shifts in mood, energy level, thinking, and behavior.  There may be extreme mood swings from depression to mania.  This condition used to be called manic depression. Bipolar disorder is very serious and can cause risky behavior, even suicidal tendencies.

Because the symptoms of bipolar disorder are similar to other conditions and can be different from person to person, a thorough evaluation by a mental health professional is necessary for diagnosis and treatment.

Cutting and Self-Injury:

Self-Injury is any deliberate, non-suicidal behavior that inflicts physical injury to a person’s own body which causes tissue damage or leaves marks. Self-injury is an unhealthy behavior used to cope with overwhelming emotions or distressing situations.

Cutting and self-injury are often secretive behaviors where the marks and scars are concealed from others. For more information about cutting and self-injury, click here.


Depression is a serious medical illness and affects many areas of your life. We all can feel “down in the dumps” or “blue” for a few days. When this goes on for more than a couple of weeks at a time, professional help may be needed. Even mild forms of depression may benefit from treatment. Depression can occur in people of all ages. Symptoms of depression include feeling sad, hopeless, worthless, or pessimistic.

There may also be changes in eating and sleeping patterns. Thoughts of death and suicide may also be present. Treatment for depression is effective and readily available.

Eating Disorders:

Eating disorders are characterized by severe changes in eating behavior, such as self-starvation, extreme overeating, binge eating and/or purging. These disorders may also include feelings of extreme concern/distress about body weight or shape. The emotional and physical consequences of eating disorders can be severe and even deadly.

Fortunately, treatment for eating disorders can be very effective. Treatment generally involves medical care and monitoring, psychotherapy, dietary intervention, and medication.

Grief and Loss:  Grief is a normal experience after the loss of a loved one.  Similar feelings may occur after other kinds of losses, including pets, loss of a relationship, a job, or health or physical abilities.  You may experience strong feelings of sadness, shock, anger, and guilt as a part of the grief process. These feelings are normal.

Accepting them and allowing yourself to feel them will allow you to heal over time. Denying or avoiding your feelings or “hurrying” the process may lead to unresolved grief which can trigger depression or other emotional issues.  Having support from friends and loved ones during the grief process is important. There are many other ways you can help yourself cope such as writing about your feelings and taking care of your physical health.

If the grief process leads to depression, inability to function, thoughts of suicide or persistent guilt feelings, seek help from a mental health provider.

Learning Disorders:

A learning disorder or learning disability is a problem in which a person has difficulty learning new information. The problem may be in the way the brain receives, processes, analyzes, or stores information. There are many types of learning disorders, including problems in the areas of motor skills, math, language, reading, or writing.

The process of diagnosing a learning disorder generally involves testing, history taking, and observation by a trained specialist.  Finding a reputable referral is important.  Start with your child’s school, and if they are unable to help you, ask your insurance company, doctor, friends, and family.

Specialists trained to perform and interpret psychological testing include clinical psychologists, school psychologists, and neuropsychologists.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD):

It’s not unusual for children — especially those in their “terrible twos” and early teens — to defy authority every now and then. They may express their defiance by arguing, disobeying, or talking back to parents, teachers, or other adults. When this behavior lasts longer than six months and is excessive compared to what is usual for the child’s age, it may be ODD.

ODD is a condition in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, hostile, and annoying behavior toward people in authority. The child’s behavior often disrupts the child’s normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at school.

Personality Disorders:

Personality disorders are a group of chronic psychological problems in which an individual displays behavioral patterns that interfere with relationships and day-to-day functioning. People with personality disorders have difficulty dealing with everyday stresses and problems, and they often have unsatisfactory relationships with others.

These conditions are generally present by late adolescence/early adulthood, and vary from mild to severe.  Borderline personality disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings, impulsive and risky behavior, stormy relationships, and an extreme fear of abandonment.  Dependent personality disorder is a condition in which a person displays an extreme dependence on others to make decisions and meet their emotional and physical needs.

There are several other types of personality disorders, including antisocial, narcissistic, avoidant and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders.  These disorders can be challenging to treat, but there is evidence that some forms of psychotherapy and medications can be very helpful.


Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses and to behave normally in social situations. People with schizophrenia may hear voices or see things that others don’t hear or see.

They may believe that others can hear their thoughts or want to harm them.  Treatment usually involves medication combined with counseling to manage the symptoms and effects of schizophrenia.