Mental illness includes various kinds of mental and emotional disorders that differ in causes, symptoms and treatments. The disorders cause mild to severe disturbances in thinking, feeling and behaviour resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routine.
Mental illness can range from mild, short-term disorders to long-term and severe disorders that require prolonged treatment, and it can affect any person regardless of age, gender, income group or race.
According to a news report of Channel NewsAsia on 8 October 2006, Singapore has as many as 350,000 people suffering from some form of mental illness.
The most common ones are anxiety disorder and depression, and the numbers of sufferers are likely to go up with rapid changes and pressures in society.
Causes of mental illness
Mental illnesses are caused by a combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors.
Those with a family history of mental illness are more susceptible to the condition, as are those who have suffered traumatic events (e.g. sexual or psychological abuse, loss of a parent) as a child. Common environmental causes of mental illness include death of a loved one, family breakups or drug/substance abuse.
Types of mental illness
Mental illness can be broadly divided into two main groups. They are psychotic and non-psychotic illness. Psychotic illness covers schizophrenia, manic depressive psychosis and delusional disorder while non-psychotic illness covers anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, personality disorders and eating disorders.
Individuals with psychotic illness might see, hear, smell, taste and feel things, which are not there. They may also feel depressed, lose touch with reality and perceive life circumstances out of proportion.
Individuals with non-psychotic illness develop exaggerated forms of normal types of behaviour and feelings. They might feel uncontrollable anxiety, tension, fear and depression. They may also feel considerable personal distress resulting in difficulties coping with daily activities.
Treatment of mental illness
Mental illnesses are no different from physical illnesses. It has its own signs and symptoms, as well as treatment options. Early treatment can help a person’s condition to improve or, in some cases, recover completely.
Psychological treatments such as Counseling, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy are prescribed when the cause of the mental illness is due to the way the patient perceive or think about things. Such therapies are particularly effective for people with anxiety disorders and depression. They can reduce the distress associated with symptoms and can even help reduce the symptoms themselves.
For more serious cases, the use of drugs may be needed. There are three main types of medication to treat various types of mental illness. They are antidepressants medications, antipsychotic medications and mood stabilising medications.
One of the greatest challenges in addressing mental illness is ignorance and misconceptions about it. Mentally ill people in society are often deemed as ‘crazy’, ‘deformed’, or ‘weak’. The mass media also tends to portray mentally ill people in a negative light (e.g. dangerous/vengeful criminals). With greater awareness and understanding of the causes, symptoms and treatments of mental illness, the stigma of mental illness could be addressed more effectively.
Learn more about various mental illnesses