What Is a mental illness?
Mental illness is a term that refers
to a group of disorders that impact on a person's thoughts,
behaviour and emotions, causing significant distress and reduced
abilities to cope with everyday life.
Examples, of mental illnesses include depression, anxiety
disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders. A mental
illness can vary from mild and temporary, to severe and
Generally a mental health issue can be overcome by internal coping
tools and support from others. A mental illness is more severe and
requires professional treatment and support. It will often cause
- Coping with stress, anger and other emotions
- performing daily activities e.g. cooking, cleaning, personal
- Undertaking family responsibilities
- Finding and retaining employment
- Having healthy relationships with others
- Structuring the day.
What causes mental Illness?
The causes are thought to be biological or genetic factors that
create vulnerability, or predispostion, to mental illness. Events
in life such as chronic stress, major changes or drug use may
trigger a mental illness when a person is predisposed to mental
Classes of mental illness
There are several main classes of mental illness.
Mood disorders are those that change how
you feel, such as persistent sadness or feelings of euphoria. They
include major depression and bipolar disorder.
Anxiety disorders involve anxiety that is out
of proportion to what is normally considered anxiety-provoking.
Examples include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder,
specific phobias and generalized anxiety disorder.
Substance-related disorders include problems
associated with the misuse of alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and
Psychotic disorders impair our sense of
reality. The most notable example of is schizophrenia, although
other classes of disorders can be associated with psychosis at
Cognitive disorders influence your ability
to think and reason. They include delirium, dementia and memory
problems. Perhaps the most well-known of these disorders is
Developmental disorders cover a wide range
of problems that usually first begin to make themselves known in
infancy, childhood or adolescence. They include Autism,
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning
Personality disorders are an enduring
pattern of inner experience and behaviour that is dysfunctional and
leads to distress or impairment. Examples include borderline
personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
Other disorders is a group including
disorders of impulse control, sleep, sexual functioning and eating.
Also included are dissociative disorders, in which a person's sense
of self is disrupted, and somatoform disorders, in which there are
physical symptoms in the absence of a clear physical cause, such as
Mental illness & brain injury
Mental illness can occur at the same time as a brain injury and
is known as dual diagnosis or co-morbidity. A mental illness may
have been present prior to a brain injury or a person may have a
history of mental illness prior to acquiring a brain injury.
According to a recent publication released by the Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare, 42% of people with a brain injury
surveyed had a psychiatric disability.1 Research has
indicated that traumatic brain injury is linked to the development
of mental illness.2
Separating the symptoms of a mental illness and an acquired
brain injury is a difficult task. The symptoms of ABI and a mental
illness can be extremely similar, causing problems for diagnoses
and therefore access to appropriate treatment.
A mental illness may be developing after brain injury if there
- A gradual decline in ability to perform everyday tasks
- Decline in ability to cope with every day stressors
- Increased behavioural issues e.g. anger, frustration,
- Exaggeration of the effects of the acquired brain injury.
If a mental illness is suspected it is important to seek advice
from a qualified mental health professional or local GP.
References and further information