About Mental Illness

Mental Illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a persons thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and/or daily functioning. Serious mental illnesses include major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizoaffective disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weaknesses, lack of character, or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses can and do affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income.

You are not alone!

One person in four is affected by mental illness. Mental illnesses are treatable and individuals do experience recovery.

Bipolar Disorder 

Bipolar disorder (manic depression) is a brain disorder involving episodes of mania and depression. It affects more than two million American adults. Effective treatments are available that greatly reduce the symptoms of bipolar disorder and allow people to lead normal and productive lives.

Depressive Illness 

Depressive Illness is not just a “case of the blues,” but a severe and persistent biological disease. The two most common types of Depressive Illness are Unipolar Disorder (characterized by deep prolonged depression) and Bipolar Disorder or Manic Depression (characterized by cycles of deep depression and inappropriate highs). Nearly 10 million Americans over 18 will have Major Depression during their lifetime and 1.3 million will have Manic Depressive Illness. Scientists believe that this illness can be genetically transmitted, meaning individuals can have a “biological susceptibility” to Depression.

Dual Diagnosis 

Dual diagnosis refers to the co-occurrence of mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders (alcohol and/or drug dependence or abuse). There are many combinations of these dual/multiple disorders.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 

Obsessions are intrusive, irrational thoughts. Compulsions are repetitive rituals. Obsessive-compulsive disorder occurs when an individual experiences obsessions and compulsions for more than an hour each day, in a way that interferes with his or her life. OCD can be treated with medicine and behavior therapy.

Panic Disorder 

A panic attack is an uncontrollable panic response to ordinary, nonthreatening situations. A person who experiences four or more panic attacks in a four week period is said to have panic disorder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. PTSD can result from personally experienced traumas (e.g., rape, war, natural disasters, abuse, serious accidents, and captivity) or from the witnessing or learning of a violent or tragic event.While it is common to experience a brief state of anxiety or depression after such occurrences, people with PTSD continually re-experience the traumatic event; avoid individuals, thoughts, or situations associated with the event; and have symptoms of excessive emotions. People with this disorder have these symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as they did before the traumatic event. PTSD symptoms usually appear within three months of the traumatic experience; however, they sometimes occur months or even years later.


Schizophrenia is a brain disease. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in 1990 “definitive evidence that Schizophrenia is a brain disease and that it involves more than genetic susceptibility.”Schizophrenia most often strikes young people between the ages of 16 and 25. More than 2 million Americans over 18 will have Schizophrenia during their adult lifetimes.People with Schizophrenia may experience hallucinations and delusions, where they cannot distinguish what is real and what is not. Schizophrenia is not multiple or “split” personality. It is inaccurate to refer to a “schizophrenic government,” or to make other uses unrelated to the illness itself.


Treatment for mental illness includes medication, counseling and therapy, and rehabilitation programs in hospitals or in the community. With good treatment, many people with mental illness can function in everyday society, hold responsible jobs, have families, go to school, have hobbies and enjoy life.

Families of people with mental illness face many stresses: financial burdens, emotional upheaval, and practical problems of living with someone who is seriously ill. Nearly 40% of persons with Schizophrenia live with their families. Families are not the cause of serious Mental Illness. Most can benefit from the support of other family members through self-help groups like those held by NAMI.

Violence among people with Mental Illness is not common. The mentally ill are more frequently the victims of crime than its perpetrators. Horror movies featuring stereotypical “psychotic killers” are not realistic depictions of persons suffering from Mental Illness.

Stigma means “damage to a reputation.” It is the subtle and not-so-subtle shame and ridicule our society places on Mental Illness. Stigma keeps Mental Illness in the closet. It prevents people from seeking treatment. It stifles funding for services and research. Stigma closes minds and fuels discrimination.

(Reprinted with permission from NAMI)