When life becomes challenging, it is common to experience emotional shifts that can cause a range of negative feelings; stress, worries or fears, sadness, and anger are just some natural reactions to stressful situations. These emotions are not always bad. They can even inspire us to make changes that improve our outlook on our lives. Sometimes, though, a person can feel “stuck” in their negative emotions and experience such profound distress that they begin to have difficulty functioning.
Mental health professionals often meet people when their day-to-day functioning has become impacted by these negative feelings, and their job is to determine whether the person they are treating suffers from a mental health condition. But what is a mental health condition? What different types are there? And what types of treatment are there to help improve a person’s ability to function?
Mental health conditions, also known as mental health disorders or illnesses, affect a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior or mood. They deeply impact day-to-day living and may also affect the ability to relate to others. The way a mental health professional will determine whether or not a person is experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition is to identify if they are struggling in the following areas:
Mental health conditions take many forms, often involving some deterioration of a person’s ability to care for themselves. Here are a list of common mental health conditions and their possible symptoms:
When someone has a mood disorder, they experience fluctuating emotional states that are not consistent with the current circumstances in their life and this inconsistency impacts their ability to function in the areas mentioned above.
A person that experiences this kind of mental health condition may have periods where they feel stuck in a sad, irritable, or hopeless mood. They may also find that their mood can shift from sad, irritable, and hopeless to excessively happy in ways that they often feel are beyond their control.
Depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and others all involve major shifts in mood and behavior that impacts a person’s ability to connect with others and complete expected daily tasks.
Those who struggle with anxiety disorders experience persistent worry or fear that impacts their everyday life.
Many report being unable to control their worries or fears, even if they know that they are irrational. People who experience anxiety often experience tension, stress, and ruminating thoughts that decrease their ability to function and complete tasks throughout the day.
Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and others are all conditions that are categorized under anxiety disorders and can cause a person to experience a significant amount of distress.
Personality disorders occur when a person experiences persistent unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving that are rigid and significantly difficult to change.
This thought and behavior process can lead to difficulties understanding and relating to situations and people in a healthy way.
Conditions that fall under personality disorders include paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and others.
Psychotic disorders are severe mental health conditions where a person will have abnormal thought processes and perceptions about themselves and their surroundings.
People who experience these mental health conditions often “lose touch with reality” and experience delusions, hallucinations, and other symptoms that can cause a person to become unable to care for themselves.
Schizophrenia and more severe types of bipolar disorder are common types of psychotic disorders.
Eating disorders can often cause a person to have unhealthy thought patterns related to their body image and eating that involves them engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors to attempt to change their perspective on themselves, only to result in damaged health.
Anorexia nervosa, Bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and rumination disorder are all common types of eating disorders.
When someone experiences an event that is distressing or traumatizing, they can often experience lasting symptoms of distress that is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD symptoms often involve persistent fear and reminders of scary events from someone’s past and physiological symptoms like hypervigilance (being easily startled or “jumpy”), avoiding reminders of the events of the past, engaging in risk-taking behaviors, or experiencing excessive irritability.
A person may be experiencing a substance use disorder or dependence when they have an inability to limit their use of a particular substance; this lack of control impacts their ability to function in their social or occupational life.
Substance use or addiction can involve dependency on many things, including drugs, alcohol, pornography, and more.
Neurodevelopmental disorders are conditions that often begin early in development and cause impairments of a child’s ability to function in their personal, social, academic, or occupational lives.
These kinds of disorders can involve social skills impairments, learning disabilities, and overall struggles with attention and concentration that can be debilitating without some type of medication support and behavioral interventions.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and others are categorized as neurodevelopmental disorders.
If you read the above-mentioned mental health conditions and their symptoms and realize that you experience similar struggles that are impacting your quality of life, you may need to seek assistance from a trained mental health professional. It’s important to note that most mental health conditions have successful treatment options available that help people significantly improve their social functioning, occupational functioning, and self-care.
Finding a trusted mental health professional who can work with you to devise a treatment plan is the best way to experience relief and to be able to be successful in all areas of your life. Here are some of the ways mental health professionals can help improve symptoms of mental health conditions:
Therapeutic services are one of the most common and effective forms of treatment.
There are a variety of approaches that therapists use, all designed to help a person become more aware of how their thoughts affect their feelings, and how their feelings affect their behavior so they can begin to make moderate changes to improve their functioning.
Therapists often teach a person about how their brains work and help them identify and practice coping skills to improve their ability to tolerate negative emotions. Tools like mindfulness and meditation, identifying and changing negative thought patterns, and developing insight into where behavior patterns may have come from in their early life are all strategies therapists use to help a patient find relief.
With some mental health conditions, a person’s symptoms may be the result of chemical imbalances that cannot (alone) be treated with traditional therapy approaches.
Psychiatrists can often work with a patient to provide some medicinal support that can re-balance their chemical make-up, thus helping them to feel more regulated and more capable of using techniques taught in therapy.
Sometimes medication alone can help a person experience an increase in their functioning, though research does suggest that medication support in combination with therapy is usually the most effective at improving someone’s symptoms.
If a person experiences severe symptoms of mental health conditions, they may need to go to a hospital to get immediate support and relief.
If a person is experiencing mental health symptoms that cause them to feel like they want to hurt themselves or someone else, or if they’re experiencing significant amounts of dissociation that cause them to not be able to take care of themselves, they may need to get more acute assistance in a hospital. Hospitals will often place people on 72-hour holds where they will monitor them and assess their symptoms before setting them up with a treatment plan outside of a hospital setting.