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~What Is Mental Illness?~


(Updated 11/1/15)


Mental illness is a disease of the brain. It is no different from diabetes or other diseases that affect specific organs of the body. The difference is that with mental illness, the organ affected happens to be the brain. By altering the brain's chemistry, mental illness affects things the brain controls, like a person's mood, his thoughts and his perception of the world around him.

Mental illness touches one in five families in America. About one in every four adults, 18 years of age and older, has some kind of mental disorder. One in 17 suffers from a serious mental illness.

~Three examples of serious mental illnesses~


Symptoms include persistent feelings of sadness or irritability, changes in appetite or sleeping habits and difficulty concentrating. If not treated, depression can lead to suicide.

Bipolar Disorder

Also called manic depression, bipolar disorder is marked by extreme swings in mood. In the manic phase, the person may feel either very happy or very irritable. He or she may go on spending sprees, make big plans, take risks and engage in excessive sex or drinking. The manic phase alternates with a depression phase.


This illness often starts in the teens or early twenties. People with the illness sometimes hear and see things that are not there or believe others can read their thoughts. Other symptoms include being unable to express emotion and having difficulty organizing one's thoughts.

No-one has yet found a cure for these illnesses. But they can be successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy and support from family and friends. In 70% to 90%, treatment can reduce the symptoms, increase ability to function and improve quality of life.

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