Mental Illness – An Introduction

Mental illness, a demon chasing us from the time immemorial, is said to affect one in four individual in general population. We have come across an age when the mentally ill people were out cast and kept in an asylum to an age where they are treated in a general hospital. I get a lot of questions from people whether these are real illness and if so what really is affected by them. So, to answer them; mental illness is a wide range of mental health conditions that affect our mood, thinking and behaviour and these can range from mild to severe depending on the type but a person with an untreated mental illness is unable to cope with daily routines of life.


It is a well-known fact of life that we become sad at times and become irritable at times. Some people might lose their loved ones or their property in different disasters like earthquake and react accordingly. But we do not diagnose them as mentally ill because most of them are able to cope with problems and become fine by themselves.

But sometimes people present with a set of symptoms for a longer duration and have significant socio-occupational dysfunction and these people are known to have a psychiatric illness. Some of the examples are depression, anxiety, psychosis, conversion disorder, mental retardation, substance use disorders etc.

When we talk to the common people it is understood that only the patients who are roaming around in road being disorganized with neglected self-care as mentally ill. This is only the tip of the iceberg because the major bulk of patient is at home and are not recognized because identifying symptoms of mental illness is a challenging task. Some of the symptoms that suggest underlying mental illness are sadness, decreased energy, lack of pleasure, anxiety, palpitation, apprehension, headache, inability to concentrate, talking to self, false belief, suicidal thoughts, behaviour that cannot be explained, changes in sleep pattern, decreased appetite etc. If anyone has any of these symptoms it is advisable to see a psychiatrist.

There are different myths and concepts regarding the cause of mental illness. Some believe it is a result of a curse and some believe it is a result of some evil spirit. Among the educated population, there is a belief that personal, family and social stressor causes mental illness.

But when we look at the scientific facts the cause of the psychiatric illness is described in the biopsychosocial model. There are biological factors like hereditary, imbalance in neurochemicals present in the brain. Apart from that head injury, infections, side effects of drugs, brain cancer etc. are also biological factors for mental illness. The psychological factors like the inability to cope, stress, personality, childhood trauma etc. and social factors like social violence, disasters like earthquake, conflicts, wars predispose an individual towards mental illness. The major thing to remember here is the person must be biologically vulnerable to have an illness.

Almost all patients with mental illness can be treated and the patient can resume their lives as before. There are mainly two modalities of treatment of mental illness but always used in integration; pharmacological and non-pharmacological. Pharmacological part involves the prescription of medications (tablets and injections); is done by a psychiatrist. Non-pharmacological part involves counselling, psychotherapy, relaxation exercises, stress management etc. and is usually handled by a psychologist or psychiatrist.

To conclude there are a lot of myths about the mental illness and people frown upon when having to talk to them. But in a real sense, mental illness are similar to physical illness in every aspect. They have the causative factors, the symptoms, biological changes and medication to treat them. The bottom line is that if you or anyone you know is suffering from mental illness you should immediately seek help from a psychiatrist.

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