Mental Illness: Types, Causes, Possible Prevention, and Treatment

Mental health has been a big topic for discussion for many years now and with good reason. About one in five adults experience a mental illness sometime in their life. Here’s a look at different types of mental illness, causes, prevention, and treatment.

Types of Mental Illness

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are a group of disorders with the main symptom being anxiety that doesn’t go away and gets worse over time. Some of the most common anxiety disorders include:

  • Phobias: an intense fear of something that posed little to no danger
  • Panic Disorder: frequent panic attacks
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): excessive, every day worrying about ordinary issues.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a group of disorders that cause severe and dangerous thoughts about food and eating behaviors. Some of the most common eating disorders include:

  • Bulimia nervosa: characterized by periods of binge eating followed by purging
  • Binge-eating: the most common eating disorder in the U.S. where individuals eat past the point of feeling full
  • Anorexia nervosa: the least common, but most serious eating disorder where individuals severely restrict or completely avoid food

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders are a group of disorders that affect a person’s everyday emotional state. Some of the most common mood disorders include:

  • Depression: characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, and/or hopelessness; loss of interest in favorite activities; and extreme tiredness
  • Bipolar Disorder: a group of disorders characterized by extreme mood swings (manic and depressive episodes)

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are a group of mental illnesses that involve long-term patterns of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Some of the most common personality disorders include:

  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: a condition in which people have an unusually high sense of their own importance and abilities
  • Borderline Personality Disorder: a disorder that affects the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: an illness where a person has a long-term pattern of exploiting and manipulating others

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental illness that is usually developed after a traumatic event. Feeling afraid after a traumatic event is normal, but PTSD is diagnosed long after the traumatic event happened. Not everyone develops PTSD after a traumatic event.

Psychotic Disorders

Psychotic disorders are severe mental disorders characterized by abnormal thinking and perceptions. One of the most common psychotic disorders includes schizophrenia, which is characterized by hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there) and paranoia.

Causes of Mental Illness

The exact causes of certain types of mental illness are unknown, but studies suggest a strong link to both genetic and environmental factors.

Possible Causes

Those who have immediate family members with or a family history illness of mental illness are more likely to also have a mental illness. Certain genes may increase an individual’s risk of developing a mental illness, with certain life situations triggering it. Brain chemistry can also affect emotions, such as in the case of depression.

Childhood experiences can also cause mental illness later in life, such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, and PTSD. One of the most common causes of children with PTSD and/or developing other mental illnesses is child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse lawyers can help get justice, which can be an important step in healing.

Risk Factors

Other risk factors associated with developing a mental illness include:

  • Stressful life situations
  • Previous mental illness
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • Brain damage from a traumatic brain injury

Can Mental Illness be Prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no proven way to prevent mental illness, but symptoms can be kept under control and resilience increased by taking certain steps.

Get Help When Needed

Understanding the symptoms of mental illnesses and getting help right away is key to successfully managing a mental illness. Routine medical care is also essential, and it’s a good idea to visit a therapist even for something as simple as stress.

Learn the Warning Signs

Again, paying attention to symptoms and warning signs of mental distress can help better manage mental illness. This will also give you tools to be able to manage recurring symptoms. If mental illness is present, seeing a therapist can help you learn the tools needed to cope with mental illness.

Take Care of Yourself

Studies have shown that eating healthy, regular physical activity and sufficient sleep have a positive impact on mental health. Other activities such as journaling, listening to music, yoga, and inexpensive adventures such as taking a walk are also helpful.

Treatment for Mental Illness

Therapy and medication are the most common treatments for mental illness, and often, a combination of both is used.


Some of the most common types of mental health medications include:

  • Stimulants
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common type of psychotherapy used for mental illness. Other types of therapies can include:

  • Play therapy (usually only for children)
  • Recreational therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Expressive arts therapy
  • Animal-assisted therapy

Even though mental illness can’t be avoided for some, there are ways to cope. Overall, taking care of yourself, knowing your family history and the symptoms of mental illness, and seeking help are key to successful coping.

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