What is Serious Mental Illness?

Serious mental illness is a term that mental health pros use to describe the most severe mental health conditions. Although there are several in the category, the most common ones are bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. There’s no way to sugar coat this: serious mental illness is a big deal and it can be scary to think that you or someone you know may have it. At best, it’s an illness that must be carefully managed like any other major illness (think diabetes) but at worst, when untreated, it can basically wreck your life.

People with serious mental illness typically experience their first symptoms by the time they are 24. To complicate matters, many of the signs of serious mental illness mimic the typical issues – think major mood swings or substance abuse – that young adults already have to deal with. Serious mental illness can be tricky to diagnosis because many of the symptoms overlap with one another. Unlike physical illnesses, people with a serious mental illness may not be able to recognize that are struggling.

The good news is that the sooner someone gets treatment for their mental illness, the better their chances are for recovery. And yes, once the illness is in check, it is possible to live an amazing life with a serious mental illness. Seriously.

Is it normal?

While less common than depression and anxiety, 1 in 17 of Americans have a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Unlike most physical illnesses, when someone has an untreated serious mental illness it can impact their friends, family, and even the community. People with a serious mental illness are more likely to attempt suicide so getting help can be life-saving.

What are the signs?

If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs for several months, it’s time to get help.

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

How can I get help?

Anytime you or someone you know is in crisis you can call or chat with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. But, if you think that someone is a danger to themselves of someone else, call 911.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness runs the NAMI Helpline for people who want to learn more abut mental illness. Call 1-800-950-6264.

Medication is an important part of recovery for people with schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder, so it’s a good idea to find a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication and may have hospital admission privileges. HelpPRO and Psychology Today can help you with your search.

If you want to get connected to mental health treatment center in your area, use the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator or call 1-800-662-4357.

 

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