Building Awareness By Identifying Mental Illness

“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive.”

― Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things


As powerful, capable, and elastic as the human mind is, the psyche is fragile. Mental illness finds its roots in many places: a traumatic life event, a gene buried deep in the DNA, an environment of neglect or abuse, even an injury or physical illness. The pressures we withstand in an ever-accelerating world can tip the delicate balance of our minds toward the dark, and that darkness is compounded by society’s ignorance.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this is an appropriate time to celebrate it. Spring is a season of hope and rebirth, and there is new hope for those who suffer from mood disorders. The first step in helping is understanding the common types of mental conditions that afflict both the old and the young. For the health of our families and ourselves, we need to understand and learn to identify these serious conditions.

  • Anxiety disorders:Maybe the simplest way to describe anxiety beyond the normal range is that daily life becomes full of too much input. Too much emotion, too much expectation, too many choices. The stimulus generates a “fight, flight or freeze” reaction in the brain, making ordinary tasks insurmountable. The person goes into a state of physical panic, with rapid heartbeat and sweating. Anxiety disorders have distinct characteristics: there is generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.
  • Mood disorders: affective disorders involve persistent feelings of despair or periods of mania. Sometimes sufferers fluctuate from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. If you see extreme swings between anger, depression, over-excited happiness and withdrawal this might be a mood disorder.
  • Psychosis:Psychotic disorders make the mind warp reality, distorting awareness and perception. Two of the most common symptoms are hallucinations that can be either visual or auditory, and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that appear true to the ill person, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder characterized by ongoing bouts of disassociation with reality.
  • Impulse control and addiction:These disorders make it so that the patient cannot resist urges, or impulses, to harm themselves or others. Pyromania (compulsive arson), kleptomania (theft), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Substance abuse also falls into this category, where the need consume the substance overrides relationships, work and basic self care.
  • Eating disorders: This is similar to impulse issues because eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are fixated on routine and obsess uncontrollably. Disturbances in their rituals can result in an event, and there is often an uncomfortable level of fear about germs.
  • Personality disorders:Personality disorders can be difficult to spot, but patterns of extreme and inflexible personality traits inhibit relationships at work, school, or home. These patients often have trouble with boundaries and differ radically from the expectations of society. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, which incorporates sociopathy and psychopathy, borderline personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following an acutely painful or terrifying event, such as a physical assault, the sudden death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often relive memories of the event, and disassociate from their bodies.

These diagnoses are so valuable because behavioral science, neurology and psychology have come so far in the last 15 years, and people who have these conditions can learn to live with them. For more on living with mental illness, stay tuned for part two of this series.



About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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