What is a mental disorder? Can mental disorders be prevented, diagnosed, and treated? As you know, mental health is as important as physical health, and whenever this health is compromised, we are in danger of suffering from problems such as depression, anxiety, and stress. The mental disorder results from the complex interaction of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors and negatively affects a person’s thinking, mood, and behavior in such a way that a person may not be able to continue living. I want to answer all your questions about mental disorders in this article.
What is a mental disorder?
A mental disorder, also known as a mental illness or psychological disorder, refers to a set of dysfunctional cognitive and behavioral patterns that can cause disruptions in multiple areas of a person’s life, resulting in distress and suffering. Mental disorders affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and cognition, making it difficult to effectively manage their personal, family, social, and professional lives. Additionally, people with mental disorders often struggle to adapt to the conditions and demands of their environment.
The DSM-5 Definition of Mental Disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines mental disorder as a syndrome that causes significant disturbances in behavior, emotions, and cognition, impairs a person’s functioning in personal, family, and professional life, and affects social relationships. It influences the person negatively. Of course, you should note that every abnormal behavior is not a mental disorder.
Symptoms of mental disorders
Those with mental disorders experience specific symptoms that can be mental or behavioral. Some psychological disorders have joint symptoms. Here I mention only a part of these signs:
- Worry, trouble, and distress
- Anger and aggression
- Changes in appetite and food intake
- Substance abuse, alcohol or tobacco
- Behavioral and mood changes
- Decreased or increased libido
- Sorrow, despair, the feeling of emptiness, and lack of motivation
- Excessive fatigue and lack of energy
- hallucinations and delusions
- Difficulty sleeping
- Thoughts of suicide or death
- Difficulty in relationships with others
- Forgetfulness and lack of concentration
Types of mental disorders
There are almost 300 mental disorders; the specialists classify them into the following subject categories to better identify and assess them.
- Anxiety Disorders
- Bipolar and related disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders
- Trauma- and stressor-related disorders
- Personality disorders
- Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders
- Substance-related and addictive disorders
- Feeding and eating disorders
- Sleep-wake disorders
- Sexual dysfunctions
- Gender dysphoria
- Paraphilic disorders
- Somatic symptoms and related disorders
- Dissociative disorders
- Neurodevelopmental Disorders
- Disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders
- Children’s mental disorders
Causes of mental disorders
Medical professionals cannot attribute the development of the disease to a single factor since the etiology of mental illness varies from person to person, and each disorder arises due to a unique set of reasons. Instead, a combination of factors contributes to its manifestation, including:
- Genetics: Researchers’ findings have shown that genetic factors play a role in the occurrence of some mental disorders, including schizophrenia and bipolar spectrum.
- Brain structure and function: Research has shown that differences in the structure and function of specific brain regions are associated with certain mental disorders. For example, abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making and impulse control, are related to certain forms of depression and anxiety.
- Chemical imbalances in the brain: Neurotransmitters are an essential component of the human brain that plays a critical role in transmitting signals between neurons. For example, depression is associated with low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, while anxiety is related to an imbalance in other neurotransmitters, such as GABA and dopamine.
- Environmental stress: Exposure to stressful life events, such as abuse, trauma, and neglect, can increase the risk of mental illness. Chronic stress can also disrupt the brain’s balance of hormones and neurotransmitters, causing mental disorders.
- Substance abuse: Researchers have identified substance abuse and addiction as factors significantly increasing the likelihood of developing a mental disorder and exacerbating existing issues. Substance abuse can affect an individual’s physical health and severely impact their mental well-being. It can lead to various mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Furthermore, addiction can make it challenging to manage these disorders effectively, further intensifying the adverse effects on an individual’s quality of life. Therefore, addressing substance abuse and addiction as part of a comprehensive approach to treating mental health issues is crucial. It can help improve the chances of successful recovery and enhance overall well-being.
- Medical conditions: Specific medical conditions, such as head injuries, infections, and hormonal imbalances, can increase the risk of mental illness.
- Lifestyle: Poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and lack of sleep are all effective in causing mental illnesses. In addition, social isolation and lack of emotional support can increase the risk of mental illness, especially in the elderly.
- Psychological factors: Psychological factors, including negative thought patterns, personality traits, and coping mechanisms, can also contribute to developing mental disorders. For example, people with low self-confidence or a pessimistic outlook on life may be more prone to depression. In contrast, people with overly perfectionistic or rigid personalities may be more inclined to anxiety.
- Childhood experiences: Adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, and trauma, can increase the risk of mental illness in adulthood.
- Substance abuse during pregnancy: Substance abuse during pregnancy, such as alcohol or drug abuse, can increase the risk of mental illness in children.
- Inflammation: Chronic inflammation, associated with certain medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, increases the risk of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
- Microbiome: Scientific studies have provided evidence that the gut microbiome plays a significant role in mental health, indicating that imbalances in the gut microbiome can lead to depression, anxiety, and other related mental disorders. This demonstrates the critical interplay between the gut microbiome and mental health, highlighting the importance of maintaining a healthy microbiome to promote overall well-being.
- Sleep disorders: An increased risk of mental illness is associated with chronic sleep disorders such as insomnia. This demonstrates the crucial link between sleep and mental health, indicating that inadequate sleep can severely affect mental well-being. Chronic sleep disorders can lead to various mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairments. Moreover, individuals with mental illnesses are more likely to experience sleep problems, creating a vicious cycle of disrupted sleep and worsening mental health.
- Chronic pain: An increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems is associated with chronic pain. This connection highlights physical discomfort’s significant impact on mental well-being, underscoring the need to address pain’s physical and mental aspects. Chronic pain can lead to negative emotions, social isolation, and impaired cognitive functioning, all of which can worsen mental health issues.
The prevalence of mental disorders
Statistical findings about the prevalence of mental disorders are shocking. At the time I published this article, 1 in every eight people in the world had a mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 21% of American adults suffer from mental illnesses. Also, women suffer from these problems more than men. Note that the statistics of different countries and cultures are various. The most common psychological disorders are depression, anxiety, stress, and addiction. The average prevalence of some mental disorders globally is as follows:
- Anxiety: About 284 million people in the world suffer from anxiety. Untreated pressure can potentially trigger the onset of other mental illnesses.
- Depression: Nearly 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression. This psychological disorder is also one of the essential factors of suicide.
- Bipolar: Approximately 60 million people worldwide have bipolar disorder.
- Schizophrenia: In the world, about 21 million people suffer from one of the branches of the schizophrenia spectrum.
- Addiction: More than 15 million people worldwide suffer from addiction and continue to use substances.
Diagnosing mental disorders
Identification of psychological disorders is a specialized and challenging task. Some psychological disorders have common or similar symptoms; This is why psychologists and psychiatrists diagnose mental disorders seriously. Because a mistake in identifying the condition will mean a definite treatment failure, let’s suppose we go to a doctor and say we have heartache. He diagnoses colon cancer instead of food poisoning! What will happen in this situation?! This also applies to mental disorders.
Psychologists and psychiatrists use various tools to identify mental disorders. Including:
- DSM-5 book
- Clinical interview
- Psychological test
- Tests and medical records
- Report of relatives
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is the primary means for psychologists and psychiatrists to diagnose and treat mental disorders. The book provides a comprehensive classification of all Psychological disorders, detailing the symptoms and criteria for each disease. This book helps therapists to diagnose and treat accurately.
The first session, where the client meets the therapist, is known as the clinical interview session. In this meeting, the psychotherapist takes the general information of the client and talks to him about his problems. This conversation lets the therapist know the person and his problems better. The therapist’s statements about his issues show the signs the psychologist needs for diagnosis.
Tests and medical records
When discussing mental disorders, we should not ignore biological and physical factors. Therapists pay attention to people’s medical records. Some questions concerning therapists’ minds are: Does the person suffer from a specific bodily disease? Did his problems arise after surgery? Could the physical condition be a better explanation for this problem? It is even possible that a person is suffering from physical diseases that doctors can find the cause and cure. Some therapists also check thyroid and blood tests.
Family members and friends can provide reports about the person’s behavior and circumstances. These reports may include things that the person has refused to mention. Or include behaviors that the person does not accept as a problem.
Psychological tests are standard tools for collecting information about the current conditions of the patients, which may be done verbally, in writing, or on a computer. Note that therapists use psychological tests as a secondary method rather than relying on them as the primary tool for diagnosing mental disorders.
The difference between symptoms of disorder and traits
As previously mentioned, identifying specific symptoms in individuals is essential to determine the presence of a psychological disorder. Once mental health professionals confirm these symptoms, they can diagnose the related illness in the individual. But what if it has only a few signs? Is he impaired? No, in this case, he has the traits of a mental illness. The trait is a person’s inherent and stable characteristics, but the symptom is the signs that a person experiences due to the conditions in which he is. For example, we can consider depression. A person suffering from depression experiences various symptoms, some of which are:
- The low mood during the week and month
- The feeling of despair and emptiness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of concentration
- To cry
- Lack of motivation and extreme fatigue
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Sleepiness or insomnia
- Anorexia or overeating
- Low self-esteem and confidence
These cases are signs or symptoms of a disorder, but if a person has negative feelings and thoughts about himself and this feature has been with him for years, can we consider him to have a depression disorder? No. Because this is just a trait that a person has in terms of personality.
Traits are usually innate personality characteristics seen in a person, and mental health professionals may consider them one of the symptoms of a personality disorder. But having it does not mean having a personality disorder. But these same traits can provide the basis for the occurrence of mental disorders.
The difference between healthy, normal, and sick
The medical model classifies humans into two groups: healthy and sick. But psychologically, humans are classified into three groups: healthy, normal, and sick. A healthy person is someone who is in an excellent psychological condition and has a positive view of himself and his life; This person can deal with psychological and environmental pressures and can adapt to the conditions. A sick person is the opposite of a healthy person. From the psychological point of view, a sick person is said to be in distress and suffering in various fields of personal, family, professional, and social life and cannot adapt to the conditions.
Mental health professionals classify a wide range of people between these two groups as usual. These people have behaviors, feelings, and thoughts considered normal in a society or culture. But the same cultural norms may be abnormal and pathological in another community. That is why we say that psychological issues depend on culture.
Take drinking alcohol, for example. Drinking beer is something normal and healthy people drink alcohol sometimes. Consider a group of Russian football fans who celebrate their victory by drinking several glasses of alcohol; Here, fans of this team are normal based on Russian culture, but this level of alcohol consumption may be abnormal in another society. We know that many people worldwide are addicted to drinking alcohol, and we consider this group as patients.
Prevention of mental disorder
Prevention of mental disorders is more straightforward than treatment. We can avert mental disorders by doing simple things, including lifestyle changes. Here I will explain some simple and practical solutions to you.
Physical care: having enough sleep, eating healthy, doing sports activities, meditation, giving importance to physical health, and avoiding drug use play an important role in prevention.
Lifestyle change: I always say one sentence to myself: “Live in such a way that you don’t wish…” Are you satisfied with the life you have? If you go back in time, would you still live the same way? It is always possible to improve the quality of life. By changing our lifestyle and learning personal and social skills, not only the occurrence of disorders will be prevented, but our performance will improve significantly, and we will feel more relaxed and happy.
The correct parenting method: Many problems people experience in adulthood are rooted in issues that a person could not solve in childhood. Parents who do not know how to behave with their children raise depressed, anxious, and aggressive children.
Emotional support: loving and being loved are natural and essential human needs. People with strong and intimate relationships with their family members and friends are less at risk of depression and anxiety than others.
Seeking help from a psychologist: Sometimes, we realize we are in trouble or cannot solve problems. This realization is a warning for us. In such a situation, we should seek help from a psychologist.
Treatment of mental disorders
The treatment of mental disorders depends on the type of disorder, its severity, and individual characteristics. But in general, two main methods of psychotherapy and Pharmacotherapy are used. In some situations, due to the acuteness of the problem, the patient must be admitted to the hospital to receive special care. Based on what was said, the methods of treating mental disorders are:
Pharmacotherapy: Researchers’ findings have shown that those who suffer from mental disorders have biological problems that medical therapy can solve to some extent. Psychiatrists prescribe psychiatric drugs with a specific dose based on the type and severity of mental disorders. These drugs stabilize mood, reduce the intensity of symptoms, and regulate hormones and neurotransmitters. Antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and antipsychotic drugs are examples of these drugs.
Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is a treatment process carried out by a psychologist. Psychologists try to identify and solve a person’s problems regarding emotions, behavior, or cognition by applying therapeutic methods. In this therapeutic process, people learn how to overcome difficulties, identify and eliminate ineffective behaviors and wrong thoughts, learn individual skills, and use them in life. One of the most important things done in psychotherapy is changing the lifestyle. Many problems that threaten our mental health arise and worsen due to the wrong lifestyle. Drug treatment without psychotherapy will not be effective. Psychoanalysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and schema therapy are examples of psychotherapy methods.
A word from Mr. Psychologist
Mental disorders are not a stigma or an ugly label to escape from. Mental disorders are problems that threaten our mental health and life. So, if we feel that we have a mental disorder or cannot solve our problems, it is better to get help from a psychologist. The sooner we do this, the easier the treatment process will be. We in the group of Mr. Psychologists are ready to guide and help you.
People Also Ask (FAQ)
A mental disorder is an illness that negatively affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior and disrupts life.
Various factors, such as genetic and biological issues, brain injuries, lifestyle, parenting style, medical conditions, and environmental factors, play a role in the occurrence of mental disorders.
Experts have identified nearly 300 mental disorders so far.
Fortunately, mental disorders can be prevented and treated.
Professionals treat mental disorders with medication and psychotherapy. Sometimes, they may need to admit a person to the hospital for special care.
Yes, many mental disorders, including depression, can return.