Fear and anxiety are part of life. You may feel anxious before you take a test or walk down a dark street. This kind of anxiety is useful – it can make you more alert or careful. It usually ends soon after you are out of the situation that caused it. But for millions of people in the United States, the anxiety does not go away, and gets worse over time. They may have chest pains or nightmares. They may even be afraid to leave home. These people have anxiety disorders. Types include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and generalized anxiety disorder. Treatment can involve medicines, therapy or both.
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. People who have it go through unusual mood changes. They go from very happy, “up,” and active to very sad and hopeless, “down,” and inactive, and then back again. They often have normal moods in between. The up feeling is called mania. The down feeling is depression.
The causes of bipolar disorder aren’t always clear. It can run in families. Bipolar disorder often starts in a person’s late teen or early adult years. But young children and older adults can have bipolar disorder too. The illness usually lasts a lifetime.
If you think you may have it, tell your health care provider. A medical checkup can rule out other illnesses that might cause your mood changes. If not treated, bipolar disorder can lead to damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. However, there are effective treatments to control symptoms: medicine and talk therapy. A combination usually works best.
Depression is a serious medical illness that involves the brain. It’s more than just a feeling of being “down in the dumps” or “blue” for a few days. If you are one of the more than 20 million people in the United States who have depression, the feelings do not go away. They persist and interfere with your everyday life. Symptoms can include sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, change in weight, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, energy loss, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Depression is a disorder of the brain. There are a variety of causes, including genetic, environmental, psychological and biochemical factors. Depression usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30, and is much more common in women. Women can also get postpartum depression after the birth of a baby. Some people get seasonal affective disorder in the winter. Depression is one part of bipolar disorder.
There are effective treatments for depression, including antidepressants and talk therapy. Most people do best by using both.
Personality disorders are a group of mental illnesses. They involve long-term patterns of thoughts and behaviors that are unhealthy and inflexible. The behaviors cause serious problems with relationships and work. People with personality disorders have trouble dealing with everyday stresses and problems. They often have stormy relationships with other people. The cause of personality disorders is unknown, but genes and childhood experiences may play a role.
The symptoms of each personality disorder are different. They can be mild or severe. People with personality disorders may have trouble realizing that they have a problem. To them, their thoughts are normal and they often blame others for their problems. They may try to get help because of their problems with relationships and work. Treatment usually includes talk therapy and sometimes medicine.
Psychotic disorders are severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions. People with psychoses lose touch with reality. Two of the main symptoms are delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are false beliefs, such as thinking that someone is plotting against you or that the TV is sending you secret messages. Hallucinations are false perceptions, such as hearing, seeing, or feeling something that is not there.
Schizophrenia is one type of psychotic disorder. People with bipolar disorder may also have psychotic symptoms. Other problems that can cause psychosis include alcohol and some drugs, brain tumors, brain infections and stroke.
Treatment depends on the cause of the psychosis. It might involve drugs to control symptoms and talk therapy. Hospitalization is an option for serious cases where a person might be dangerous to himself or others
For most adults, moderate alcohol use is probably not harmful. However, about 18 million adult Americans are alcoholics or have alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a disease with four main features:
- Craving – a strong need to drink
- Loss of control – not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started
- Physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, or shakiness when you don’t drink
- Tolerance – the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to feel the same effect
Alcoholism carries many serious dangers. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of certain cancers. It can cause damage to the liver, brain, and other organs. Drinking during pregnancy can harm your baby. Alcoholism also increases the risk of death from car crashes, injuries, homicide and suicide.
If you want to stop drinking, there is help. Start by talking to your health care provider. Medicines, counseling, and support groups may help you to stop drinking.
Drug abuse is a serious public health problem that affects almost every community and family in some way. Each year drug abuse results in around 40 million serious illnesses or injuries among people in the United States. Abused drugs include amphetamines, anabolic steroids, club drugs, cocaine, heroin, inhalants, marijuana and prescription drugs.
Drug abuse also plays a role in many major social problems, such as drugged driving, violence, stress and child abuse. Drug abuse can lead to homelessness, crime and missed work or problems with keeping a job. It harms unborn babies and destroys families. There are different types of treatment for drug abuse. But the best is to prevent drug abuse in the first place.
Intellectual disability is a below-average cognitive ability with three characteristics:
- Intelligence quotient (or IQ) is between 70-75 or lower
- Significant limitations in adaptive behaviors (the ability to adapt and carry on everyday life activities such as self-care, socializing, communicating, etc.)
- The onset of the disability occurs before age 18.
Intelligence refers to general mental capability and involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. The impact of having an intellectual disability varies considerably, just as the range of abilities varies considerably among all people. Children may take longer to learn to speak, walk and take care of their personal needs, such as dressing or eating. It may take longer to learn in school. As adults, some people are able to lead independent lives in the community without paid supports. A small percentage will have serious, lifelong limitations in functioning. However, with early intervention and an appropriate education and supports as an adult, all can lead satisfying lives in the community.
Autism is a disorder that is usually diagnosed in early childhood. The main signs and symptoms of autism involve communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors. Children with autism might have problems talking with you, or they might not look you in the eye when you talk to them. They may spend a lot of time putting things in order before they can pay attention, or they may say the same sentence again and again to calm themselves down. They often seem to be in their “own world.” Because people with autism can have very different features or symptoms, health care providers think of autism as a “spectrum” disorder. Asperger syndrome is a milder version of the disorder. The cause of autism is not known. Autism lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. There is no cure, but treatment can help. Treatments include behavior and communication therapies and medicines to control symptoms. Starting treatment as early as possible is important.
Traumatic brain injury happens when a bump, blow, jolt or other head injury causes damage to the brain. Every year, millions of people in the U.S. suffer brain injuries. More than half are bad enough that people must go to the hospital. The worst injuries can lead to permanent brain damage or death. Half of all traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are due to motor vehicle accidents. Military personnel are also at risk. Symptoms of a TBI may not appear until days or weeks following the injury. Serious traumatic brain injuries need emergency treatment. Treatment and outcome depend on the injury. TBI can cause a wide range of changes affecting thinking, sensation, language, or emotions. TBI can be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. People with severe injuries usually need rehabilitation.
Information courtesy the National Institutes of Health (except I/DD definition courtesy The Arc)