Thursday, October 1, 2009

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is a collection of disorders characterized by symptoms such as extreme mood swings, disturbances in thought or perception, overwhelming obsessions or fears, or high levels of debilitating anxiety. There is no objective medical test that determines whether or not you or a loved one has a mental illness. Diagnosis is based on self-report (what you say you are experiencing), observations by family and friends, disturbances in your behaviour and the judgment and experience of a medical practitioner (your family doctor but, for more serious mental illness, a psychiatrist).

Often people wait a long time before they ask for help. They and their family feel that something is wrong – but they don’t know what. In addition, diagnosing a mental illness can take time – with many people reporting that it took months, and sometimes years to get a diagnosis that fit with what they were experiencing.

There are a number of reasons people struggle with a mental illness without reaching out for help: They simply don’t know what’s wrong and feel they are just “different;” they feel they can beat it on their own; they are ashamed and try to hide their symptoms; exasperated family and friends tell them to “get over it;” or they reach out for help but their first experience leaves them feeling disregarded and misunderstood.


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