The first step in helping ourselves, our loved ones, and our community is to learn all that we can about mental illness.
Since many people tend to fear and shun what they do not understand, education is the best way to clear up misconceptions, eliminate stigma, and break down barriers to treatment and recovery.
Mental illness is a health condition characterized by changes in a person’s thinking, feeling, and/or behavior that result in personal distress and difficulty in daily functioning and in relating to others.
Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas and anemia a disorder of the blood, mental illnesses are brain disorders that interfere with managing the everyday demands of life. Unfortunately, many people continue to see “mental” functions and “physical” functions as distinct, when, in fact, the mind and the body are inseparable.
Mental functions (thought, emotion, and purposive behavior) are handled by the brain. Mental disorders are reflected in physical changes in the brain. For example, the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin is often lower in people with depression. Likewise, brain disorders frequently trigger physical changes in other parts of the body. For example, depression may lead to loss of appetite, aches and pains, tiredness, and other physical symptoms.
While the brain carries out all mental functions, it also carries out other functions such as movement, touch, and balance. That is why not all brain disorders are mental disorders. For example, if a stroke results in paralysis, it is considered a somatic (bodily) condition. If a stroke mainly produces alterations of thought, mood, or behavior, it is considered a mental condition.
Carol Kivler explains how mental illness affected her:
Mental disorders affect people of all ages, races, ethnic, and socio-economic groups.
At this time, scientists do not have a complete understanding of the precise causes of mental illnesses; however, mental illness (and, in fact, all illness) results from the interaction of biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors. Researchers in the fields of biology, neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology continue to study the relationship between the biology of the brain, the social environment, and behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.