Mental illness: causes and treatment

Mental illness is a term used for a group of disorders causing severe disturbances in thinking, feeling and relating. The result is a diminished capacity for coping with ordinary demands of life. Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, children, adolescents, adults, the elderly and they can occur in any family.

Several million people in this country suffer from a serious, long-term mental illness. Consumers with a mental illness occupy more hospital beds than persons with any other illness.

Mental illness is not the same as mental retardation. The mentally retarded have a diminished intellectual capacity usually present since birth.

Although they may have difficulty performing at a normal level due to their illness, those with a mental illness are usually of normal intelligence.



Causes

The causes of mental illness are not well understood, although it is believed that the functioning of the brain's neurotransmitters is involved. Heredity may be a factor in mental illness as it is in diabetes and cancer. Stress may contribute to the onset of mental illness in a vulnerable person. Recreational drugs contribute to the onset but are unlikely to be the single cause. Family interaction and early childhood training were once dominant theories of causation; however, current research does not support those theories.

Since the causes of long-term mental illnesses are not known, there is no effective prevention and thus, no cures at this time. However, there are treatments available which substantially improve the functioning of persons with these disorders.

Treatment

For most people with these illnesses, an expanding range of medications are available. In addition, most consumers can profit from community programs to help build self-confidence and learn independentliving skills. With well-developed programs, some consumers make a good recovery, hold a job and achieve a satisfactory life. Others may need some support for all or most of their lives. the goal is to help them achieve the highest degree of independence and productivity possible.

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