Mental health disorders are often misunderstood. Mental health disorders can be debilitating, leaving people feeling hopeless and alone. However, new research is shedding light on these conditions and how to treat them, offering hope for recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health disorder, it’s essential to know what the latest research suggests about mental illnesses and how they’re treated.
What Is A Mental Health Disorder?
Mental health disorders affect individuals’ thinking, feeling, moods, and behavior. These conditions, which can be occasional or chronic, negatively affect how individuals function in their day-to-day lives. Mental health disorders can also change how people relate to others and impact social lives.
Even though mental health disorders can drastically change your life and make you feel isolated and alone, they are far more common than most people think. Research shows that:
- 20% of American adults experience a mental health disorder each year.
- 1 in 20 American adults experiences a severe mental illness each year.
- 50% of all lifetime mental health disorders begin by age 14. 75% start by age 24.
- 1 in 6 youth aged 6-17 years old in America experience a mental health disorder each year.
Mental health disorders aren’t anyone’s fault. Having a mental health disorder can be extremely challenging, but it doesn’t mean that you or someone in your family did anything wrong. Research suggests that biochemical processes in the brain can, and often do, increase the risk of developing mental health disorders.
Common Causes of Mental Health Disorders
Most mental health disorders aren’t the result of one event, but rather a combination of genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Having a stressful job or home life and experiencing a traumatic event can also make us more likely to develop a mental health disorder.
Even though there isn’t a single cause for mental illness, the following factors can contribute to the development of a mental health disorder:
- A traumatic brain injury
- Genes and family medical history
- Chemical imbalances in the brain
- Excessive alcohol consumption or the use of recreational drugs
- A severe medical condition like cancer
- Feeling lonely or isolated
- Exposure to viruses and toxic chemicals in the womb
- Living in a high-stress or high-conflict environment
- Experiencing physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse, especially during childhood
Common Mental Health Disorders
Mental health professionals use The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to diagnose mental illnesses. According to the DSM-5, more than 300 mental health disorders can impact our lives.
Some of the most common mental health disorders in the United States include:
- Bipolar disorder. This condition causes episodes of energetic, manic highs and extreme, depressive lows. The mood swings caused by bipolar disorder are much more severe than the typical ups and downs most people experience on any given day. Manic episodes can make people extremely talkative, hyperactive, and so energetic that they feel like they need very little sleep. People experiencing a manic bipolar episode may feel like they’re all-powerful, invincible, or destined for greatness. Depressive episodes can cause extreme fatigue, irritability, delusions, feelings of worthlessness, and recurrent thoughts of death.
- Major depressive disorder. This condition causes extreme sadness or hopelessness that remains for two or more weeks. Some people with major depressive disorder can feel so upset and hopeless about their lives that they think about and try to commit suicide.
- Persistent depressive disorder. This disorder is a form of chronic depression. People with this condition experience depressive symptoms that last for two or more years.
- Generalized anxiety disorder. This condition causes people to become apprehensive and paranoid even when there’s little or no reason to worry. Many people living with this disorder fear that things won’t ever work in their favor. Feeling this way can trigger emotional distress, rumination, fear, trouble sleeping, and irritability.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This condition causes repetitive thoughts and obsessions. Often, the repetitive thoughts focus on overwhelming and unreasonable desires to carry out certain behaviors and compulsions. Even though many people with OCD know that their thoughts and actions are unreasonable, they cannot stop them from happening.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This illness generally occurs after people witness or experience a traumatic event like war, abuse, or a national disaster. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, fear, severe anxiety, insomnia, unwanted thoughts, and nightmares.
- Schizophrenia. This condition impairs a person’s perception of reality. Instead of seeing reality for what it is, people with schizophrenia experience hallucinations and delusions, and hear voices.
- Social anxiety disorder. This disorder causes people to have an overwhelming fear of social situations. In addition to feeling nervous around other people, individuals with social anxiety disorder feel like they are judged and have a hard time connecting with other people.
Living with a mental health disorder can be extremely challenging. In addition to affecting how you feel, many mental health conditions can be hard to understand. Luckily, new research helps shed light on these conditions.
What New Research Tells Us About Mental Health Disorders
Since mental health disorders can be complex, doctors, scientists, and behavioral health experts rely on new research to learn more about these conditions. According to recent data revealed in various studies and surveys:
1. Having a Psychiatric Condition Can Increase The Likelihood of A COVID-19 Breakthrough Infection. After analyzing more than a quarter-million patients at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System, researchers noted that 15% of individuals diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder in the last five years developed a breakthrough COVID-19 infection. Twenty-four percent of individuals 65 and up had a breakthrough infection. That data revealed a 7% higher risk than individuals without a mental health disorder. Individuals’ disorders ranged from depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, and eating disorders to substance use disorders.
2. The Mental Health of College Students Is Worsening. According to a study of 350,000 students at more than 300 campuses, depression among college students increased by 135%, and anxiety increased by 110%. Additionally, the number of students living with a mental health disorder in 2021 doubled from 2013.
3. There May Be A Connection Between Mental Health Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease. A review composed of more than 100 studies found that people with severe mental health disorders are more likely to develop and die from cardiovascular disease compared to those without a mental health condition. The study also revealed that bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorder are associated with cardiovascular disease.
4. People Can Recover and Thrive After Mental Illness. A 2022 study published by the Association for Psychological Science found that 67% of people with mental health disorders achieve symptomatic recovery and no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for a particular condition. “Our research tells us how many people can recover from a mental illness and go on to experience a life with high levels of well-being and functioning,” researcher Andrew Devendorf says. “Contrary to traditional clinical wisdom, we found that mental illness and substance use disorders may reduce but do not prevent the possibility of thriving.”
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