Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Illness
- What does it mean to have a mental illness?
- Mental illnesses are medical conditions that
disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to
others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the
pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result
in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of
Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder,
dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include
changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social
withdrawal. When these occur in children under 18, they are referred
to as serious emotional disturbances (SEDs). Mental illnesses can
affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income.
Here are some important facts about mental illness and recovery:
- Mental illnesses are biologically-based brain disorders. They
cannot be overcome through "will power" and are not related to a
person's "character" or intelligence.
- It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 or 43.8 million adults in America. Mental disorders fall along a continuum of severity.
Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion,
nearly 10 million Americans, or 1 in 25 people suffer from a serious mental illness.
- Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their
lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are
susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.
- The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly
effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant
reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a
combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and
- With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services
tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental
illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and
find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key
concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage
the illness process.
- Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. By
ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are
proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm
related to the course of illness is minimized.
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness
- What is considered a serious mental illness?
- Serious mental illnesses include major
depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive
disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. All mental disorders
fall along a continuum of severity.
- What causes mental illness?
- Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known,
it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions
are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and
environmental factors. Click here to learn more about these factors.
- Is anyone immune to mental illness?
- Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion,
or income. They do not discriminate.
Although mental illnesses can affect anyone, certain conditions such
as eating disorders tend to occur more often in females, and other
disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder more
commonly occur in children.
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Can mental illness be prevented?
- Most mental illnesses are caused by a combination of factors and
cannot be prevented.
- Once someone has had a mental illness can they ever get better again?
- Remember, most people with mental illnesses who are diagnosed
and treated will respond well and live productive lives. Many never
have the same problem again, although some will experience a return
of symptoms. The important thing is that there is a range of
effective treatments for just about every mental disorder.
- How common is mental illness?
- Mental illnesses are very common; in fact, they are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease. According to NAMI,
approximately 43.8 million adults in the U.S. or 18.5% experience mental illness in a given year.
Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller
proportion, about 1 in 25 Americans, who suffer from a serious mental illness (one that significantly interferes with functioning).
It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 individuals in America.
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness
- What are some of the warning signs of mental illness?
- Symptoms of mental disorders vary depending on the type and
severity of the condition. Some general symptoms that may suggest a
mental disorder include:
In older children and pre-teens:
- Confused thinking
- Long-lasting sadness or irritability
- Extreme highs and lows in mood
- Excessive fear, worrying or anxiety
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Strong feelings of anger
- Delusions or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not
- Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
- Thoughts of suicide
- Denial of obvious problems
- Many unexplained physical problems
- Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
In younger children:
- Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
- Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
- Excessive complaints of physical problems
- Defying authority, skipping school, stealing or damaging property
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Long-lasting negative mood, often along with poor appetite and
thoughts of death
- Frequent outbursts of anger
- Changes in school performance
- Poor grades despite strong efforts
- Excessive worrying or anxiety
- Persistent nightmares
- Persistent disobedience and/or aggressive behavior
- Frequent temper tantrums
- What should I do if I know someone who appears to have all of the
symptoms of a serious mental disorder?
- Although this website cannot substitute for professional
advice, we encourage those with symptoms to talk to their friends
and family members. If you know someone who is having problems,
don't just think that they will snap out of it. Let them know that
you care about them, and there are ways this can be treated. Notify
a family member, a mental health professional, a counselor or
someone if you think you have symptoms or if a friend has symptoms.
The more you or your friends realize how many people care about
them, the more likely it will be that treatment will be sought.
- What is the difference between mental health professionals?
- There are many types of mental health professionals. The variety
of providers and their services may be confusing. Each have various
levels of education, training, and may have different areas of
expertise. Finding the professional who best fits your needs may
require some research.
Click here for a more in depth description of the
differences between mental health professionals.
- How can I find a mental health professional right for my child or
- Feeling comfortable with the professional you or your child is
working with is critical to the success of your treatment. Finding
the professional who best fits your needs may require some research.
Visit our Finding a Therapist page to learn more
about how to select a mental health professional right for you.
- What treatment options are available?
- Just as there are different types of medications for physical
illness, different treatment options are available for individuals
with mental illness. Treatment works differently for different
people. It is important to find what works best for you or your
Visit our Continuum of Care
page to learn about the
different types of treatment programs and services offered to
individuals with mental illness.
- If I become involved in treatment what do I need to know?
- Beginning treatment is a big step for individuals and families
and can be very overwhelming. It is important to continue
involvement in the treatment process as much as possible. Some
questions you will need to have answered include:
- What is known about the cause of this particular illness?
- Are there other diagnoses where these symptoms are common?
- Do you normally include a physical or neurological examination?
- Are there any additional tests or exams that you would recommend
at this point?
- Would you advise an independent opinion from another psychiatrist
at this point?
- What program of treatment is the most helpful with this diagnosis?
- Will this program involve services by other specialists? If so,
who will be responsible for coordinating these services?
- What do you see as the family’s role in this program of treatment?
- How much access will the family have to the individuals who are
providing the treatment?
- What medications are generally used with this diagnosis? What is
the biological effect of this medication, and what do you expect it
to accomplish? What are the risks associated with the medication?
How soon will we be able to tell if the medication is effective, and
how will we know?
- How much experience do you have in treating individuals with this
- What can I do to help you in the treatment?
- What do I need to know about medications?
- The best source of information regarding medications is the
physician prescribing them. He or she should be able to answer
questions such as:
All medications should be taken as directed. Most medications for
mental illnesses do not work when taken irregularly, and extra doses
can cause severe, sometimes dangerous side effects. Many psychiatric
medications begin to have a beneficial effect only after they have
been taken for several weeks.
- What is the medication supposed to do and when should it begin to
- How is the medication taken and for how long?
- What food, drinks, other medicines, and activities should be
avoided while taking this medication?
- What are the side effects and what should be done if they occur?
- What do I do if a dose is missed?
- Is there any written information available about this medication?
- Are there other medications that might be appropriate? If so, why
do you prefer the one you have chosen?
- How do you monitor medications and what symptoms indicate that
they should be raised, lowered, or changed?
- If a medication is prescribed to me and I begin to feel better after
taking it is it okay to stop taking it?
- It is not uncommon for people to stop taking their medication
when they feel their symptoms have become controlled. Others may
choose to stop their medication because of side effects. A person
may not realize that most side effects can be effectively managed.
While it may seem reasonable to stop taking the medication, the
problem is that at least 50% of the time the symptoms come back. If
you or your child are taking medication, it is very important that
you work together with your doctor before making decisions about any
changes in your treatment.
Another problem with stopping medication, especially if you stop it
abruptly, is that you may develop withdrawal symptoms that can be
very unpleasant. If you and your doctor feel a trial off your
medicine is a good idea, it is necessary to slowly decrease the
dosage of medications so that these symptoms don’t occur.
It is important that your doctor and pharmacist work together to
make sure your medications are working safely and effectively. You
should talk with them about how you are doing and whenever there are
side effects that might make you want to stop your treatment.
- How can I get help paying for my prescriptions?
- Some pharmaceutical companies offer prescription assistance
programs to individuals and families with financial needs. These
programs typically require a doctor’s consent and proof of your
financial status. They may also require that you have either no
health insurance or no prescription drug benefit through your health
insurance. In addition, there are county, state, and national
prescription programs for which you may qualify and special drug
discount cards offered by some pharmaceutical companies.
Partnership for Prescription Assistance
is an interactive site designed to help you find patient
prescription drug assistance programs for which you may qualify.
- Where can I go for help?
- Where you go for help will depend on the nature of the problem
and/or symptoms and what best fits you. Often, the best place to
start is by talking with someone you trust about your concerns. Ask
for referrals and recommendations. These may come through friends,
family, clergy, health care providers, or other professionals whom
you know and trust.
There are people and places all over the state of Nebraska available
to talk, to listen, and to help. For additional information and
resources please visit our finding help section of the website.
- How do I find a local support group?
- Many people find peer support a helpful tool that can aid in
their recovery. There are a variety of organizations that offer
support groups for consumers, their family members, and friends.
Some support groups are peer led while others may be led by a mental
Visit our Support Groups page to learn of support
groups offered near you.
Do you have a question not listed above?
"A supportive resource and compassionate voice for lives touched by mental illness
The content contained in this website is for informational purposes only and is compiled and received from
The Kim Foundation does not endorse the resources provided and does not accept liability
or responsibility for incorrect information provided.