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What is mental illness?

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Mental illness is a condition that affects a person's thinking, emotions, and behavior, and can be influenced by their environment, past, trauma, and biology. Symptoms may include changes in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are not normal for the individual. It is important to understand that mental illnesses are treatable, and seeking support early on can help improve outcomes. It is also important to consider other factors that may affect one's mental health, such as physical illness, medication side effects, or normal reactions to life events. Taking a mental health test can help start a conversation with a loved one or professional about what a person is experiencing.

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When we’re not feeling well because of physical illness—like a cold, a broken leg, or diabetes—it’s because there is something off with our bodies. When we’re not feeling well because of mental illness it’s because there’s something off with our brains.

Mental illness is a condition that affects our thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Mental illnesses can be influenced by our environments, past and trauma, and biology. There are many different kinds of mental illnesses. Even if you’re not sure exactly what a mental illness is, you’ve probably heard of lots of them. Like depressionanxietyADHD, or eating disorders to name a few.

How do I know if I have a mental illness?

If something feels wrong or off, think about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The first questions we normally ask when we struggle with a mental illness are:

  • Have things changed with your mind and you don’t feel as well as you used to?
  • Do things not feel like “your normal”?
  • Are there thoughts or feelings that overwhelm you that you don’t want to feel anymore?
  • Do other people not seem to be bothered in the same way you are?
  • Is this (thought, behavior, experience, etc.) normal or not normal?

It’s also a good idea to learn about different mental illnesses. This can help you figure out if your experiences are like the symptoms of mental illnesses. For example, you may want to know if you’re depressed or just sad. Or if you’re stressed or if you have anxiety. You can use Google, social media, and even this website to learn about mental illness and listen to others’ stories.

What else could it be?

There are many different things that can affect your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  If what you’re experiencing is a normal reaction to something that just happened, it’s normally not considered a mental illness. For example:

  • If your dog died yesterday, it makes sense that you’d feel depressed. That’s not the same as clinical depression. If your dog died a year ago and you’ve felt depressed ever since it’s more likely that you may be experiencing depression.
  • Anything that affects your hormones will also affect your mood. For example, puberty involves a lot of physical changes. But also a lot of mental and emotional changes too.
  • If you recently started a new medication, what you’re going through could be a side effect. Drugs and alcohol also affect your mood and your behavior.
  • Being physically ill can make you feel awful and think negatively about your life. It can make it hard to have the energy to get things done. You even feel cranky easily. You might notice your mental health changes before you realize you’re sick. Some illnesses like fibromyalgia or thyroid disorders make it difficult to tell if your symptoms are related to a physical or mental illness—or both. If you are unsure, it may be a good idea to see a medical professional.

Does mental illness go away?

Mental illnesses are different for everyone. For some people, mental illnesses can affect them for a short time in their lives. Or mental illness can come and go. Other times, mental illnesses can last for years or even a lifetime.

But no matter what you may be experiencing, mental illness is treatable. There are things that help people feel better. These include making changestherapymedication, and support groups. You can also choose to wait and see what happens with your symptoms. If you do this, it’s probably best to check in and take a screen. This can help you to monitor your symptoms and see if things are getting worse. Some people do find that they will get better even if they don’t go to therapy.  But many more find that a combination of monitoring your symptoms, talking to a therapist, and considering medications is the best option to feel better.

If you think you’re experiencing a mental illness, try to find any kind of support earlier than later. Like other illnesses, treating mental illnesses early can help you get better faster.

Mental illnesses affect people in a variety of ways. If you think you may have a mental illness, consider taking a mental health test. This is not an official diagnosis. But it can help start the conversation with a loved one or mental health professional about what you’re experiencing.