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Types of Mental Illness

Anxiety Disorder

18% of adults
8% of adolescents

In the United States, anxiety disorders are considered the most common mental health issue, resulting in psychological and physical reactions.7 Unlike relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event, anxiety disorders can last for at least six months and get worse if they are not treated.

Anxiety disorders often occur due to separation, panic, social settings, compulsion, phobias, or even normal day-to-day activities. The symptoms include unexplainable feelings of fear and obsessive and negative thoughts.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This form of anxiety causes people to have a difficult time getting through daily activities. People worry over everyday life situations where there is typically no cause for concern.

Separation Anxiety Disorder: People with separation anxiety disorder are unable to be away from their loved ones without an overwhelming fear that an injury, disaster, or death will happen.

Social Anxiety Disorder: This extreme fear of being embarrassed in front of others can lead to isolation, depression, fear of public settings, and other negative reactions to social situations.8
Panic Disorder: This illness often leads to “panic attacks” that cause physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, or stomach distress.

Phobias: For people with phobias, certain places, events or objects create irrational fear. In an attempt to control their fears, many people become isolated and avoid engaging in life.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These rituals are a coping mechanism for those living with OCD to deal with uncontrollable thoughts and emotions.


4.1% of adults
9% of children and adolescents

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood disorders and can continue into adulthood. For people with ADHD, it’s quite common to be distracted, impulsive, or hyperactive at times, but children show these symptoms and behaviors more frequently and severely.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:
  • Trouble paying attention (In girls, this is often manifested through daydreaming.)
  • Inattention to details and making careless mistakes
  • Easily distracted
  • Loses items; trouble getting organized
  • Trouble finishing homework or sticking to a job
  • Trouble remembering and keeping appointments; forgetting to turn in homework
  • Trouble listening; interrupts or intrudes on others
  • Trouble following multiple commands
  • Blurting out answers
  • Impatient; prefers “quick fixes” rather than taking the necessary steps
  • Fidgets or squirms; seems restless and may try to do several things at
    once, most of them unsuccessfully
  • Cannot sit still and runs around or climbs excessively
  • Continually “on the go”
  • Talks too much and has difficulty completing tasks quietly
  • Known to make mistakes or fail at school, work, or in relationships

Bipolar Disorder

2.6% of adults12 (51% are untreated annually)
11.2% of adolescents

The emotional rollercoaster associated with bipolar disorder may range from overly high (mania) to overly low (depression). Between the polar emotions of this serious medical condition, there might be bouts of balanced moods. These highs and lows are called “episodes” and can fluctuate at different rates. The first manic episode may be triggered by stress or trauma, but sometimes there is no clear reason why the bipolar disorder is present.

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Mania (Highs):
  • Feeling extremely irritable or euphoric
  • Acting overly joyful or silly
  • Having a short fuse or temper
  • Expressing extreme agitation
  • Thinking or talking rapidly
  • Sleeping very few hours without the side effect of fatigue
  • Having sexual thoughts, discussions, and behaviors more than usual
  • Exhibiting unpredictable behavior and impaired judgment
  • Engaging in risky or thrill-seeking behavior, or over-involvement
    in activities
  • Hallucinating or having delusions, which can result from severe
    episodes of mania

Symptoms and Warning Signs of Depression (Lows):
  • Feeling extremely sad or hopeless
  • Being in an irritable mood
  • Having no desire for once-enjoyable activities
  • Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping
  • Showing changes in appetite or weight
  • Having little or no energy or moving slowly
  • Having problems concentrating
  • Feeling aches and pains for no reason
  • Finding minor decisions overwhelming
  • Obsessing over feelings of loss, personal failure, guilt, or helplessness
  • Having recurrent thoughts or talk of death or suicide. (Note: Any thoughts or talk of suicide must be taken seriously)

  • Bipolar I: In this disorder, a person’s episodes last at least seven days or are so severe that they require hospitalization. A combination of both highs and lows are common for most people.
  • Bipolar II: People experience depressive episodes shifting back and forth with a milder form of mania that does not include psychotic episodes.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: People experience a chronically unstable mood state for at least two years with mild depression and a milder form of mania that does not include psychotic episodes.


1.6%–5.9% of adults

Commonly misunderstood, borderline personality disorder is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behaviors, and relationships. Most individuals with BPD suffer from problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships with others. People suffering from BPD feel emotions deeply and for long periods of time, especially after an intense event. Symptoms may be triggered by ordinary events such as minor separations from people to whom they feel close. Genetic and environmental factors are generally thought to be the cause of BPD.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:
  • Extreme reactions including panic, depression, rage, frantic actions, and feelings of abandonment, whether real or perceived
  • A pattern of strained and rocky relationships, often ranging from idealization to devaluation
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, opinions, values, or plans for the future
  • Impulsive and often reckless behaviors, such as frivolous spending, unprotected sex, substance abuse, overeating, and reckless driving
  • Recurring suicidal behaviors or threats
  • Self-harming behavior, such as cutting
  • Intense mood swings, with each episode lasting from a few hours to
    several days
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness and/or boredom
  • Inappropriate, intense anger, or problems controlling anger
  • Feeling paranoid or cutoff from oneself
  • Losing touch with reality

Conduct Disorder

8.5% of children and adolescents

Conduct disorder impacts children and teens and is evident through a persistent pattern of disruptive and violent behaviors such as aggression, theft, vandalism, lying, destruction, or breaking rules. Conduct disorder is more common among boys than girls and can have early onset. A diagnosis is likely when symptoms continue for six months or longer.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:
  • Aggressive behavior to other people or animals, such as bullying, intimidating, initiating fights, or cruelty to animals
  • Non-aggressive actions that causes property loss or destruction, such as arson or property damage
  • Deceitfulness, lying, or stealing
  • Cutting class or running away from home
  • Lack of remorse for behaviors; trouble feeling and expressing empathy and
    reading social cues


9.1% of adults have at least one major depressive episode a year
8.1% of adolescents experience depression in a year

Depression is more than just a feeling of sadness or of having a rough day; it is a serious mental health condition that requires attention and treatment. With an early diagnosis and appropriate treatment many people show improvement. Some people only have one episode of depression, but for most people depression is recurring. Left untreated, depression can worsen, relationships can suffer, and even lead to suicide.

Children who are depressed are more likely to complain of physical aches and pains rather than to say they are depressed, although they display many of the same signs that teens and adults do. Teens tend to be negative, irritable, and have difficulty in school. They may become short-tempered, abuse substances, feel misunderstood, or run away. If one or more of these signs persist, parents should seek professional help.

Women are 70% more likely than men to have depression. In addition, 10–15% of women experience postpartum depression. When depressed, men are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol, and tend to be tired, moody, disinterested, and usually have trouble sleeping. African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be misdiagnosed with depression, so it is crucial to look for a health care professional who understands their background. Elderly adults often face difficult physical, economic, and relational changes, and as a result are often under-diagnosed for depression.

According to NAMI, to be diagnosed with depression, a person must have experienced a major depressive episode that has lasted longer than two weeks.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:
  • Frequent sadness, crying, or hopelessness
  • Lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Poor communication and difficulty with relationships
  • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Feeling agitated or slow
  • Regular complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches
    and stomachaches
  • A major change in eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Frequent absences, poor performance or concentration at
    work or school
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, low self-esteem,
    and guilt
  • Persistent boredom and low energy
  • Expressions of suicidal thoughts or self-destructive behavior


0.8%–3.3% of children

Characterizations of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder are frequent and severe outbursts that do not measure in intensity or duration to the situation. Tantrums interfere with their ability to function at home, in school, or with friends. Symptoms begin before age 10, are present for at least one year, and the child must be six years of age or older.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:
  • Intense tantrums that occur at least three times per week
  • Sad, irritable, or irate moods almost daily
  • Reaction to situation is bigger than expected
  • Trouble functioning in more than one location (home, school,
    and/or with friends)


2% of adults

Characterized by an involuntary escape from reality, dissociative disorders trigger a disconnection between thoughts, identity, conscious- ness, and memory. Usually the disorder develops following a tragic event, such as abuse or military combat in an effort to keep negative memories under control.

  • Dissociative Amnesia: A main trait is difficulty recalling important information about one’s self, usually surrounding a particular event, such as combat or abuse. The onset for an amnesic episode is usually sudden, and an episode can last minutes to years.

  • Depersonalization Disorder: As if watching a movie, people with depersonalization disorder experience recurring and ongoing feelings of detachment from actions, feelings, thoughts, and sensations. People and objects tend to feel unreal.

  • Dissociative Identity Disorder: Previously known as “multiple personality disorder,” it is characterized by multiple identities and voices taking control in a person’s head. Identities may have unique names, characteristics, mannerisms, and voices. Although onset can happen at any age, it is more likely to occur in people who experienced ongoing trauma before the age of five.


3.2% of adults have co-occuring AMI (Any Mental Illness) and SUD
(Substance Use Disorder)

Dual diagnosis is a term for a person who experiences mental illness and substance abuse at the same time. Some people abuse drugs and/ or alcohol in an attempt to “self-medicate” to deal with the adverse affects of mental illness. For other people, the onset of mental illness comes as a result of their drug and/or alcohol abuse. The treatment of people with dual diagnosis is more complicated than the treatment of either condition alone. Medical professionals and drug counselors advise that both should be treated simultaneously.


10% of adolescents and adults

Eating disorders are characterized by extremes in eating behaviors
and feelings of distress or concern about body weight or shape. Although all eating disorders have food and weight issues in common, most experts believe that eating disorders are a coping mechanism for painful emotions. Eating disorders can be triggered by a history of physical or sexual abuse, low self-esteem, cultural pressures, and stress. Most people do not fit in a specific category and often crossover from one eating disorder to another over time.

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia is defined by an inability to maintain one’s body weight within 15% of ideal body weight (IBW). Due to lack of nutrition, the body is forced to conserve energy. Electrolyte imbalances can lead to irregular heartbeats and possibly heart failure and death. The symptoms include irritability, social withdrawal, lack of emotion, fear of eating in public, and obsessions with food and exercise.

  • Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia is characterized by a destructive pattern of eating too much followed by forced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, or excessive exercise to control one’s weight. Symptoms include a negative self-image, lack of control, feeling guilty or shameful about eating, and withdrawal from loved ones.

  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED): Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder. Individuals experience episodes of rapid food consumption in which they “lose control” of the ability to stop eating and ingest a very large amount of food in a short period of time even if they are full.


15% of children and adolescents

Self-injury, also called “self-harm,” is an unhealthy coping strategy but is usually not a suicide attempt. People who self-injure often try to feel physical pain in an effort to bring about relief from a deeper emotional pain or punish themselves for perceived faults. It becomes an attempt to manage or reduce severe anxiety or distress and is an effort to feel a sense of control over life situations.

Common forms of self-injury are cutting, burning, scratching, bruising, or head banging. Much self-injury becomes a pattern of behaviors that are ritualistic by using the same tool and causing harm in the same places.

Cutting releases brain chemicals called endorphins, the same chemicals referred to in the “runner’s high.” Self-harm can leave permanent scars and other physical damage. Research has found that self-harm is an addictive behavior. Any form of self-injury is a sign of bigger issues and needs an evaluation. It is not advisable to tell a person to stop their coping mechanisms immediately.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:
  • Keeping sharp objects on hand
  • Wearing long sleeve shirts and pants, even in hot weather to hide cuts
    or scars
  • Claiming to have frequent accidents or mishaps
  • Spending a great deal of time alone
  • Behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity, and unpredictability
  • Frequent thoughts of hopelessness or worthlessness


3.3% of children and adolescents

As one of the more common mental health disorders found in children and adolescents, oppositional defiant disorder is evident through a pattern of aggressive behaviors usually aimed at parents and other authority figures. Such displays of anger generally begin during preschool years and almost always before the teen years. It is difficult to determine the difference between a strong-willed child and one with ODD––but for a diagnosis, several symptoms must occur consistently for at least six months and cause significant impairment at home, with friends, and at school.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:
  • Angry and irritable mood; often loses temper
  • Easily annoyed by others; resentful
  • Deliberately annoys people
  • Argumentative; actively defies or refuses to comply with adults’
    requests or rules
  • Blames others for mistakes or misbehavior
  • Spiteful or vindictive behavior
  • Resists authority


9.1% of adults47

People with a personality disorder find it challenging to function with other people. They tend to be rigid and unable to adapt to changes in everyday life. Personality disorders are usually recognizable by adolescence and become less obvious throughout middle age.

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: Antisocial Personality Disorder: People repeatedly act with impulsive, careless, and unsympathetic behavior, ignoring rules and laws. They have a lack of respect for others and no remorse for their wrongful actions. They may have a history of violent relationships, legal troubles, thoughtless behavior, and aggression.

  • Avoidant Personality Disorder: People experience excessive Tim discomfort in social settings, nervousness, and fear of rejection. They are hypersensitive to criticism and although they would like close relationships, they have a difficult time making them due to fear and feelings of inadequacy.

  • Borderline Personality Disorder: Most individuals with BPD suffer from problems with regulating emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships with others. People suffering from BPD feel emotions deeply and for long periods of time, especially after an intense event. Symptoms may be triggered by ordinary events such as minor separations from people to whom they feel close.

  • Dependent Personality Disorder: Those with dependent personality disorder demonstrate submissive behaviors and often turn to others for decision-making. Lack of self-confidence leads to their longing for reassurance and advice. They tend to be easily wounded by any negative feedback or disapproval, and dislike being alone due to a feeling of hopelessness. Their dependence on others can lead to intense sadness when a close relationship ends, and ultimately to a strong fear of rejection.

  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder: People with narcissistic personality disorder have a high sense of self-importance, are consumed with unrealistic visions of success, and look for constant attention. Their self-esteem is very fragile and they are often envious of others or believe others are envious of them.

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder: People with this disorder strive for perfection, are never satisfied with their achievements, and take on too many responsibilities. They are preoccupied with getting things right, which causes them to be unable to complete tasks. They are inflexible and reluctant to delegate or work with others.

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder: People with paranoid personality disorder show signs of pervasive distrust, lack of forgiveness, and are prone to unjustified outbursts of anger. They view others as disloyal, condescending, or deceitful. The essential feature is interpreting the actions of others as deliberately threatening or demeaning.

  • Schizoid Personality Disorder: People with this disorder display a pattern of detachment from self and others including restricted emotions, lack of desire for closeness with friends and family, and they seldom enjoy activities. They do not respond to social cues and often seem distant.

  • Schizo typal Personality Disorder: This disorder leads to odd or eccentric manners of speaking or dressing, as well as strange, outlandish or paranoid beliefs and thoughts. Those suffering from the disorder have difficulty bonding and experience extreme anxiety in social settings.


3.5% of adults
4% of children

Post-traumatic stress disorder is triggered by a terrifying event that is experienced or witnessed. Events such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, assaults, witnessing violent crimes, war, a friend’s suicide, and natural disasters can cause PTSD. Symptoms interfere with daily life and can last for months or years.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:

  • Flashbacks of traumatic events, nightmares, and frightening thoughts
  • Avoidance of certain places or objects that are reminders of the
    traumatic event
  • Out-of-body experiences or feelings that the world is “not real”
  • Easily startled, feeling tense, afraid, or nervous
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Outbursts of anger or rage


1% of adults

Schizophrenia is a disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. They may hear voices inside their head, or believe people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. People with the illness are afraid of being harmed which causes them to withdraw or become extremely agitated. As a chronic condition, schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:

  • Hallucinations: Hearing sounds or voices; seeing, smelling, or feeling things that do not exist
  • Delusions: A fixed belief in something that is false despite evidence that proves otherwise
  • Flat affect: A person’s face does not move or he or she talks in a dull or monotonous voice
  • Dysfunctional ways of thinking or inability to organize thoughts
  • Agitated body movements; repeating certain motions
  • Lack of pleasure in everyday life
  • Difficulty in beginning and sustaining planned activities
  • Problems using information immediately after learning it

Conditions Sometimes Related to Mental Illness


50% of people with schizophrenia
40% of people with bipolar disorder

Anosognosia is a condition that is sometimes related to mental illness. Brain imaging studies show that the frontal lobe of the brain can be damaged by schizophrenia and bipolar disorder leaving an individual unaware of their own mental health condition. Family members and friends can be tempted to conclude the person is in denial when in reality, the person may not be able to even consciously choose denial. This lack of insight leads to conflict with others, an increase in anxiety, and avoidance of treatment (including medication). Anosognosia can increase the risk of homelessness or incarceration.

Consider the LEAP® approach for someone who is unaware that they may be ill:

Listen to what they identify as their overwhelming obstacles in life.
Empathize with them and communicate that you would feel how they
feel if you were in their shoes.
Agree by finding common ground whenever possible. If there is an area of disagreement, attempt to agree to disagree while affirming you are there for them and want the best for them more than anything.
Partner with them to help them reach their goals. Even if your loved one does not see they have a mental illness, they may be open to seeking therapy if their therapist is also able to help them overcome the overwhelming obstacles they identified.

For further information read, I Am Not Sick I Don’t Need Help!, by Xavier Amador.


1 death by suicide in the U.S. every 14 minutes
10th leading cause of death in adults
2nd leading cause of death ages 15–24
90% of those who die by suicide had a mental illness
16% of students in grades 9–12 seriously consider suicide

Suicide is a condition that is sometimes related to mental illness.
It is the act of taking one’s own life. There are multiple reasons
a person might attempt suicide, but the leading cause is due to untreated mental illness. Contributing factors may include death of a loved one, a failed relationship, a serious loss, terminal illness, abuse, or feelings of hopelessness. Firearms are the most commonly used method among men and poisoning among women. Women are more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are more likely to complete a suicide attempt.

Symptoms and Warning Signs:
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, and trapped
  • Being in unbearable pain
  • Sudden change in personality or behaviors; withdrawing or
    feeling isolated
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
  • Change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance
  • Persistent boredom or difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Decline in the quality of work
  • Not tolerating praise or rewards
  • Having no motivation or losing interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Frequent complaints of physical symptoms (fatigue, headaches or stomachaches)
  • Giving away possessions
  • Behaving recklessly
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Talking about death or of not being here tomorrow; wanting to die or
    threats of killing oneself
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself such as searching online for weapons