Defining Mental Illness

When it comes to mental illness, we often associate it with things like depression and anxiety. However, mental illness not limited to just one or two types of conditions. Mental illness comes in various forms — in fact, there are over 200 classifications of mental illness — and with varying degrees of symptoms, and each individual diagnosed with mental illness is affected by it differently.

Mental illness is defined as a disease of the brain resulting in a disturbance in thoughts or behaviours, which can range from mild to severe. At some point in their lifetime, an estimated 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in some capacity. Mental illness can affect people of all ages — from children to teenagers, and adults to the elderly.

Common Disorders

As mentioned, there are many different types of mental illnesses that one can be diagnosed with. However, the most common forms of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Depression affects the way one feels, how they think and how they act, and can also affect one’s ability to perform everyday activities, such as going to work or school, and even something as simple as getting out of bed. Severe depression can lead to thoughts of suicide, which is why it’s imperative to speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible so that you can find the right treatment and get it in a timely matter. Anxiety disorders also often co-occur with depression. Anxiety is defined as feelings of worry, uneasiness, and also results in panic attacks. With bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, an individual will experience what’s described as low lows or high highs, as well as sudden changes in energy levels, the way they think, and the way they behave. Schizophrenia, a severe, chronic disorder of the brain resulting in the breakdown of thoughts and emotions, as well as behaviour. Symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions and hallucinations, as well as the inability to think clearly or concentrate.

Diagnosing Mental Illness

In order to accurately diagnose mental illness, Dr. Ali Ghahary urges the importance of speaking to a medical professional upon the first sign of symptoms — symptoms that include feeling sad or down for an extended period of time, extreme fluctuations in mood, withdrawal from friends and activities that you once enjoyed, extreme fatigue, detachment from reality, changing in eating habits, alcohol and drug use, and suicidal ideations.

Treating Mental Illness

In order to treat mental illness it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis. Once you have a definitive diagnosis, the treatment used is often a combination of medication and therapy — including outpatient therapy, usually with a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. There are many medications used to treat mental illness, such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. If you’ve been prescribed these medications, be aware that it’s not uncommon to experience symptoms such as fatigue and nausea during the first several weeks until your body becomes used to the drug. Always report any severe or unusual symptoms to your physician, as the dose of your medication may need to be altered.

Originally published at on January 30, 2018.



Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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