Understanding Mental Health Disorders: An Overview

What is a Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a health condition that involves changing emotions, thought patterns, or behavioral patterns. Mental illness is generally associated with some noticeable distress or problems adapting in social work or family situations. 

A positive mental framework is a foundation for healthy emotions, thoughts, learning, communication, self-esteem, and adaptability. A positive mental health outlook enables people to be happy and productive members of society, social, and family groups. 

The Stigma Behind Mental Health Disorders

Talking about mental health has always had a bit of a stigma about it, but that fog is lifting in recent years. It is important to understand that having a mental illness or struggling with mental health issues is is not something to be ashamed of. Mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are diagnosable health issues, just like diabetes or a broken bone. 

Thankfully, more and more emphasis is being placed on mental health research and appropriate mental health services. As a society, we continue to expand our understanding of brain function and what is needed to proactively maintain a healthy mental outlook. 

Mental health issues are not unique to one culture, gender, age, or any other demographic. Anyone can struggle with a mental illness, feel depressed, or wrestle with anxiety. While mental illness can appear at almost any age, most mental illness is diagnosed by age 24. 

Mental health issues can take many forms. Many are mild and perhaps only noticeable to the person suffering. Some can interfere with every aspect of our lives. Some can even become so severe as to require hospitalization. No matter the severity of your issue, it is never wrong to seek professional help.

Is a Mental Illness Considered a Disability?

A mental illness can refer to a wide range of emotional, mental, and psychiatric conditions. The type and severity of presenting symptoms can differ greatly from person to person. Mental health conditions never follow a predictable or consistent pattern and can crop up when least expected. 

If a mental health concern gets to the point where it noticeable impacts a person’s ability to function in academic, social, or work settings, it can then be classified as a “psychiatric disability”. This could be as simple as a depressed person struggling to get to work on time or someone with bipolar with extreme mood swings that prevent any healthy social interaction. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to prevent discrimination in the workplace for people with disabilities, including psychiatric disabilities. The ADA and mental health laws protect individuals from discrimination and assure accommodations in the workplace for people suffering from mental illness. They do not, however, guarantee continued employment despite the ramifications of certain mental illnesses. 

The ADA does differentiate between impairments and disabilities. An impairment becomes a disability when it noticeable limits someone’s ability to carry out one or more life or employment activities. The severity and length of time of the impact to activity are taken into account as well. 

Understanding the Importance of Mental Health Services

According to research done by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in every five Americans struggles with some type of mental illness. In addition, as many as 10% of those people suffer from what would be considered a “severe mental illness” that significantly impacts day-to-day life.   

The range of severe mental health disorders is vast. This can include schizophrenia, different types of bipolar disorder, severe depression, and more. In addition to these disorders, many millions of Americans struggle with substance addiction issues that often correspond to a mental health diagnosis. In fact, statistics show that over half of the 20 million Americans that struggle with addiction also have a mental health diagnosis. 

Mental health services can significantly lower health care costs, improve work/life balance, decrease the likelihood of other serious health issues like heart disease, and improve life expectancy. Mental health services, such as counseling, reduce the risk of chronic illness significantly because they reduce stress anxiety, and the likelihood of reoccurring substance abuse. Most importantly, mental health services save lives by improving the daily outlook for those who may struggle with hopelessness or suicidal ideation. If you or someone you love falls into these categories, please seek professional help today. 

Why Should We Talk About Mental Health?

It is incredibly important to bring the dialogue around mental health out of the shadows. Many people struggle with the difficulties of an undiagnosed mental illness until it’s too late. Mental health disorders of any severity can be treated if we are willing to be open, honest, and seek help. There are three main reasons why it is important to destigmatize the mental health conversation, and here are just a few.

Normalize the Mental Health Conversation

By being more open about our mental health, we as a society can remove the myths and falsehoods that surround the topic. The more open we can be, the more likely those that need help will feel comfortable seeking it. 

Stop the Increase of Mental Health Disorders

Various types of mental health disorders have continued to increase in recent years. Some studies show that severe mental health issues like major depressive disorder are increasing 2%-5% a year among the ages 18-25. As more and more people are affected by various mental illnesses, it reinforces the idea that we must be open with our struggles in order to break the cycle.

Promote Healthy Treatment for Mental Illness and Lower Suicide Rates

This is the most important reason, to be honest about the state of your mental health. Because of the taboo nature of mental illness, many people are not getting the treatment they need and deserve. Studies show that over 90% of suicidal individuals have a diagnosable mental illness. The more we can destigmatize these issues, the more likely people will get the treatment they need. 


Receiving treatment for your mental health does not have to disrupt your life. In fact, it can be as simple as a short zoom call once a week. For more serious cases, there are residential and long-term treatment options, but for many patients, getting healthy is as simple as finding the right therapist or medication.

What are the Causes of Mental Health Disorders? 

Mental illnesses, in general, can be caused by several different factors. Everyone feels a bit of sadness or anxiety throughout life. These feelings only become disorders when they are experienced for prolonged periods of time or repeatedly. While every mental health journey is different, there are a few factors that seem to contribute to a higher likelihood of developing a mental illness.


Mental illness can be significantly more common in those whose blood relatives have exhibited symptoms. Certain genetic factors will increase the risk of developing a mental illness, but they may not be triggered until later in life. 

Environmental Exposures Before Birth and in Infancy 

Sometimes expecting and nursing mothers are unknowingly exposed to harmful chemicals in drinking water or their homes. These chemicals can cause birth defects or brain development issues and can make children more susceptible to mental illness. 

Brain Chemistry Changes

Changes in brain chemistry can come from many factors, including trauma, physical accident, or substance abuse. When these changes occur, people are more likely to develop a mental health concern.  

What is the Relationship Between Mental Health and Addiction?

Mental health issues often precede addiction issues and the two disorders are closely linked. The presence of both a mental illness and an addiction issue is called a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. Dealing with substance addiction or a mental health issue is never easy. Dealing with both at the same time can be life-altering. 

If someone is dealing with a dual diagnosis of a mental health concern along with an addiction disorder, they will have to deal with the symptoms of each unique disorder individually. Complicating matters, these disorders will worsen each other and compound present symptoms. An unchecked mental illness can lead to worsening substance abuse. Substance use disorder can worsen the symptoms of depression, bipolar, and the like. 

The presence of two or more mental health and addiction disorders is more common than many realize. 

  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental health issues have a co-occurring substance use disorder
  • 37% of alcohol abusers and about 50% of drug abusers have a corresponding mental illness

Ignoring a mental illness or a substance use disorder can make both matters much worse. It is important to know that you or your loved one have the power to overcome these disorders. With proper care, support and treatment, you can overcome a co-occurring disorder and take back your life.

Contact Harmony Place Today! 

For decades, mental health and addiction professionals at Harmony Place have been providing effective mental health care. By working closely with our clients to understand the nature of their challenges, we are able to provide targeted solutions. All our approaches address each individual’s unique needs.

With a holistic approach encompassing psychotherapy, psychiatry, and other therapeutic services we can help you achieve recovery from mental health disorders and/or addiction. Contact our team today!