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With household names like Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Megan Thee Stallion going public about their struggles with anxiety and depression in recent years, mental health is finally becoming less taboo. It wasn’t long ago that any deviation from the norm was treated like a shameful secret: Mental health conditions were ignored, waved away, or handled in private — and often inhumane — ways (think lobotomies).

The ongoing lack of visibility into these struggles served to perpetuate the myth that mental health issues were pretty rare — and that the few people who did struggle were somehow to blame for their condition.

Man sitting in chair with his head in his hand © Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash

Today, we know mental health conditions are actually incredibly common: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental illness. And that number is growing: the stress, fear, grief, isolation, and uncertainty of the global pandemic led to an increase in mental health issues — particularly among young adults — according to the CDC.

Of course, that’s a conservative picture: In cultures, professions, and communities where mental illness stigma remains alive and well, addressing your own struggles has consequences — anything from social ostracization to losing your job.

Meanwhile, a lack of access to affordable health care and unbiased information creates additional barriers for those most in need of support. And, when left untreated and unacknowledged, one person’s poor mental health can create a ripple effect that impacts their loved ones. When we look at the toll that untreated mental illness takes on our society, it’s safe to assume we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

It’s a complex, sensitive, and crucial issue — which is why awareness remains so important.

What is a mental illness?

According to NAMI, mental illness refers to a wide range of conditions that affect “a person's thinking, feeling, behavior or mood.” Waking up on the wrong side of the bed, it is not — while symptoms can ebb and flow, mental illness is partially defined by the impact it has on day-to-day functioning and personal relationships.

If you or a loved one are in emotional crisis, dial 988 for the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The Lifeline is a free and confidential emotional support service for people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. The Lifeline is comprised of a national network of over 200 local crisis centers, combining custom local care and resources with national standards and best practices.

Following, are some of the most common types of mental illness.

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders can manifest in a number of ways: from racing thoughts or risk-averse behavior to an upset stomach. Anxiety disorders are the most common — and the most treatable — form of mental illness, impacting more than 40 million Americans over 18. They include:

Check out our many Dummies books on Emotional Health & Psychology.

Mood disorders

While anyone can experience a mood swing, the highs and lows are more severe, persistent, and disruptive for those living with mood disorders. There are a variety of mood disorders, each with their own diagnostic criteria and symptoms. A person with bipolar disorder may experience drastic swings between high moods (mania) and low moods (depression), while a person with major depressive disorder experiences the lows — changes in sleep and appetite, persistent feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, lack of motivation, inability to focus or make decisions, and feelings of emptiness — without the highs.

Mood disorders include:

READ MORE: Depression For Dummies;Bipolar Disorder For Dummies

Psychotic disorders

Psychotic disorders make it difficult for a person to discern between reality and delusions or hallucinations. These disorders are characterized by distortions in one’s thinking and perception. Disorders include:
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Brief psychotic disorder
  • Delusional disorder
  • Substance-induced psychotic disorder
Other mental health conditions include eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, personality disorders like borderline personality disorder (BPD), developmental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dissociative disorders like depersonalization disorder.

Treating mental health conditions

It’s not easy living with a mental health condition, but there are several options to make life more manageable. Some of the most popular include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches common sense principles that help people break out of unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors. It’s thought to be the most effective form of therapy for a number of conditions, including anxiety, addiction, depression, eating disorders, social anxiety, and personality disorders.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a form of CBT. While DBT also helps people recognize unhelpful thinking and behavioral patterns, the primary teaching is mindfulness techniques that help patients regulate their emotions in a world full of suffering. It works best for people who have trouble controlling their responses to strong emotions.

READ MORE: DBT For Dummies

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) uses mindfulness to help people build their interpersonal relationship skills and manage anxiety related to said relationships.

READ MORE: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy For Dummies

Mindfulness is more than the buzzword du jour — it’s a great way to manage anxiety, addiction, and even everyday stress. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of — and accepting — the present moment. Meditation is one of many ways to cultivate this skill.

READ MORE: Managing Depression with Mindfulness For Dummies; Managing Anxiety with Mindfulness For Dummies; Meditation For Dummies, 4th Edition

When all else fails, medication could be the missing link. A psychiatrist can help determine if psychiatric drugs would be a beneficial form of treatment.

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