A Guide to Understanding Mental Illness

Reviewed Aug 30, 2016


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Mental illness can affect: social interaction, appetite, and expression of feelings.

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Mental illness refers to disorders that can affect a person’s thinking and the way they act. The symptoms of the mental illness can be mild and affect a person very little. Or, they can be so serious that the person can’t do everyday tasks. Things we take for granted such as having a job, going to school, or taking care of ourselves can be very hard for a person with serious mental illness.

Mental illness can affect a person in these ways:

Thought processes: Includes trouble with focus, seeing things that aren’t there, or hearing voices. It can be hard to get through simple daily tasks. Words may be used in an odd way. The person can have confused thoughts.

Getting along with others: Your loved one may stay away from friends and family. He may talk too much or not at all. He may drop out of activities he enjoys. He may stop doing work at school or quit his job.

Mood: Your loved one may cry too much, be cranky, or be afraid about unusual things. She may talk about feeling hopeless or may sleep too little or too much. Or she may be extremely happy, even in situations when others are sad.

Hunger: Your loved one may eat too much or stop eating. He may lose or gain weight without trying.

The way she looks: Your loved one may stop bathing and taking personal care. Or she may wear clothes or makeup in strange ways. This is especially important if this way of dressing is new.

Hostility: Your loved one may threaten others. Or may want to hurt others or get angry easily.

Expressing feelings: Your loved one shows no emotion. This includes crying or happy feelings. Or shows feelings that don’t match the situation like laughing when something is really sad.


Making the right diagnosis takes time. The first one your loved one gets may be changed later. Your loved one may have more than one diagnosis. For example, a person may have schizophrenia and depression. It also takes time to figure out how well the meds and treatment are working. It may be hard to find the med that works the best.

Often, the symptoms of mental illness come back again. Even after your loved one has acted “normal” for a while. Or symptoms can change. The period of time your loved one is having symptoms or problems is called an episode. The amount of time an episode lasts also varies. Some people have an episode that lasts for a few weeks or months. Some people may have only one or two episodes. For others, the illness may last many years or a lifetime. There is no easy way to predict how the illness will affect your loved one.

Drug and alcohol use or a health problem may cause the same kind of symptoms as a mental illness. Health problems like multiple sclerosis or brain tumors may affect a person’s mood or the way they act. The first step in getting good care is to have a complete health exam.

The doctor should give your family member info about his mental illness, the meds he’s taking, and any other treatments he’s getting. Your loved one should take part in decisions about her care. By working together, your loved one has the best chance for recovery.




By Haline Grublak, Vice President of Member and Family Affairs, Beacon Health Options ©2011-2017 Beacon Health Options Reviewed by Trenda Hedges, CRSS, Recovery Team Manager and Julie Tull, CRSS, Peer & Family Support Specialist, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.



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