Mental disorders are illnesses that affect or are manifested in the brain.  They usually impact the way a person thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people.  The definition ‘mental disorder’ encompasses numerous psychiatric disorders that can vary in severity.


A mental disorder has a major impact on a person’s well-being.  It may interfere directly with their daily functioning (at home, work, and/or socially) and adversely affect their quality of life.  Mental disorders are caused by a complex and poorly understood interaction between genetic vulnerability, environmental events (such as exposure to infectious or toxic agents), learned behavior (and personality), physical health, present stressors and coping skills.  Mental disorders ultimately have a physiological basis and arise from changes in brain chemistry.


The main characteristics of psychotic disorders are loss of insight and reality testing.  People with psychotic disorders experience delusions and hallucinations and usually do not understand that these thoughts and experiences are abnormal.  The main chronic psychotic disorders are schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and delusional disorder.  Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder charactized by delusions, hallucinations, agitation, blunted affect, social withdrawal, apathy, anhedonia, and poverty of thought and content of speech.  In schizoaffective disorder, symptoms of both affective illness and schizophrenia are seen. Delusional disorder is characterized by persistent nonbizarre delusions.


Mood disorders are characterized by a disturbance of mood or persistent emotional states that affect how a person acts, thinks and perceives his environment.  People with mood disorders often suffer from overwhelming feelings of sadness (depression), while others suffer from alternating periods of mania and depression (bipolar disorder).


Anxiety disorders include various combinations of mental and physical manifestations of anxiety not attributable to real danger and occurring either in attacks (panic disorder) or as a persisting state (generalized anxiety disorder).  Anxiety symptoms include emotional (fear), cognitive (anxious thoughts) and bodily symptoms (increased heart rate), the latter being caused by stimulation of the autonomic nervous system.  Anxiety disorders also include phobias, social phobia (social anxiety disorder), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.


Personality disorders are deeply ingrained, maladaptive patterns of behavior.  The initial signs of personality disorders can be recognized in adolescence or earlier and symptoms often continue throughout adult life.  Personality disorders can have an adverse effect both on the individual and on society.



Online links to General Information  -- This popular site was developed by the late (and beloved) Ivan Goldberg, MD, and has reliable information and helpful links, particularly regarding mood disorders. – This site is sponsored by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) and provides brief descriptions of various mental health problems as well as specialized information such as descriptions of what psychiatry is within medicine.– This site is from the National Institute of Health and provides in-depth information about mental illness and research, including brochures, fact sheets, and links to research. Alliance on Mental Illness - A patient advocacy group with support resources for patients and families.  - Provides reliable information about medications.  - A psychology/psychotherapy site that contains reliable information.

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