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    Mental health disorders: types, signs and treatments

    There are over 200 classified mental health disorders globally, ranging from an anxiety disorder, the most common to schizophrenia, the most severe and Apotemnophilia, one of the rarest (an uncontrollable urge to amputate healthy body parts).

    Mental disorders are treatable health conditions that respond to an integrated treatment approach that includes medication, psychotherapy, holistic therapies, exercise, supplements and a healthy, balanced diet.

    Did you know?

    The hierarchy of medical conditions progresses from symptoms to syndromes, disorders and diseases.

    A syndrome is a collection of traits or symptoms that consistently occur together. A syndrome produces several symptoms without a measurable cause. Examples of syndromes include Down syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

    A disorder affects the normal physical or mental functions of the body. There are underlying conditions that cause significant challenges, distress and suffering in your daily life. Disorder symptoms may be constant or disappear and then reoccur (relapse). Examples of disorders include substance use disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders and eating disorders.

    A disease is visible and measurable, meaning you can see, touch and monitor signs and symptoms of the condition. It has a defined cause, process and treatment. Examples of diseases include influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cancer, tuberculosis and autoimmune disease.

    What is a mental disorder?

    The American Psychiatric Association (APA), the leading psychiatric organisation in the world, defines a mental disorder as “any condition characterised by cognitive and emotional disturbances, abnormal behaviours, impaired functioning, or any combination of these.”

    A combination of factors causes mental disorders, including genetics, environmental hazards, early exposure to trauma, perinatal infections, stress, trauma, chemical exposure, malnutrition, and social or cultural norms.

    9 most common mental disorders

    Anxiety disorders

    Anxiety disorders

    Someone with an anxiety disorder experiences intense distress, fear, dread and apprehension that overwhelms them and affects their daily life. Their feelings are out of their control and disproportionate to the perceived danger. Anxiety episodes can last days, months or years.

    The most common anxiety disorders are:

    Common signs of anxiety include:

    • shaking, trembling
    • nervous energy
    • restless, on edge
    • rapid breathing, hyperventilation
    • increased heart rate
    • heavy sweating
    • sense of pending doom
    • distracted, poor concentration
    • excessive worrying
    • insomnia or oversleeping

    Mood disorders

    Mood disorders

    Someone with a mood disorder experiences periods of extreme depression or alternates between hypomania and depression. Their general state of mind is out of their control and disproportionate to their situation. Their fragile mood state is overwhelming and affects how they manage relationships and daily life.

    The most common mood disorders are:

    Common signs of depression include:

    • sadness, hopelessness, apathy, loss of interest
    • irritable, agitated, aggressive
    • restless, on edge
    • insomnia or oversleeping
    • weight loss or gain
    • poor concentration and memory
    • suicidal thoughts or attempts

    Common signs of hypomania include:

    • excitable, buoyant, abnormally cheerful,
    • edgy, jittery, restless
    • overconfident, boastful
    • talkative, interrupts
    • distracted, poor concentration

    Personality disorders

    Personality disorders

    The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines a personality disorder as a “way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.”

    Someone with a personality disorder thinks about themselves and others differently, relates to people awkwardly, and struggles to control their behaviour and respond emotionally in an appropriate way.

    The most common personality disorders are:

    • obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
    • borderline personality disorder
    • narcissistic personality disorder
    • anti-social personality disorder
    • histrionic personality disorder
    • paranoid personality disorder
    • dependent personality disorder
    • avoidant personality disorder

    Common signs of a personality disorder include:

    • act impulsively
    • find it difficult to trust people
    • unstable, fractious relationships
    • low self-esteem, poor self-image
    • fear abandonment, rejection
    • struggle to conform to social norms
    • extremely shy, avoid social situations, socially inept
    • intense or inappropriate anger
    • sensitive to criticism
    • lack empathy, insensitive, uncaring
    • lie, deceitful, manipulative
    • have difficulty making decisions
    • attention-seeking, prone to hysteria
    • inflexible, controlling, perfectionist
    • sense of entitlement, superiority
    • eccentric behaviour, distorted thinking

    Psychotic disorders

    Psychotic disorders

    Someone with a psychotic disorder cannot distinguish reality from unreality, meaning “not existing objectively or in fact”. They are prone to delusions, fantasy thinking, idealism, daydreaming and detachment. Psychotic disorders are caused by several factors, including viral infections, changes to brain circuitry, early exposure to trauma, stress, and alcohol or drug addiction.

    The most common psychotic disorders are:

    • substance use psychotic disorder
    • schizophrenia
    • schizoaffective disorder
    • delusional disorder

    Early signs of psychosis include:

    • extreme worrying, paranoia
    • highly emotional or not emotional at all
    • sensing things that no one else can
    • erratic, risky, inappropriate behaviour
    • feel external forces are controlling them
    • struggle to concentrate, drop in school grades, poor work performance
    • hypersensitive to remarks, criticism or advise
    • believe they have superpowers, on a mission to save ‘something’
    • antisocial, lack of interest in activities, withdraw from friends and family
    • poor hygiene, lack of self-care

    Substance use disorder

    Substance use disorder

    Substance use disorder is the revised term for alcohol or drug addiction or substance abuse. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterised by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress and self-control. Those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking [drugs].”

    The most common substances abused are:

    • nicotine
    • marijuana
    • alcohol
    • depressant drugs
    • opioid drugs
    • stimulant drugs
    • anabolic steroids
    • hallucinogens
    • inhalants

    Early signs of substance use disorder include:

    • compulsive drug or alcohol seeking
    • changes in mood and behaviour
    • secret drinking or drug use
    • poor hygiene, lack of self-care
    • lose interest in family, friends or activities
    • headaches, nausea or vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea
    • insomnia or sleeping too much
    • trembling, shaking, sweating
    • loss of weight or weight gain
    • bloodshot eyes, pinpoint pupils
    • change in skin tone and health

    Neurological development disorders

    Neurological development disorders

    Neurodevelopmental disorders are primarily associated with cognitive and physical difficulties in children that continue into adulthood. Children with neurodevelopment disorders have issues related to the function of their brain and neurological system that affect their mental faculties and behaviour. They experience atypical brain development and immature metabolic pathways, including poor motor skills, language and speech, sensory processing, behaviour, concentration and memory.

    The most common neurodevelopmental disorders are:

    • autism spectrum disorders
    • dyslexia
    • attention-deficient disorder (ADD)
    • hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • speech and language disorders
    • intellectual disability (mental retardation)
    • conduct disorders
    • cerebral palsy
    • Fragile X syndrome
    • Tourette syndrome

    Early signs of neurodevelopmental disorders include:

    • social; lack of facial expression, unable to maintain eye contact, detached, unresponsive
    • emotions; volatile temper, mood swings, easily frustrated, agitated, aggressive
    • sensory; sensitive to touch, light and sound
    • learning; developmental delays in speaking, reading and spelling, poor concentration and memory
    • movement; uncoordinated, stiff, uncontrollable spasms, restless, rocking, hand flapping
    • behaviour; hyperactive, easily distracted, specific rituals

    Eating disorders

    Eating disorders

    Someone with an eating disorder has an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. They are preoccupied with their body weight and shape and cannot control their eating and exercise habits, which affects their health and how they function daily. An eating disorder is a complex mental illness that is life-threatening, even fatal, if not treated.

    The most common eating disorders are:

    • anorexia nervosa
    • bulimia nervosa
    • Pica eating disorder
    • rumination disorder
    • avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID)
    • binge eating disorder
    • feeding disorder
    • chewing and spitting (CHSP)

    Early signs of eating disorders include:

    • preoccupied with weight, looks and body shape
    • preoccupied with food, exercise or both
    • count calories, skip meals, take diet pills
    • extreme weight loss or gain, yo-yo weight
    • low self-esteem, poor self-image
    • hypersensitive over comments about their appearance
    • extreme exercise regime
    • obsessive meal rituals
    • very anxious at mealtimes or in social situations involving food
    • moody, irritable, anxious, depressed
    • signs of vomiting, trips to the bathroom during or after meals, damaged teeth
    • signs of binge eating, hoarding food
    • antisocial, withdraw from family and friends
    • change clothing style, wear baggy clothes
    • fatigue, fainting, dizzy
    • menstrual periods stop

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    Dementia covers a wide range of cognitive-decline disorders and involves loss of memory recall, thinking abilities, and difficulties with speech, decision-making and problem-solving that affect one’s ability to function normally.

    The most common types of dementia:

    • Alzheimer’s disease
    • Lewy body dementia
    • Frontotemporal dementia
    • Vascular dementia
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Huntington disease

    Early signs of dementia include:

    • mood changes
    • aggressive, agitated
    • confused, dazed
    • memory loss, forgetful
    • poor concentration and decision-making
    • struggle to talk correctly, can’t find the right words

    Impulse control disorders

    Impulse control disorders

    Someone with an impulse control disorder struggles to control urges or impulses to act in a harmful way to themselves or others. They battle to control their emotions and behaviour, which affects their daily lives and relationships. Compulsive urges often violate laws or social norms.

    The most common impulse control disorders are:

    • pyromania
    • kleptomania
    • compulsive gambling
    • intermittent explosive disorder
    • oppositional defiant disorder
    • conduct disorder

    Early signs of impulse control disorders include:

    • antisocial behaviour
    • risky behaviour
    • impatient, restless, agitated
    • obsessive, compulsive thought patterns
    • low self-esteem, self-worth
    • depression, anxiety, paranoia
    • suicidal thoughts or attempts

    How are mental disorders treated?

    How are mental disorders treated

    Mental disorders are treated with an integrated management Program that includes psychotherapeutic and somatic support.

    Psychotherapeutic treatments include:

    Somatic treatments include:

    • medication
    • sensation awareness
    • physical movement exercise
    • boundary development
    • massage
    • grounding exercises
    • breathing exercises
    • titration therapy
    • electroconvulsive therapy
    • transcranial magnetic stimulation
    • vagus nerve stimulation

    How to help someone with a mental illness

    Garden at White River Manor

    If someone you love lives with a mental illness, and you’re struggling to get them to accept treatment for their condition, here are some valuable insights and an introduction to LEAP. It’s a useful communication tool that’ll help you help a loved one with a mental health disorder.

    We’re here to help.

    Contact us today if you’d like a confidential and free chat with one of our highly-trained mental health and addiction care professionals at White River Manor in South Africa.