A Closer Look at Different Types of Mental Health Disorders

Apr 25, 20247 min
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Understanding mental health and illness 

Ayesha, a 32-year old woman, came to see me when her best friend asked her to “talk to someone” about her inability to focus at work. She seemed to be lost in her own thoughts and rarely shared her thoughts with others. Her family assumed she was still trying to recover from her broken engagement and encouraged her to meet others so she could “move on”. They did not know she was meeting me, a psychotherapist. Whenever she complained of headaches and sleepless nights, they sent her to the family doctor but when she looked sad and ‘lost in thoughts’, they assumed the cure would be a life partner. What started off as a natural sadness to a broken relationship, turned into a long period of questioning her looks, her intelligence, her worth as a person. She began to lose interest in things that she had previously enjoyed and started avoiding friends and family. Part of our work in psychotherapy was to recognize the depression symptoms and develop ways to cope with those symptoms so that Ayesha could be in the driver’s seat of her life and not the depression. 

Ayesha’s story resembles the story of many people who take years to get help for their mental health challenges because of the assumption that their psychological distress is simply “stress due to circumstances” and that it will resolve itself once the circumstances change. However, our stress is an expression of our reaction to negative events in our life and depending on the intensity of these events, our reactions can become a habitual way of thinking and feeling, which is how mental illnesses develop. When our stress responses start interfering with our routine life for an extended period of time, it might be necessary to look deeper. If we see signs that our car’s petrol tank is low, we start looking for a petrol pump but do we know the signs for when our psychological reserves are low? Here are a few broad signs to notice: 

Psychosocial and physical symptoms that might be early signs of mental illness

  • Not feeling like your usual self, e.g. getting angry, crying, worrying, brooding without clear context or reason.  
  • If you already had challenges in your life, you now experience an increase in their intensity and frequency, e.g. if work is already stressful but is affecting you even more than usual
  • You resist the idea of being with others (social withdrawal) when you usually enjoyed being around people
  • Eating a lot more or a lot less than usual, difficulty with sleep, change in sex drive, change in energy levels 
  • An aggravation of existing physical symptoms or challenges, e.g. worsening aches and pains, digestive issues, headaches, falling ill more frequently. 
  • Difficulty concentrating, understanding, remembering things. 
  • Not functioning like usual at work, studies, or routine activities 
  • Thoughts about harming yourself or wishing to die by your own hands (suicide) or by accident or wishing that God would end your life. 

What is mental illness? 

Mental illness is an experience of feelings and thoughts that disconnect us from ourselves and others, an inability to do things as per our usual ways. According to the Diathesis-Stress model, illnesses can be the result of an interaction between external stress and internal factors including vulnerability to illness due to family history, personal experiences that influence our ways of thinking and responding to stress. 

[Note: ‘Mental illness’ and ‘mental health disorders’ both refer to the same idea and for the purposes of this article, we will use the phrase ‘mental illness’.]

According to a 2017 study by Indian Council of Medical Research and Public Health Foundation of India (See references: India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative collaborators, 2019) found that one in seven persons in India suffers from mental illnesses of varying severity, with depression and anxiety disorders being the most common. As such, over 90 million Indians, or 7.5 percent of the country's population of 1.3 billion, suffer from some form of mental illness. These numbers have only increased after COVID (Sapien Labs Centre for the Human Brain and Mind at Krea University, 2023). 

However, very few people dealing with mental health disorders actually seek out support. The National Mental Health Survey conducted in 2015-2016 by National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) found that nearly 80% of those suffering from mental disorders did not receive treatment for over a year. 

Given that lack of knowledge can often prevent people from seeking out support, this article is to help you see when your usual stress (e.g. nervousness before an exam) has   become a sign of an illness (e.g. nervousness everytime you go to school). 

5 broad categories of mental illness 

  • Anxious distress (commonly called Anxiety Disorders) 

Theme: Fear, nervousness, worry. 

Persistently thinking about the future in a manner that creates tension, overthinking and overplanning. 

  • People may experience physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, frequent urination, gastrointestinal distress such as acid reflux. Anxiety disorders can differ based on the situation in which they occur, or the type of behaviors that the person exhibits.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder all come in this category. 
  • Mood distress (commonly called Mood disorders) 

Theme: Sadness or extreme excitability. 

  • Typical thoughts may be a mix of helplessness, hopelessness, self-criticism, low motivation. Alternatively, people may experience periods of feeling overly happy to the point of being excited and impulsive. 
  • People may also experience physical tiredness, lethargy, sleep disturbances (too much or too little sleep) 
  • Depressive disorders and Bipolar disorder come in this category. 

  • Psychotic Distress (commonly called Psychotic disorders) 

Theme: Disconnection from physical reality. 

  • when our beliefs about reality are far-fetched or disconnected from the physical reality that others see or hear, and they are able to manage their routine life. Every individual has a unique experience of reality and we might have beliefs or ideas that we don’t share with others but psychosis impacts peoples’ ability to function in their everyday life. 
  • Most commonly, there are three kinds of disconnection from physical reality
    • Delusions : An unshakeable belief in something that is not true, and this belief may not be shared by others. E.g. Believing that a celebrity is sending you messages through their latest movie. 
    • Auditory hallucinations: Hearing things that are not present. 
    • Visual hallucinations: Seeing things that are not present. 

  • Trauma and stressor-related distress

Theme: Fear for one’s survival due to a single event or multiple events over time i.e. ‘cumulative trauma’. 

  • If we are exposed to danger to our own life or danger to the life of loved ones, we may get into the habit of scanning our psychological, social, and physical surroundings for signs of danger. We may keep recalling dangerous events and experiences, thus continuing to believe that our life or safety is under threat. 
  • Impulse control and addiction disorders 

Theme: Seeking thrill or ways to numb out distress. 

  • Inability to resist the urge to do something or consume something that could be harmful to themselves or others. 
  • Alcohol, drugs and video games are common pathways for people to seek thrills or numb their feelings, these objects become a form of addiction when you pay more attention to these objects and than to your responsibilities and relationships. 
  • It may also be a sign of addiction if you think you are unable to ‘be yourself’ unless you use one of these addictive objects. 
5 Board Categories Of Mental Illness - Therapy Club

Cautionary note: 

It is important to be respectful about people’s social, cultural and spiritual beliefs when reflecting on illness. E.g. People who have spiritual experiences are subject to inappropriate judgements if their experiences are seen as psychotic. Additionally, when people experience discrimination and physical harm based on religion, caste, gender, race, etc, it is possible that they will be vigilant about this and people who don’t understand these experiences may misunderstand their vigilance as a sign of a paranoia. 

Importance of mental health support

The line between mental health and mental illness is drawn by the intensity of psychological distress, how long it lasts and how much it impacts your daily life. Mental illness is a sign that you are experiencing an intense stress response at the mind and body level, it is important to recognize your suffering and get the support you need. A qualified therapist can help you do that. At Mave Health, we strive to help you connect to a qualified therapist who can help you return to your usual self by understanding your psychological distress and developing healthy coping strategies. 

Our mind and body are deeply connected but we know our bodies far better than our minds. Since our mind is a source of our thoughts, feelings and actions, our mental health is a reflection of the harmony between our environment and our mind. Mental illness is manageable when you have the right combination of knowledge and support. Prioritize your mental health as much as you prioritize your physical health, reaching out for qualified support is one crucial way to do that! 

References: 

Prevalence, Patterns and Outcomes, National Mental Health Survey of India, Supported by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, and Implemented by National institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) Bengaluru: In Collaboration with Partner Institutions; 2015-2016.

World Health Organization (2022), https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response


India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative collaborators (2019). Nations within a nation: variations in epidemiological transition across the states of India, 1990–2016 in the Global Burden of Disease Study. Found at https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)32804-0/fulltext

Summary at https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2019/dec/24/one-in-seven-persons-in-india-suffers-from-mental-disorder-finds-icmr-survey-2080242.html

Sapien Labs Centre for the Human Brain and Mind at Krea University (2023), Mental State of

India: The Internet-enabled youth (Rapid Report), found at https://krea.edu.in/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/Mental_State_of_India.pdf

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Shama Shah
Therapy and Supervision