A Beginners Guide to Mental Illness

Updated: Jul 6

Last week I asked you what mental illnesses you’d like me to blog about and you all answered the call!  Over the next 4 weeks I will be writing in-depth about the following mental health disorders: bi bolar disorder 1 & 11, anxiety, depression and PTSD.  However, with the information coming from MayoClinic.org, today’s blog is a general overview of what it means to have a mental health disorder.



What Does It Mean to Have a Mental Health Disorder?

MayoClinic.com defines having a mental health disorder as referring to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior.  Examples of mental health disorders include depression, anxiety and schizophrenia just to name a few.


Everyone has mental health concerns every once and awhile, but when those concerns are persistent and cause disruptions in your life, then it is considered a mental illness.


Those of us who have struggles with our mental health know that it can be disruptive and can make life miserable at times, but with the right support system, therapy and/or medication it can be managed!


How Do I Know I Have A Mental Illness?

Every mental health disorder has its own set of unique symptoms. What they have in common is that they will affect your thoughts, emotions and behaviors.  The following are just a few symptoms of mental health disorders, for the full list, go to MayoClinic.org.

  • Feeling sad or down

  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate

  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt

  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows

  • Suicidal thinking

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or your doctor/therapist ASAP!

If you experience any of these symptoms and you feel that you may suffer from a mental health disorder, please contact your doctor or therapist.



What Causes Mental Illnesses?

Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors:

  • Inherited traits

  • Environmental exposures before birth

  • Brain chemistry

For the full explanation, go to MayoClinic.org


Can I Prevent Having a Mental Illness?

There is no sure way to prevent having a mental illness, however, there are ways to help keep your symptoms under control:

  • Pay attention to warning signs - work with your doctor/therapist to learn what your triggers are and consider involving family members or friends to watch for warning signs

  • Get routine medical care - pay attention to your body, especially if you start new meds, you will need to report how you feel to your doctor/therapist

  • Get help when you need it - don’t wait for your symptoms to get worse, contact your support team so that you can get your symptoms under control

  • Take good care of yourself - get rest, eat well, work out, practice self care. The more you take care of yourself, the more you can control your symptoms


How Do I Know I Have a Mental Illness?

MayoClinic.org states that to determine a diagnosis and check for related complications, you may have:

  • A physical exam. Your doctor will try to rule out physical problems that could cause your symptoms

  • Lab tests. These may include, a check of your thyroid function or a screening for alcohol and drugs

  • A psychological evaluation. A doctor or mental health professional talks to you about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns. You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire to help answer these questions

It’s important for you to know what your symptoms are in order for your doctor to properly diagnose you.  The more information you can provide, the better. Nevertheless, if you’re not sure, that’s okay too. Your doctor will ask a series of questions to get what information that is needed.


The defining symptoms for each mental illness are detailed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. This manual is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.





What Are My Treatment Options?

Your diagnosis will determine what course of treatment you receive, but let's start with you on your treatment team.  Your treatment team is comprised of the following:

  • Family or primary care doctor

  • Nurse practitioner

  • Physician assistant

  • Psychiatrist, a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illnesses

  • Psychotherapist, such as a psychologist or a licensed counselor

  • Pharmacist

  • Social worker

  • Family members

You may not have all of these people on your treatment team, but get to know the ones that are on your team.  It’s my experience that the more personable you are with them, the more they are willing to go above and beyond to help you. Also, it’s been my experience that the more knowledgeable you are about your mental illness, the better your team can work with you.


We covered who can be on your treatment team, let's talk about treatment options:

  • Medications

  • Psychotherapy

  • Brain-stimulation treatments

  • Hospital and residential treatment programs

  • Substance misuse treatment

  • Participating in your own care

To read the in depth explanation of each, go to MayoClinic.org



Having a mental illness doesn’t mean that your life is over, you can live a full life with the help and support of your doctors, your “ tribe” and medication if need be.  Don’t let the stigma of having a mental illness trick you into thinking that your life is worthless, because it's not.


I hope this post helped to shed light on questions you may have had about having a mental health disorder.  Over the next few weeks I will be taking an in depth look at the following mental health disorders: Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar disorder I & II and PTSD.

A BIG shout out to those Brown Girls who helped me choose which disorders to write about, I SOOO appreciate you :)



Did you know that I now have a podcast? It's called, For My BrownGirls! Podcast and you can listen to it HERE!


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*I am not a licensed therapist.  This post does not serve as a form of therapy or diagnosis.  If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or your doctor.

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