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Serious Mental Illnesses?

I was discussing mental illness with an associate and the question came up, what makes mental illness serious? In short, serious mental illness includes: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and borderline personality disorder. My associate said, 'all mental illnesses are serious'. What do you think? What about eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and others?

According to the Vermont Department of Corrections Agency of Human Services serious mental illness is "substantial disorder of thought, mood, perception, orientation or memory, any which grossly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality, or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, diagnoses of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, psychotic conditions not otherwise specified, bipolar disorder, and severe depressive disorders."

The good thing is serious mental illness can and do get treated with success. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), "The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports."

To learn more about serious mental illness visit NAMI, or to learn more about schizophrenia visit Schizophrenia Society of Novia Scotia (Canada).


Elizabeth A. said…
How do you define substantial?

I agree with your associate. If it's diagnosable, it's serious.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sorry I made an error with my other comment. I just wanted to chime in here. I do think that the DSM is an archaic, weird book in the way it describes mental illnesses with those numbers and Axis things. For example, being homosexual was in the DSM as a mental illness not too many years back. Obviously that was a mistake. So, psychiatry is not immune to making mistakes. I have had anorexia nervosa, and I can say with clarity that I could die from that illness just as easily as I could die from a suicide because I was in major depression or psychosis. On the other hand, I do feel that the eating disorder was not as complicated as the Schizoaffective Disorder has been because I was able to battle the eating disorder with my own mind, whereas, in psychosis, a lot of the time my mind was completely compromised, I didn't know what reality was, and absolutely nothing could help but medication.
Lady_Amanda said…
Yeah for you for explaining that. It is very hopeful that mental illness can be treated. Was the person you talked to someone without a mental illness?

I also wanted to comment of what Jennifer said. One of my mental illness diganois is sexually idenity issues. I always thought that meant something was wrong with me because I am bisexual, but I find out that it's not because I am a homesexual they me that I carry that diganois it's because I have problems feeling comfortable with my oriention.

K.C. Jones said…
Hmmm. To be honest, I find this really offensive. Eating disorders are the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, so if that doesn't make them serious, then what does? Oh yeah, the patriarchy doesn't want to label them as serious because the majority of people who are diagnosed with them are womyn. (Note I did not say the majority who actually have them, but the ones who are diagnosed.) So I have schizoaffective disorder and an eating disorder and I could die from both. Currently there is NO medication for an eating disorder-not really, just meds you can take for the depression that results from not eating. And not only do Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate, but the lowest amount of available help, so next time I would do a little more research.
K.C. Jones said…
Also, eating disorders are very similar to OCD and in fact, were almost classified as a sub-category. The way diagnoses are worded in the DSM are hotly debated by the people that write it, so it is helpful to remember that it is only almost by chance that eating disorders are not included. The DSM (book that lists all the diagnoses) is revised every so often and this always dramatically changes how various illnesses are viewed. For instance up until the mid 1970s, homosexuality was listed as a mental illness and people were put through hospitals (and shock treatment) because of it. The founder of the DSM thought having black skin was also an illness, which was listed as "negritude", which really explains how I can be so critical of who calls which illnessess "serious."
Valash said…
Elizabeth A.,
Thats a good question. I guess the definition left a loophole for anyone to define substantial as anything they find necessary.

I did not battle an eating disorder to make an argument for or against it being labelled "serious mental illness," but I find the way you distinguished it from schizoaffective disorder interesting.

The person I spoke to overcame depression.

K.C. Jones,
First, I am very sorry that you were offended. Thank you for educating me on eating disorders. I am glad you stated your argument. You and Jennifer made it clear that the DSM is not always correct.

Thank you all for your insight,
K.C. Jones said…
It's okay and I'm still so glad I finally got to meet you! That was hilarious how we met and yet it took us so long to get that we already knew each other. lol

The eating disorders thing is just sort of a sore spot for me, especially as I'm currently going through a little bit of a "lapse" as my nutritionist says-not bad enough to be called a relapse, but enough so that I need to be extra careful and thoughtful in my eating habits. Sometimes I think it would be so nice to be normal and not have to think about these kind of things, ya know? But I bet life more be a lot more boring...
ACDesign said…
This is a good post. I look at mental illness as wide spread and differing in degrees of severity. For instance, my brother has a debilitating form of schizophrenia, my sister suffers from something similar but is highly functional and successful in her career. My father has OCD and possibly suffered from delusions as a young man (my mom has explained this to me). My father went on to raise 5 children. I have OCD tendencies and will see a therapist soon to check this out. What I am trying to say is that the severity of mental illness depends but ALL mental illness does interfere with everyday life and to some degree. I could write a book about why I think that is the case...Great post, reminds me to write about a the topic in the future.

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