Mental Health Disorders
Navigating the changing winds of "mental health disorders"
- One in 24 people has a serious mental illness.
- One in 12 people have a diagnosed substance abuse disorder
- One in 10 people have Alzheimer’s dementia.
- One in five experiences some form of mental illness in the United States.
As a caregiver, you are likely to encounter challenges dealing with memory or mental health disorders at some point in your caregiving journey in addition to providing physical care.
Just as physical tasks and duties require preparation and training for you to manage your daily routine as effectively and efficiently as possible, the same is true for memory and behavior issues related to mental health.
When the brain stops working correctly, mental illness or memory problems occur. Just like a person with diabetes needs an insulin injection when the pancreas stops working correctly, Alzheimer’s develops when the brain starts to lose grey matter.
Memory and mental illness conditions impact the way people think, behave, and interact with others and encompass numerous disorders varying in severity and frequency of episodes. Many people who suffer from them may not look ill or as if anything is wrong, while others appear confused, agitated, or withdrawn.
Many suffer in silence, never knowing “what is wrong with them.” Some are ashamed to admit what they have. Caregivers struggle to provide support, sometimes seen as a savior and other times as the enemy by the one needing their help—maybe within minutes of each other. Knowing what to say and do is often difficult. Understanding the mental health condition often helps in choosing the direction to go in responding to situations that develop. Often your normal instincts are not the right choice when dealing with mental health.
My focus for the mental health and memory pages is to provide you with the tools needed to cope with behavioral situations. In general, when dealing with mental illness, it’s essential to always stay in the moment if you are with someone who is getting agitated or whose behavior seems risky in some way. Listen carefully to what they say and how they say it. The message is not always in words. Sometimes it’s in what’s not said or in the behaviors (movements) used to express themselves or the repetition. Take nothing for granted and keep an open mind to what it might mean if you were in that person’s shoes. Don’t think like yourself; think like them. Meet the person where they are at that moment in time and be there with them, so you understand what they are trying to express. Once you can understand, then you can connect with them and hopefully make progress.
How Do You Know if Someone is Struggling with a Mental Health Problem?
Many factors contribute to our mental health wellbeing.
- Biological factors such as our genes and brain chemistry,
- Our family history of mental health problems that influence both our development and culture, and
- Life experiences, such as trauma and abuse.
How someone responds to a mental health condition is impacted by each of these. Someone influenced by all three might have a more significant impact than someone else who may only have one factor. But, then again, what if that one factor (for example, trauma) was extreme? Couldn’t it have as much impact on someone as all three factors for someone else? Therefore, making a judgment call regarding someone’s background and where they “should” be in recovery is a mistake. We need to meet and accept them where they are at that moment.
If someone you know is showing one or more of the following symptoms, encourage them to talk to someone about what they are experiencing.
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and usual activities
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Yelling or fighting with family and friends
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Having persistent thoughts and memories, you can’t get out of your head
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
- Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school.
What Are Mental health Disorders?
The public often misunderstands the nature of mental illness due to the lack of information shared on the subject by the psychiatric community. An individual with psychological “problems” lived on the fringe of society for decades and continues to do so today. They are an invisible group except to the caregivers who attempt to monitor their movements and guide them in self-care and learning new behaviors.
The first step in helping those with mental health problems to become more independent is to make ourselves more knowledgeable about their conditions and what we can realistically expect them to do. Once we know their limits, we can help them develop within their potential, and there will be less frustration for everyone.
Therefore, let’s review the significant Mental Health Disorders and learn the basics about them.
Defining Categories of Mental Health Disorders
People with anxiety disorders respond to particular objects or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or panic, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. The diagnosis of anxiety disorder becomes apparent when the person’s response is not appropriate for the situation, if the person cannot control the response, or if the anxiety interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.
These disorders also called affective disorders, involve persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.
Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations — the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices — and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as accurate, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
Impulse Control and Addiction Disorders:
People with impulse control disorders are unable to resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drug are common objects of addictions. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their obsession that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.
People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits that are distressing to the person and cause problems in work, school, or social relationships. Also, the person’s patterns of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of society and are so rigid that they interfere with the person’s normal functioning. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.
Stress response syndromes (formerly called adjustment disorders):
Stress response syndromes occur when a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms in response to a stressful event or situation. The stressors may include natural disasters, such as an earthquake or tornado; events or crises, such as a car accident or the diagnosis of a major illness; or interpersonal problems, such as a divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or a problem with substance abuse. Stress response syndromes usually begin within three months of the event or situation and end within six months after the stressor stops.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event and tend to be emotionally numb.
People with these disorders suffer severe disturbances or changes in memory, consciousness, identity, and general awareness of themselves and their surroundings. These disorders usually are associated with overwhelming stress, which may be the result of traumatic events, accidents, or disasters that may be experienced or witnessed by the individual. Dissociative identity disorder formerly called multiple personality disorder, or “split personality,” and depersonalization disorder are examples of dissociative disorders.
Factitious disorders are conditions in which a person knowingly and intentionally creates or complains of physical or emotional symptoms to place the individual in the role of a patient or a person in need of help.
Sexual and gender disorders:
These include conditions that affect sexual desire, performance, and behavior. Sexual dysfunction, gender identity disorder, and paraphilias are examples of sexual and gender disorders.
Somatic symptom disorders:
A person with a somatic symptom disorder, formerly known as a psychosomatic disorder or somatoform disorder, experiences physical symptoms of an illness or of pain with an excessive and disproportionate level of distress, regardless of whether or not a doctor can find a medical cause for the symptoms.
People with tic disorders make sounds or display non-purposeful body movements repetitively, quickly, suddenly, or uncontrollably. (Vocal tics are sounds made involuntarily) Tourette’s syndrome is an example of a tic disorder.
Other diseases or conditions, including various sleep-related problems and many forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, are sometimes classified as mental illnesses because they involve the brain.