Common Mental Health Disorders
Are we crazier than we've ever been before? Some of the most common mental health disorders seem to be caused by our industrialized culture. For instance cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa have increased due to a culture that stigmatizes overweight people and worships models. The larger number of veterans experiencing PTSD is thought to be a reaction to the brutalities of modern warfare. Generalized anxiety disorder may be a failure to adapt to the modern world where there is little chance of being attacked by animal predators. And one of the most interesting questions concerns depression. Are we happier now or less so compared to other periods in history?
These questions are hard to answer but here is a list of today's most common mental health disorders.
Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States. 5-10% of Americans are depressed and antidepressants are the most common drug taken by people between the ages of 18 and 44. Pervasive sadness and anxiety are the main symptoms of depression, which usually has a negative impact on one's social life and school or work productivity. Symptoms of depression are widespread among college students, 44% of whom experience symptoms each year.
PTSD is commonly associated with war veterans but can also be caused by any life-threatening traumatic event. Its main symptom is a sense of fear and helplessness that persists after the trauma is over. This sense of fear can hang on for years and even the rest of a person's life if they don't seek treatment to help them control it. People with PTSD sometimes experience flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic event. Evolutionary psychologists theorize that modern warfare increased the chances of soldiers getting PTSD because it is so different from ancient modes of warfare and the brain hasn't yet developed an ability to cope with it.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
People with Antisocial Personality Disorder disregard others feelings, ignore social norms, don't experience guilt after being punished, and are very intolerant of frustration leading to outbursts of violence. A study showed that 47% of prisoners had ASPD. Neuroscientists suspect that ASPD may be caused by low levels of serotonin. When serotonin is released it generates a feeling of happiness. Low levels of serotonin are linked to aggression. The word sociopath can refer to someone with ASPD, a psychopath, or a person with dissocial personality disorder.
Avoidant Personality Disorder
People with Avoidant Personality Disorder avoid social interaction and experience social inhibition because they feel inadequate and are extremely sensitive to criticism. They fear ridicule, humiliation, and rejection. AvPD can be caused by a childhood environment that includes emotional neglect and bullying. In extreme cases all physical contact may be avoided. Untreated AvPD may lead the person to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms like isolating themselves and/or developing a rich inner fantasy life as a form of escapism.
Borderline Personality Disorder
People with Borderline Personality Disorder have difficulty regulating their emotions. Their emotions may also be more intense than they should be for the situation. For example, they may experience humiliation and prolonged shame instead of passing embarrassment. This can lead to self-harm, substance abuse, and eating disorders in an attempt to cope with their emotions. These behaviors are often impulsive. Additionally, the self-image of a person with BPD may be unstable and suddenly shift from positive to negative.
People with anorexia nervosa are afraid of gaining weight and perceive a distorted physical self-image. They abnormally limit the amount of food they consume despite feeling hungry. People who consume only 600-800 calories per day are considered to have anorexia nervosa. The conditional typically persists for 1.7 years until the patient is cured or dies. 5-20% of people with anorexia nervosa eventually die. This culturally-influenced disorder targets a specific demographic: affluent white female teenagers who are influenced by the preference for thinness that the media perpetuates.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that is different from anorexia nervosa because instead of limiting calories or starving themselves people with bulimia nervosa binge eat and then intentionally purge the food through vomiting, laxatives, or exercise. Vomiting can be induced by the gag reflex or through emetics. Bulimics also sometimes use diuretics or enemas. Motives for bulimia nervosa are identical to anorexia nervosa. Ironically, the purging behavior most commonly leads to overeating.
Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. It is more common in women. 50% of women may have some degree of arachnophobia. Fear of spiders may have an evolutionary advantage instead of just being another irrational fear since some spider bites actually can be deadly. Cultural bias may also affect the perception of spiders. In the Dark Ages Europeans believed that spiders contaminated food while other cultures include them in traditional dishes.
Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes and is the most common phobia, even more common than the fear of spiders and public speaking. Snakes have had negative associations for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians associated them with murder and suicide and in Greek mythology monsters often have snake-like qualities (Medusa, Hydra, Gorgon). And of course there is the snake from Genesis in the Bible. However, snakes are seen more positively in India, Mesoamerica, and among Wiccans, suggesting that ophidiophobia may be partially due to cultural bias.
People with ADHD are unable to focus their attention and are hyperactive and impulsive. ADHD affects up to 16% of children in school and is more common in boys. Children with ADHD have trouble with executive functions which include planning, attention, inhibition, initiating actions, and monitoring actions. ADHD was first mentioned in the 18th century, when it was known as mental restlessness. Hyperactivity used to be described as minimal brain damage before the more euphemistic term replaced it.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is identified by the presence of persistent anxiety over health, finances, death, relationship problems, and/or work. The mental toll is expressed physically by fatigue, headaches, insomnia, nausea, muscle aches, trembling, and rashes. Additionally, the person may have a fear of losing control, startle easy, and their mind may frequently go blank. GAD is caused by improper functioning of the amygdala in the brain which normally processes fear and anxiety.
A person is said to have Panic Disorder if they experience recurring panic attacks. A single panic attack can last up to 1 hour while the person is experiencing tachycardia, dizziness, trembling, and fear or anxiety. The symptoms may be so severe that a person may think they are having a heart attack. Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine can exacerbate panic disorder.
Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is distinguished by alternating episodes of mania and depression. Manic-depressives experiencing a manic episode may be unable to sleep, make highly impulsive decisions, speak at an accelerated rate, and have racing thoughts. Manic episodes are sometimes accompanied by euphoria, substance abuse, or a complete break with reality. Depressive episodes are identical to symptoms of depression.
Schizophrenia is one of the most well-known mental disorders. It is characterized by visual and auditory hallucinations, paranoia, disorganized speech and writing, and a lack of emotional expression. One possible explanation for schizophrenia is that the schizophrenic brain releases too much dopamine. Symptoms have been reduced by antipsychotic medication which limits dopamine release. Schizophrenia used to be treated by electroshock therapy.
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autistic people have problems with social interaction and communication and exhibit repetitive behavior. Repetitive behavior often includes stacking or lining up objects, rocking, head banging, and skin picking. Autistic children rely on a strict pattern of activities to get through the day and will throw tantrums if the order is changed.