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What Are The Causes Of Mental Illness

Updated on August 30, 2013
Coping with mental illness
Coping with mental illness

There are many different types of mental health illnesses. Some of them are more common than others and some can be treated more efficiently than others.

Many people have a mental illness without recognizing they have one as they may accept the condition as part of who they are. Or it could take a long time before a condition is diagnosed.

Although it is common to have a mental illness of one kind or another, there is still a stigma attached to the label. It could be down to ignorance, misconception or fear of those with a condition.

Mental illnesses are traditionally split into two groups called 'neurotic' and 'psychotic'. Neurotic symptoms are considered a severe form of 'normal' conditions, such as depression and anxiety. Psychotic are less common conditions, which involve hallucinations, hearing things and feeling things no one else can.

Types of Mental Illnesses


Depression can be quite complex as there are many causes of depression, different types and different forms of treatment.

Depression is a feeling of low mood, lack of self worth and lack of motivation. It affects different people in different ways, emotional and physically and isn't something which we an easily 'snap' out of.

The feeling of being depressed needs to be addressed so that the right treatment can be given. A change of habits, dark thoughts or a change in personality need to be monitored. It can range from poor sleeping habits, a change in appetite, aggression, withdrawal, lack of sex drive and being tearful.

It can affect the sufferer's life and the people around them. It can be in conjunction with another illness (such as anxiety or OCD) and at it's severity, the sufferer can become suicidal.


This was once called 'manic depression', where mood swings are severe. The individual may be over excited and show extremely 'happy' behaviour. This can then change to periods of low mood and depression. This alters their personality completely.

There are different forms of bipolar depending on the lengths and extremes of the moods.


Anxiety is often related to depression and can have great control over an individual's life. It is something which is extreme and is difficult to overcome.

Anxiety can become quite physical as the emotion becomes overwhelming. This can include shakiness, stress, raised heartbeat, being teary, nausea and lack of concentration.

It can be associated with other problems, such as phobias and panic attacks. These are deep psychological issues which need to be treated properly and will take time.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Named Obsessive Compulsive disorder as there are two parts to the illness. The obsessive part means the sufferer will think and obsess constantly over the issue. This could be an issue with germs for example and therefore they must wash their hands and clean more often than a non sufferer.

The obsession could be anything, and the way it is dealt with will be routinely carried out.

The compulsive part is where the individual has no self control over the obsession. He or she will feel that they have to deal with the issue or there will be great consequences.

The actions taken will be repeated over and over again. This could be washing hands, checking the back door is locked or ensuring the oven has been switched off. It is extreme and has a massive impact on day to day life.


Schizophrenia is a complex condition, as the diagnosis is not straightforward.

The warning signs that someone is schizophrenic tend to be confusion, hearing voices, disorganized speech and seeing and believing things other people do not share.

There are many more mental health disorders and behaviors and may be different causes for each, depending on the individual.

Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol Abuse | Source

Signs or Behaviors

Self Harm

Self harming comes in different forms. This includes hitting yourself, cutting yourself in certain areas of your body or starving yourself.

Self harming tends to be a sign of deep distress or a way of expressing frustration or anger.

Panic Attacks

A panic attack occurs through fear and stress. It is when a sudden bout of panic comes over the individual resulting in a fast heart beat, a difficulty to breath steadily and a hot flush. Some people experience chest pains, feelings of becoming faint or a chocking sensation.

Drug abuse or alcohol addiction

Turning to drugs or alcohol can be a form of escapism. This may be a temporary way of dealing with things in life difficult for that person to cope with.

Causes of Mental Illnesses

There can be a number of reasons why someone has a mental health problem.

Post Natal Depression

Many new mothers experience either the 'baby blues' or post natal depression after giving birth.

It can be a mixture of hormones, tiredness and an overwhelming feeling of responsibility.

The baby blues are very common among new mothers. They tend to develop after a few days of giving birth when breast milk kicks in, and can last days or weeks, and eventually subside. They can make you feel tired, weepy and very low in mood.

Post natal depression is a little more serious and can last a lot longer. It is bought on from having a baby although not always immediately. The problem needs to be addressed as it can affect relationships and bonding with the baby.

Childhood Problems

Problems beginning from childhood can create problems either at that time or in later life.

These forms of problems can be any type of abuse (emotionally, physically, sexually, neglect), an upheaval, a bereavement or bullying.

They can then cause psychological damage in the long run causing one or a number of mental health issues.

Traumatic Events

Something which may happen to us can be the cause of distress, resulting in mental health difficulties. It could be an involvement in a severe accident (such as a car crash) which may mean a recovery, witnessing something or guilty of cause.

A traumatic event may mean bereavement, harassment, abuse or victim of rape.

Long Term Unhappiness

Feeling unhappy or lonely will eventually take its toll on someone over a period of time.

Going through separation or divorce or becoming a single parent may trigger off a form off depression. Or feeling unhappy in the workplace over time may create dread, lack of motivation, anxiety and depression.


Some disorders may be hereditary. So if a family member has a condition it may be carried down to you, although this isn't always necessarily the case.

Head Injury

It has been known that people who have had a traumatic head injury can develop mental health problems and disorders.


We can be born with defects if something happens to the developing brain of a baby in the womb. It can be caused by a number of things, such as drug abuse by the pregnant mother or she is taking medication which could be harmful to the fetus.

Other factors include illness such as a virus that could affect the baby or a deficiency in vitamins and minerals.

Environmental Factors

Often things or people around us can cause distress and be harmful on our mental health.

Examples are neighbors we cannot get along with or cause noise, abuse or a high crime rate in our area.

Our families can be a burden emotionally and put too much pressure on us to be able to cope. A lack of support from friends or a network can become an issue.

Stress at work can also be a great problem.

Finding a Solution

Recognizing the problem and getting a diagnoses can be a massive step forward. Depending on the illness, there are different ways of dealing with it so that the individual can lead a normal life, or be on the road to recovery.

Finding the root to the problem will start to help, so counselling or seeing a psychotherapist may be an option.

Medication would be offered to keep some forms of mental illness under control.

Other ways to help may include a change in lifestyle, a support network, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or complimentary or alternative therapy.


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    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Yes I agree Cindy, and things should change. With recognition and education people will begin to understand mental health more. But there will always be people who will discriminate or be afraid of it.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      This is a great hub with lots of valuable information. I am so glad that mental health issues do not carry the stigma that they once did, and I look forward to the time when they will carry even less. Many people who need help do not seek it becasue of that stigma.

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      No problem Silver Q, thank you for reading.

    • Silver Q profile image

      Silver Q 5 years ago

      Wonderful hub! I always find it interesting to read about mental health.

      Thanks for the informative hub!

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Thanks as always Simone for your comments :)

      Diane - thank you so much for your support. Touching on this subject is never easy, and it's so complex. Thanks once again.

    • Diane Woodson profile image

      Diane Minton 5 years ago from Evansville, Indiana

      With Mental Health having such a huge reach into the lives of the sufferer and with mates, family, colleagues, and others being affected, this is a timely HUB. Remembering that some forms entail, genius levels of I.Q. many mental problems are inherited, its so much more timely in sequence and scope of information. Best Wishes with your writing, its superlative and much much more.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      What a fantastic, succinct overview! I had not known the specific difference between neurotic and psychotic before. Thanks for all these wonderful explanations!

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 6 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      That sounds interesting leah - like they don't really know all the scientific facts yet. Some things can be eliminated or connected, but it goes to show how complex it is.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      This is a great hub - the causes are so complicated and every person's chemistry is so unique. I once saw a documentary on Schizophrenia and there was a definite increase in the percentage of schizophrenia in an identical twin when one twin was affected, but the increase was not 100% (showing that there was a genetic inclination, but something else had to be at play, too).

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 6 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Yes meloncauli I think it's down to our biochemistry and how we cope.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • meloncauli profile image

      meloncauli 6 years ago from UK

      Great hub! The sad thing is that emotional sensitivity is different from person to person, and if life deals a few cruel blows which a person is unable to cope with ...voila... susceptible to suffer mentally.

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 6 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Hi CassyLu1981 It's amazing how many of us have had some form of illness in the past or still have one.

      Thanks for your kind comment and vote.

    • CassyLu1981 profile image

      CassyLu1981 6 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      I have a bit of OCD but it's not so bad that I can't control it. Very informative hub! I know a lot of people that can get some great use out of your words! Voted up and shared!!!

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 6 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Thanks Diane - it is a complex subject and there are so many more types of illness.

      So many people are walking around with a mental health disorder but need help and advice to live a better quality of life. Thanks for commenting.

    • Diane Woodson profile image

      Diane Minton 6 years ago from Evansville, Indiana

      Excellent writing and informational work. More people need to know these facts, that can lessen the pain of a mental disorder or even help a person to obtain help after reading your article, and be whole again with therapy/meds/stress reduction tech./ and other methods. Thanks for this fantastic hub,

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Kisby 6 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Thanks for your comment billybuc.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A valuable piece of writing for sure; thank you for informing others of this very serious subject.


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