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A mental disorder or mental illness is a psychological or behavioral pattern that occurs in an individual and is thought to cause distress or disability that is not expected as part of normal development or culture. The recognition and understanding of mental health conditions has changed over time and across cultures, and there are still variations in the definition, assessment, and classification of mental disorders, although standard guideline criteria are widely accepted.
Over a third of people in most countries report meeting criteria for the major categories at some point in their life. The causes are often explained in terms of a diathesis-stress model and biopsychosocial model. Services are based in psychiatric hospitals or in the community, and mental health professionals diagnose individuals by various methods, often relying on observation and questioning in interview.
Psychotherapy and psychiatric medication are two major treatment options as are social interventions, peer support and self-help. In some cases there may be involuntary detention and involuntary treatment where legislation allows. Stigma and discrimination add to the suffering associated with the disorders, and various social movements campaign for change.
The definition and classification of mental disorders is a key issue for mental health and for users and providers of mental health services. Most international clinical documents use the term "mental disorder". There are currently two widely established systems that classify mental disorders—ICD-10 Chapter V: Mental and behavioural disorders, part of the International Classification of Diseases produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) produced by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Both list categories of disorder and provide standardized criteria for diagnosis. They have deliberately converged their codes in recent revisions so that the manuals are often broadly comparable, although significant differences remain. Other classification schemes may be used in non-western cultures (see, for example, the Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders), and other manuals may be used by those of alternative theoretical persuasions, for example the Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual. In general, mental disorders are classified separately to neurological disorders, learning disabilities or mental retardation.
Unlike most of the above systems, some approaches to classification do not employ distinct categories of disorder or dichotomous cut-offs intended to separate the abnormal from the normal. There is significant scientific debate about the different kinds of categorization and the relative merits of categorical versus non-categorical (or hybrid) schemes, with the latter including spectrum, continuum or dimensional systems. There is also a significant wider debate about the role of science versus values in classification schemes, and about the professional, legal and social uses to which they are put.
Anxiety or fear that interferes with normal functioning may be classified as an anxiety disorder. Commonly recognized categories include specific phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Other affective (emotion/mood) processes can also become disordered. Mood disorder involving unusually intense and sustained sadness, melancholia or despair is known as Major depression or Clinical depression (milder but still prolonged depression can be diagnosed as dysthymia). Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) involves abnormally "high" or pressured mood states, known as mania or hypomania, alternating with normal or depressed mood. Whether unipolar and bipolar mood phenomena represent distinct categories of disorder, or whether they usually mix and merge together along a dimension or spectrum of mood, is under debate in the scientific literature.
Patterns of belief, language use and perception can become disordered (e.g. delusions, thought disorder, hallucinations). Psychotic disorders in this domain include schizophrenia, and delusional disorder. Schizoaffective disorder is a category used for individuals showing aspects of both schizophrenia and affective disorders. Schizotypy is a category used for individuals showing some of the characteristics associated with schizophrenia but without meeting cut-off criteria.
Personality—the fundamental characteristics of a person that influence his or her thoughts and behaviors across situations and time—may be considered disordered if judged to be abnormally rigid and maladaptive. Categorical schemes list a number of different such personality disorders, including those sometimes classed as eccentric (e.g. paranoid, schizoid and schizotypal personality disorders), to those sometimes classed as dramatic or emotional (antisocial, borderline, histrionic or narcissistic personality disorders) or those seen as fear-related (avoidant, dependent, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorders). If an inability to sufficiently adjust to life circumstances begins within three months of a particular event or situation, and ends within six months after the stressor stops or is eliminated, it may instead be classed as an adjustment disorder. There is an emerging consensus that so-called "personality disorders", like personality traits in general, actually incorporate a mixture of acute dysfunctional behaviors that resolve in short periods, and maladaptive temperamental traits that are more stable. Furthermore, there are also non-categorical schemes that rate all individuals via a profile of different dimensions of personality rather than using a cut-off from normal personality variation, for example through schemes based on the Big Five personality traits.
Eating disorders involve disproportionate concern in matters of food and weight. Categories of disorder in this area include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, exercise bulimia or binge eating disorder.
Sexual and gender identity disorders may be diagnosed, including dyspareunia, gender identity disorder and ego-dystonic homosexuality. Various kinds of paraphilia are considered mental disorders (sexual arousal to objects, situations, or individuals that are considered abnormal or harmful to the person or others).
People who are abnormally unable to resist certain urges or impulses that could be harmful to themselves or others, may be classed as having an impulse control disorder, including various kinds of tic disorders such as Tourette's syndrome, and disorders such as kleptomania (stealing) or pyromania (fire-setting). Various behavioral addictions, such as gambling addiction, may be classed as a disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can sometimes involve an inability to resist certain acts but is classed separately as being primarily an anxiety disorder.
The use of drugs (legal or illegal), when it persists despite significant problems related to the use, may be defined as a mental disorder termed substance dependence or substance abuse (a broader category than drug abuse). The DSM does not currently use the common term drug addiction and the ICD simply talks about "harmful use". Disordered substance use may be due to a pattern of compulsive and repetitive use of the drug that results in tolerance to its effects and withdrawal symptoms when use is reduced or stopped.
People who suffer severe disturbances of their self-identity, memory and general awareness of themselves and their surroundings may be classed as having a dissociative identity disorder, such as depersonalization disorder or Dissociative Identity Disorder itself (which has also been called multiple personality disorder, or "split personality"). Other memory or cognitive disorders include amnesia or various kinds of old age dementia.
A range of developmental disorders that initially occur in childhood may be diagnosed, for example autism spectrum disorders, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which may continue into adulthood.
Conduct disorder, if continuing into adulthood, may be diagnosed as antisocial personality disorder (dissocial personality disorder in the ICD). Popularist labels such as psychopath (or sociopath) do not appear in the DSM or ICD but are linked by some to these diagnoses.
Disorders appearing to originate in the body, but thought to be mental, are known as somatoform disorders, including somatization disorder and conversion disorder. There are also disorders of the perception of the body, including body dysmorphic disorder. Neurasthenia is an old diagnosis involving somatic complaints as well as fatigue and low spirits/depression, which is officially recognized by the ICD-10 but no longer by the DSM-IV.
There are attempts to introduce a category of relational disorder, where the diagnosis is of a relationship rather than on any one individual in that relationship. The relationship may be between children and their parents, between couples, or others. There already exists, under the category of psychosis, a diagnosis of shared psychotic disorder where two or more individuals share a particular delusion because of their close relationship with each other.
Various new types of mental disorder diagnosis are occasionally proposed. Among those controversially considered by the official committees of the diagnostic manuals include self-defeating personality disorder, sadistic personality disorder, passive-aggressive personality disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Two recent unique isolated proposals are solastalgia by Glenn Albrecht and hubris syndrome by David Owen. The application of the concept of mental illness to the phenomena described by these authors has in turn been critiqued by Seamus Mac Suibhne.
Mental disorders can arise from a combination of sources. In many cases there is no single accepted or consistent cause currently established. A common view is that disorders result from genetic vulnerabilities exposed by environmental stressors. (see Diathesis-stress model)
An eclectic or pluralistic mix of models may be used to explain particular disorders, and the primary paradigm of contemporary mainstream Western psychiatry is said to be the biopsychosocial (BPS) model, incorporating biological, psychological and social factors, although this may not always be applied in practice. Biopsychiatry has tended to follow a biomedical model, focusing on "organic" or "hardware" pathology of the brain. Psychoanalytic theories have been popular but are now less so. Evolutionary psychology may be used as an overall explanatory theory, and attachment theory is another kind of evolutionary-psychological approach sometimes applied in the context of mental disorders. A distinction is sometimes made between a "medical model" or a "social model" of disorder and disability.
Studies have indicated that genes often play an important role in the development of mental disorders, although the reliable identification of connections between specific genes and specific categories of disorder has proven more difficult. Environmental events surrounding pregnancy and birth have also been implicated. Traumatic brain injury may increase the risk of developing certain mental disorders. There have been some tentative inconsistent links found to certain viral infections, to substance misuse, and to general physical health.
Abnormal functioning of neurotransmitter systems has been implicated, including serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and glutamate systems. Differences have also been found in the size or activity of certain brain regions in some cases. Psychological mechanisms have also been implicated, such as cognitive (e.g. reason), emotional processes, personality, temperament and coping style.
Social influences have been found to be important, including abuse, bullying and other negative or stressful life experiences. The specific risks and pathways to particular disorders are less clear, however. Aspects of the wider community have also been implicated, including employment problems, socioeconomic inequality, lack of social cohesion, problems linked to migration, and features of particular societies and cultures.
Different societies or cultures and even different individuals in a culture can disagree as to what constitutes optimal versus pathological biological and psychological functioning. Research has demonstrated that cultures vary in the relative importance placed on, for example, happiness, autonomy, or social relationships for pleasure. Likewise, the fact that a behavior pattern is valued, accepted, encouraged, or even statistically normative in a culture does not necessarily mean that it is conducive to optimal psychological functioning.
People in all cultures find some behaviors bizarre or even incomprehensible. But just what they feel is bizarre or incomprehensible is ambiguous and subjective. These differences in determination can become highly contentious.
The process by which conditions and difficulties come to be defined and treated as medical conditions and problems, and thus come under the authority of doctors and other health professionals, is known as medicalization or pathologization.
In the scientific and academic literature on the definition or classification of mental disorder, one extreme argues that it is entirely a matter of value judgements (including of what is normal) while another proposes that it is or could be entirely objective and scientific (including by reference to statistical norms). Common hybrid views argue that the concept of mental disorder is objective but a "fuzzy prototype" that can never be precisely defined, or alternatively that it inevitably involves a mix of scientific facts and subjective value judgments.
Religious, spiritual, or transpersonal experiences and beliefs are typically not defined as disordered, especially if widely shared, despite meeting many criteria of delusional or psychotic disorders. Even when a belief or experience can be shown to produce distress or disability—the ordinary standard for judging mental disorders—the presence of a strong cultural basis for that belief, experience, or interpretation of experience, generally disqualifies it from counting as evidence of mental disorder.
Current diagnostic guidelines have been criticized as having a fundamentally Euro-American outlook. They have been widely implemented, but opponents argue that even when diagnostic criteria are accepted across different cultures, it does not mean that the underlying constructs have any validity within those cultures; even reliable application can prove only consistency, not legitimacy.
Advocating a more culturally sensitive approach, critics such as Carl Bell and Marcello Maviglia contend that the cultural and ethnic diversity of individuals is often discounted by researchers and service providers.
Cross-cultural psychiatrist Arthur Kleinman contends that the Western bias is ironically illustrated in the introduction of cultural factors to the DSM-IV: that disorders or concepts from non-Western or non-mainstream cultures are described as "culture-bound", whereas standard psychiatric diagnoses are given no cultural qualification whatsoever, reveals to Kleinman an underlying assumption that Western cultural phenomena are universal. Kleinman's negative view towards the culture-bound syndrome is largely shared by other cross-cultural critics, common responses included both disappointment over the large number of documented non-Western mental disorders still left out and frustration that even those included were often misinterpreted or misrepresented.
Many mainstream psychiatrists are dissatisfied with the new culture-bound diagnoses, although for different reasons. Robert Spitzer, a lead architect of the DSM-III, has hypothesized that adding cultural formulations was an attempt to appease cultural critics and stated that the formulations lack any scientific motivation or support. Spitzer also posits that the new culture-bound diagnoses are rarely used, maintaining that the standard diagnoses apply regardless of the culture involved. In general, mainstream psychiatric opinion remains that if a diagnostic category is valid, cross-cultural factors are either irrelevant or are significant only to specific symptom presentations.
Clinical conceptions of mental illness also overlap with personal and cultural values in the domain of morality, so much so that it is sometimes argued that separating the two is impossible without fundamentally redefining the essence of being a particular person in a society. In clinical psychiatry, persistent distress and disability indicate an internal disorder requiring treatment; but in another context, that same distress and disability can be seen as an indicator of emotional struggle and the need to address social and structural problems. This dichotomy has lead some academics and clinicians to advocate a postmodernist conceptualization of mental distress and well-being.
Such approaches, along with cross-cultural and "heretical" psychologies centered on alternative cultural and ethnic and race-based identities and experiences, stand in contrast to the mainstream psychiatric community's active avoidance of any involvement with either morality or culture. In many countries there are attempts to challenge perceived prejudice against minority groups, including alleged institutional racism within psychiatric services.
Many mental health professionals, particularly psychiatrists, seek to diagnose individuals by ascertaining their particular mental disorder. Some professionals, for example some clinical psychologists, may avoid diagnosis in favor of other assessment methods such as formulation of a client's difficulties and circumstances. The majority of mental health problems are actually assessed and treated by family physicians during consultations, who may refer on for more specialist diagnosis in acute or chronic cases. Routine diagnostic practice in mental health services typically involves an interview (which may be referred to as a mental status examination), where judgments are made of the interviewee's appearance and behavior, self-reported symptoms, mental health history, and current life circumstances. The views of relatives or other third parties may be taken into account. A physical examination to check for ill health or the effects of medications or other drugs may be conducted. Psychological testing is sometimes used via paper-and-pen or computerized questionnaires, which may include algorithms based on ticking off standardized diagnostic criteria, and in rare specialist cases neuroimaging tests may be requested, but these methods are more commonly found in research studies than routine clinical practice. Time and budgetary constraints often limit practicing psychiatrists from conducting more thorough diagnostic evaluations. It has been found that most clinicians evaluate patients using an unstructured, open-ended approach, with limited training in evidence-based assessment methods, and that inaccurate diagnosis may be common in routine practice. Mental illness involving hallucinations or delusions (especially schizophrenia) are prone to misdiagnosis in developing countries due to the presence of psychotic symptoms instigated by nutritional deficiencies. Comorbidity is very common in psychiatric diagnoses, i.e. the same person given a diagnosis in more than one category of disorder.
Treatment and support for mental disorders is provided in psychiatric hospitals, clinics or any of a diverse range of community mental health services. In many countries services are increasingly based on a recovery model that is meant to support each individual's independence, choice and personal journey to regain a meaningful life, although individuals may be treated against their will in a minority of cases. There are a range of different types of treatment and what is most suitable depends on the disorder and on the individual. Many things have been found to help at least some people, and a placebo effect may play a role in any intervention or medication.
A major option for many mental disorders is psychotherapy. There are several main types. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely used and is based on modifying the patterns of thought and behavior associated with a particular disorder. Psychoanalysis, addressing underlying psychic conflicts and defenses, has been a dominant school of psychotherapy and is still in use. Systemic therapy or family therapy is sometimes used, addressing a network of significant others as well as an individual. Some psychotherapies are based on a humanistic approach. There are a number of specific therapies used for particular disorders, which may be offshoots or hybrids of the above types. Mental health professionals often employ an eclectic or integrative approach. Much may depend on the therapeutic relationship, and there may be problems with trust, confidentiality and engagement.
A major option for many mental disorders is psychiatric medication and there are several main groups. Antidepressants are used for the treatment of clinical depression as well as often for anxiety and other disorders. Anxiolytics are used for anxiety disorders and related problems such as insomnia. Mood stabilizers are used primarily in bipolar disorder. Antipsychotics are mainly used for psychotic disorders, notably for positive symptoms in schizophrenia. Stimulants are commonly used, notably for ADHD.
Despite the different conventional names of the drug groups, there may be considerable overlap in the disorders for which they are actually indicated, and there may also be off-label use of medications. There can be problems with adverse effects of medication and adherence to them, and there is also criticism of pharmaceutical marketing and professional conflicts of interest.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is sometimes used in severe cases when other interventions for severe intractable depression have failed. Psychosurgery is considered experimental but is advocated by certain neurologists in certain rare cases.
Counseling (professional) and co-counseling (between peers) may be used. Psychoeducation programs may provide people with the information to understand and manage their problems. Creative therapies are sometimes used, including music therapy, art therapy or drama therapy. Lifestyle adjustments and supportive measures are often used, including peer support, self-help groups for mental health and supported housing or supported employment (including social firms). Some advocate dietary supplements.
Prognosis depends on the disorder, the individual and numerous related factors. Some disorders are transient, while others may last a lifetime. Some disorders may be very limited in their functional effects, while others may involve substantial disability and support needs. The degree of ability or disability may vary across different life domains. Continued disability has been linked to institutionalization, discrimination and social exclusion as well as to the inherent properties of disorders.
Even those disorders often considered the most serious and intractable have varied courses. Long-term international studies of schizophrenia have found that over a half of individuals recover in terms of symptoms, and around a fifth to a third in terms of symptoms and functioning, with some requiring no medication. At the same time, many have serious difficulties and support needs for many years, although "late" recovery is still possible. The World Health Organization concluded that the long-term studies' findings converged with others in "relieving patients, carers and clinicians of the chronicity paradigm which dominated thinking throughout much of the 20th century." Around half of people initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder achieve syndromal recovery (no longer meeting criteria for the diagnosis) within six weeks, and nearly all achieve it within two years, with nearly half regaining their prior occupational and residential status in that period. However, nearly half go on to experience a new episode of mania or major depression within the next two years. Functioning has been found to vary, being poor during periods of major depression or mania but otherwise fair to good, and possibly superior during periods of hypomania in Bipolar II.
Despite often being characterized in purely negative terms, some mental states labeled as disorders can also involve above-average creativity, non-conformity, goal-striving, meticulousness, or empathy. In addition, the public perception of the level of disability associated with mental disorders can change.
Mental disorders have been found to be common, with more than one in three people in most countries reporting sufficient criteria for at least one diagnosis at some point in their life up to the time they were assessed. A new WHO global survey currently underway  indicates that anxiety disorders are the most common in all but 1 country, followed by mood disorders in all but 2 countries, while substance disorders and impulse-control disorders were consistently less prevalent. Rates varied by region. Such statistics are widely believed to be underestimates, due to poor diagnosis (especially in countries without affordable access to mental health services) and low reporting rates, in part because of the predominant use of self-report data rather than semi-structured instruments. Actual lifetime prevalence rates for mental disorders are estimated to be between 65% and 85%.
A review of anxiety disorder surveys in different countries found average lifetime prevalence estimates of 16.6%, with women having higher rates on average. A review of mood disorder surveys in different countries found lifetime rates of 6.7% for major depressive disorder (higher in some studies, and in women) and 0.8% for Bipolar I disorder.
The updated US National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) reported that nearly half of Americans (46.4%) meet criteria at some point in their life for either an anxiety disorder (28.8%), mood disorder (20.8%), impulse-control disorder (24.8%) or substance use disorder (14.6%).
A 2004 cross-Europe study found that approximately one in four people reported meeting criteria at some point in their life for at least one of the DSM-IV disorders assessed, which included mood disorders (13.9%), anxiety disorders (13.6%) or alcohol disorder (5.2%). Approximately one in ten met criteria within a 12-month period. Women and younger people of either gender showed more cases of disorder. A 2005 review of surveys in 16 European countries found that 27% of adult Europeans are affected by at least one mental disorder in a 12 month period.
An international review of studies on the prevalence of schizophrenia found an average (median) figure of 0.4% for lifetime prevalence; it was consistently lower in poorer countries.
Studies of the prevalence of personality disorders (PDs) have been fewer and smaller-scale, but one broad Norwegian survey found a five-year prevalence of almost 1 in 7 (13.4%). Rates for specific disorders ranged from 0.8% to 2.8%, differing across countries, and by gender, educational level and other factors. A US survey that incidentally screened for personality disorder found a rate of 14.79%.
Approximately 7% of a preschool pediatric sample were given a psychiatric diagnosis in one clinical study, and approximately 10% of 1- and 2-year-olds receiving developmental screening have been assessed as having significant emotional/behavioral problems based on parent and pediatrician reports.
Ancient civilizations described and treated a number of mental disorders. The Greeks coined terms for melancholy, hysteria and phobia and developed the humorism theory. Psychiatric theories and treatments developed in Persia, Arabia and the Muslim Empire, particularly in the medieval Islamic world from the 8th century, where the first psychiatric hospitals were built.
Conceptions of madness in the Middle Ages in Christian Europe were a mixture of the divine, diabolical, magical and humoral, as well as more down to earth considerations. In the early modern period, some people with mental disorders may have been victims of the witch-hunts but were increasingly admitted to local workhouses and jails or sometimes to private madhouses. Many terms for mental disorder that found their way into everyday use first became popular the 16th and 17th centuries.
By the end of the 17th century and into the Enlightenment, madness was increasingly seen as an organic physical phenomenon with no connection to the soul or moral responsibility. Asylum care was often harsh and treated people like wild animals, but towards the end of the 18th century a moral treatment movement gradually developed. Clear descriptions of some syndromes may be rare prior to the 1800s.
Industrialization and population growth led to a massive expansion of the number and size of insane asylums in every Western country in the 19th century. Numerous different classification schemes and diagnostic terms were developed by different authorities, and the term psychiatry was coined, though medical superintendents were still known as alienists.
The turn of the 20th century saw the development of psychoanalysis, which would later come to the fore, along with Kraepelin's classification scheme. Asylum "inmates" were increasingly referred to as "patients" and asylums renamed as hospitals.
In the twentieth century in the United States, a mental hygiene movement developed, aiming to prevent mental disorders. Clinical psychology and social work developed as professions. World War I saw a massive increase of conditions that came to be termed "shell shock".
World War II saw the development in the U.S. of a new psychiatric manual for categorizing mental disorders, which along with existing systems for collecting census and hospital statistics led to the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) followed suit with a section on mental disorders. The term stress, having emerged out of endocrinology work in the 1930s, was increasingly applied to mental disorders.
Electroconvulsive therapy, insulin shock therapy, lobotomies and the "neuroleptic" chlorpromazine came to be used by mid-century. An antipsychiatry movement came to the fore in the 1960s. Deinstitutionalization gradually occurred in the West, with isolated psychiatric hospitals being closed down in favor of community mental health services. A consumer/survivor movement gained momentum. Other kinds of psychiatric medication gradually came into use, such as "psychic energizers" and lithium. Benzodiazepines gained widespread use in the 1970s for anxiety and depression, until dependency problems curtailed their popularity.
Advances in neuroscience and genetics led to new research agendas. Cognitive behavioral therapy was developed. The DSM and then ICD adopted new criteria-based classifications, and the number of "official" diagnoses saw a large expansion. Through the 1990s, new SSRI antidepressants became some of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. Also during the 1990s, a recovery model developed.
A number of professions have developed that specialize in the treatment of mental disorders, including the medical speciality of psychiatry (including psychiatric nursing), a subset of psychology known as clinical psychology, social work, as well as mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychotherapists, counselors and public health professionals. Those with personal experience of using mental health services are also increasingly involved in researching and delivering mental health services and working as mental health professionals. The different clinical and scientific perspectives draw on diverse fields of research and theory, and different disciplines may favor differing models, explanations and goals.
The consumer/survivor movement (also known as user/survivor movement) is made up of individuals (and organizations representing them) who are clients of mental health services or who consider themselves "survivors" of mental health services. The movement campaigns for improved mental health services and for more involvement and empowerment within mental health services, policies and wider society. Patient advocacy organizations have expanded with increasing deinstitutionalization in developed countries, working to challenge the stereotypes, stigma and exclusion associated with psychiatric conditions. An antipsychiatry movement fundamentally challenges mainstream psychiatric theory and practice, including asserting that psychiatric diagnoses of mental illnesses are neither real nor useful.
Three quarters of countries around the world have mental health legislation. Compulsory admission to mental health facilities (also known as involuntary commitment or sectioning), is a controversial topic. From some points of view it can impinge on personal liberty and the right to choose, and carry the risk of abuse for political, social and other reasons; from other points of view, it can potentially prevent harm to self and others, and assist some people in attaining their right to healthcare when unable to decide in their own interests.
All human-rights oriented mental health laws require proof of the presence of a mental disorder as defined by internationally accepted standards, but the type and severity of disorder that counts can vary in different jurisdictions. The two most often utilized grounds for involuntary admission are said to be serious likelihood of immediate or imminent danger to self or others, and the need for treatment. Applications for someone to be involuntarily admitted may usually come from a mental health practitioner, a family member, a close relative, or a guardian. Human-rights-oriented laws usually stipulate that independent medical practitioners or other accredited mental health practitioners must examine the patient separately and that there should be regular, time-bound review by an independent review body. An individual must be shown to lack the capacity to give or withhold informed consent (i.e. to understand treatment information and its implications). Legal challenges in some areas have resulted in supreme court decisions that a person does not have to agree with a psychiatrist's characterization of their issues as an "illness", nor with a psychiatrist's conviction in medication, but only recognize the issues and the information about treatment options.
Proxy consent (also known as substituted decision-making) may be given to a personal representative, a family member or a legally appointed guardian, or patients may have been able to enact an advance directive as to how they wish to be treated. The right to supported decision-making may also be included in legislation. Involuntary treatment laws are increasingly extended to those living in the community, for example outpatient commitment laws (known by different names) are used in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom and most of the United States.
The World Health Organization reports that in many instances national mental health legislation takes away the rights of persons with mental disorders rather than protecting rights, and is often outdated. In 1991, the United Nations adopted the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care, which established minimum human rights standards of practice in the mental health field. In 2006, the UN formally agreed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to protect and enhance the rights and opportunities of disabled people, including those with psychosocial disabilities.
The term insanity, sometimes used colloquially as a synonym for mental illness, is often used technically as a legal term. The insanity defense may be used in a legal trial (known as the mental disorder defence in some countries).
The social stigma associated with mental disorders is a widespread problem. Some people believe those with serious mental illnesses cannot recover, or are to blame for problems. The US Surgeon General stated in 1999 that: "Powerful and pervasive, stigma prevents people from acknowledging their own mental health problems, much less disclosing them to others." Employment discrimination is reported to play a significant part in the high rate of unemployment among those with a diagnosis of mental illness.
A 2008 study by Baylor University researchers found that clergy in the US often deny or dismiss the existence of a mental illness. Of 293 Christian church members, more than 32 percent were told by their church pastor that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness, and that the cause of their problem was solely spiritual in nature, such as a personal sin, lack of faith or demonic involvement. The researchers also found that women were more likely than men to get this response. All participants in both studies were previously diagnosed by a licensed mental health provider as having a serious mental illness. However, there is also research suggesting that people are often helped by extended families and supportive religious leaders who listen with kindness and respect, which can often contrast with usual practice in psychiatric diagnosis and medication.
Media coverage of mental illness comprises predominantly negative depictions, for example, of incompetence, violence or criminality, with far less coverage of positive issues such as accomplishments or human rights issues. Such negative depictions, including in children's cartoons, are thought to contribute to stigma and negative attitudes in the public and in those with mental health problems themselves, although more sensitive or serious cinematic portrayals have increased in prevalence.
In the United States, the Carter Center has created fellowships for journalists in South Africa, the U.S., and Romania, to enable reporters to research and write stories on mental health topics. Former US First Lady Rosalynn Carter began the fellowships not only to train reporters in how to sensitively and accurately discuss mental health and mental illness, but also to increase the number of stories on these topics in the news media. There is a World Mental Health Day, which the US and Canada subsume under a Mental Illness Awareness Week.
The general public have been found to hold a strong stereotype of dangerousness and desire for social distance from individuals described as mentally ill. A US national survey found that a higher percentage of people rate individuals described as displaying the characteristics of a mental disorder as "likely to do something violent to others", compared to the percentage of people who are rating individuals described as being "troubled".
Despite public or media opinion, national studies have indicated that severe mental illness does not independently predict future violent behavior, on average, and is not a leading cause of violence in society. There is a statistical association with various factors that do relate to violence (in anyone), such as substance abuse and various personal, social and economic factors.
In fact, findings consistently indicate that it is many times more likely that people diagnosed with a serious mental illness living in the community will be the victims rather than the perpetrators of violence. In a study of individuals diagnosed with "severe mental illness" living in a US inner-city area, a quarter were found to have been victims of at least one violent crime over the course of a year, a proportion eleven times higher than the inner-city average, and higher in every category of crime including violent assaults and theft. People with a diagnosis may find it more difficult to secure prosecutions, however, due in part to prejudice and being seen as less credible.
However, there are some specific diagnoses, such as childhood conduct disorder or adult antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy, which are defined by or inherently associated with conduct problems and violence. There are conflicting findings about the extent to which certain specific symptoms, notably some kinds of psychosis (hallucinations or delusions) that can occur in disorders such as schizophrenia, delusional disorder or mood disorder, are linked to an increased risk of serious violence on average. The mediating factors of violent acts, however, are most consistently found to be mainly socio-demographic and socio-economic factors such as being young, male, of lower socioeconomic status and, in particular, substance abuse (including alcoholism) to which some people may be particularly vulnerable.
High-profile cases have led to fears that serious crimes, such as homicide, have increased due to deinstitutionalization, but the evidence does not support this conclusion. Violence that does occur in relation to mental disorder (against the mentally ill or by the mentally ill) typically occurs in the context of complex social interactions, often in a family setting rather than between strangers. It is also an issue in health care settings and the wider community.
Psychopathology in non-human primates has been studied since the mid 20th century. Over 20 behavioral patterns in captive chimpanzees have been documented as (statistically) abnormal for their frequency, severity or oddness—some of which have also been observed in the wild. Captive great apes show gross behavioral abnormalities such as stereotypy of movements, self-mutilation, disturbed emotional reactions (mainly fear or aggression) towards companions, lack of species-typical communications, and generalized learned helplessness. In some cases such behaviors are hypothesized to be equivalent to symptoms associated with psychiatric disorders in humans such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. Concepts of antisocial, borderline and schizoid personality disorders have also been applied to non-human great apes.
The risk of anthropomorphism is often raised with regard to such comparisons, and assessment of non-human animals cannot incorporate evidence from linguistic communication. However, available evidence may range from nonverbal behaviors—including physiological responses and homologous facial displays and acoustic utterances—to neurochemical studies. It is pointed out that human psychiatric classification is often based on statistical description and judgement of behaviors (especially when speech or language is impaired) and that the use of verbal self-report is itself problematic and unreliable.
Psychopathology has generally been traced, at least in captivity, to adverse rearing conditions such as early separation of infants from mothers; early sensory deprivation; and extended periods of social isolation. Studies have also indicated individual variation in temperament, such as sociability or impulsiveness. Particular causes of problems in captivity have included integration of strangers into existing groups and a lack of individual space, in which context some pathological behaviors have also been seen as coping mechanisms. Remedial interventions have included careful individually-tailored re-socialization programs, behavior therapy, environment enrichment, and on rare occasions psychiatric drugs. Socialization has been found to work 90% of the time in disturbed chimpanzees, although restoration of functional sexuality and care-giving is often not achieved.
Laboratory researchers sometimes try to develop animal models of human mental disorders, including by inducing or treating symptoms in animals through genetic, neurological, chemical or behavioral manipulation, but this has been criticized on empirical grounds and opposed on animal rights grounds.
People with a mental illness often have problems dealing with other people, or leading what is called a normal life. Treatment and certain drugs can help people with certain mental illnesses lead a better life.
The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health says that major mental illnesses, including major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are the most common disability.
According to National Alliance for the Mentally Ill twenty-three percent of North American adults will have a mental illness in a given year. But less than half of them will be bad enough to disrupt their normal activities.
Mental illnesses can be treated by: