What are the Types of Mental Illnesses and Disorders?

December 8, 2016

The question around different types of mental disorders provides a good entry point for understanding, preventing and treating these disorders. At the same time, it’s important to introduce this discussion with a couple of comments on the purpose and value of the various diagnostic categories and definitions that have been developed by the medical community.

Leo Tolstoy on the Complexity of Families and Individuals

Before I dive into a list of do’s and don’ts in this regard, I’d like to propose that Leo Tolstoy’s wisdom on the complexity of familial happiness is perhaps equally relevant to the topic of an individual’s state of mind. Opening his novel, Anna Karenina, the nineteenth-century writer suggests that “All happy families are alike”, and that “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Towards the end of the book, Tolstoy (in the voice of the character Nataly) urges, “if you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”

In a similar way, the life experience of a person with mental illness is as unique and complex as their individual circumstances, temperament, and set of symptoms. We must steer clear of reducing the identity and experience of a person to a diagnostic code!

Secondly, be warned, in studying the various categories and types of mental illnesses, you are sure to recognise in yourself symptoms of one or several conditions. ‘Mental health’ is not a state of perfection and does not exclude the experience of symptoms of mental illness. Then it is just as true that people who find themselves diagnosed with a psychiatric condition, with the help of personal support and a professional treatment program, can absolutely look forward to living a rich and meaningful life. Perfection is an elusive phantom and definitely not a prerequisite for happiness.

Do’s and Don’ts of a Diagnostic Framework of Mental Illness

  1. Don’t: Succumb to medical students’ neurosis.

As explained by Wikipedia, “Medical students’ disease (also known as second-year syndrome or intern’s syndrome) is a condition frequently reported in medical students, who perceive themselves to be experiencing the symptoms of a disease that they are studying.”

As I said earlier, you’re very likely to find yourself identifying with the symptoms and warning signs of one or various types of mental disorders. If you find yourself in this position, be aware: Diagnostic categories and descriptions are a source of information (compiled by researchers primarily intended to be used by clinicians), and should not be used to replace the advice of a medical professional.

  1. Do: Be informed

Educating yourself on the risk factors, warning signs and symptoms of the most common illnesses, psychological and physiological in nature, puts you in the position to institute preventive measures and to seek out treatment before symptoms escalate.

Download the UK Family’s Pocket Guide to Common Mental Illnesses and Disorders

  1. Do: Seek professional advice and support

If you find yourself concerned about your mental condition or that of someone you love, don’t hesitate to seek out advice from a professional. Visit our website to get in touch with us, and we will connect you with a Bridge Mental Health partner to guide you in your journey.

  1. Do: Foster understanding and compassion

Have you or someone you love been diagnosed with a mental illness? Reading up on the particular condition can be valuable for fostering compassion and overcoming stigmas, such as the idea that mental health problems are ‘your own fault’.

Additionally, understanding the nature of a condition tends to bring relief. The following example provided in the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook, illustrates the point:

“In treating people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (Keane, Marshall, and Taft 2006), we’ve learned that simply providing information on the diagnosis that characterises their suffering presents a huge relief to the individual. Knowing that others have responded to traumatic life events in similar ways appears to represent a major advance for them.”

  1. Don’t: Become a Diagnostic Junkie

Unless you’re a mental health professional in a client-therapist context, you are not in the position to diagnose anyone else. There might be days that you believe your boss to be a psychopath and your manager has OCD, but please, refrain from handing out unsolicited diagnoses.

  1. Do: Focus on Wellbeing

While it’s important to be informed of mental conditions and disorders, your day-to-day focus should be on instituting and nurturing habits that promote wellbeing – physiologically and psychologically. Are you getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutritious meals? Foster healthy relationships and contribute to your community. Focus on being good to yourself and those around you.

Categories of Mental Illness According to DSM-5

The DSM-5, or “Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders”, is the most recent version of this manual released in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association. The categorical layout of the guide below charts a selection of major disorders only and is not meant to be comprehensive.

Mental Illness Classification: An On-going Journey

To wrap up the discussion I’d like to quote Norman Sartorius (Director, Division of Mental Health, World Health Organisation) who points out that the discussion is, in fact, far from over:

“A classification is a way of seeing the world at a point in time. There is no doubt that scientific progress and experience with the use of these guidelines will require their revision and updating.”

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