Types of Mental Illness

Mental illness refers to a diagnosable condition that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities e.g. depression, anxiety, schizophrenia. We all suffer from symptoms of mental health difficulties (e.g low mood, anxiety, insomnia, etc.) from time to time, but having a mental illness means that those symptoms have a chronic and significant impact on a person’s daily life for a longer period of time.

Although accepting that you have a mental illness and asking for help is an incredibly hard and brave thing to do, it is very important to do it. If left untreated it is very unlikely that a mental illness will get better on its on, and very likely that it will get worse. Most mental illnesses are treatable and can be put under control. Having a mental illness is not your fault and it is nothing “that you did”.

If you think you may have a diagnosable mental illness, your first point of contact should be your GP who will be able to advise you and refer you to a mental health professional (usually a psychiatrist) who will be able to diagnose a mental illness by carrying out a psychiatric interview.

In many cases treatment will involve some form of talking therapy and medication. Self-help is also an important part of treatment and recovery.

Here are some most known types of mental illness:

Eating Disorders

The two most common types of eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia.

Anorexia nervosa – when someone tries to keep their weight as low as possible, for example by starving themselves or exercising excessively

Bulimia – when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives (medication to help empty their bowels)

Eating disorders are often blamed on the social pressure to be thin, as young people in particular feel they should look a certain way. However, eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes a person to change their eating habits and behaviour. A person with an eating disorder may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food with damaging results to their health. In many way eating “rules” that person’s life.

The common behaviours associated with an eating disorder may include:

  • Excessive concern and preoccupation about calories or fears of weight gain.
  • There is a lot of shame and guilt around eating.
  • You don’t think you are too thin but other people are worried about you.
  • You vomit to avoid gaining weight or use laxatives.
  • There are a lot of foods you strictly avoid to control your weight, and you feel like a terrible person if you eat any of these foods.
  • You have unmanageable cravings for certain types of food that you think you should not be eating.
  • Exercise is something you are driven to do; you would feel fat or like a bad person if you missed an exercise routine.
  • You are depressed and irritable.
  • You pretend that you have eaten to get people off your back.
  • The causes are usually more complex. There are a number of social, psychological and genetic factors that contribute to the development of the disorder.



Clinical Depression

We all go through spells of feeling down, but when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days. Clinical depression is a serious and often debilitating condition that a person can not “just snap out off”.

Psychological symptoms can include feelings of sadness and hopelessness, losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful. Very often, clinical depression is accompanied by physical symptoms as well, such as extreme tiredness and lack of energy, no appetite and aches and pains. One may find it difficult to get out of bed (in the morning) and feel like weights have been attached to their legs and arms.  Also, depression can make it difficult to concentrate and read.

There needs to be no reason for you to be depressed, such as a life situation that is making you sad or stressed. Research has shown that there is also a neurological basis for depression since your hormone levels (serotonin in particular) change.

(source: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Depression/Pages/Introduction.aspx)


Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) is a severe mood disorder.

If you have bipolar disorder, you will have periods or episodes of:

  • depression – where you feel very low and lethargic
  • mania – where you feel very high and overactive

Some people also see or hear things that others around them don’t (known as having visual or auditory hallucinations) or have uncommon, unshared, beliefs (known as delusions).




Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms, including:

  • hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that do not exist
  • delusions – unusual beliefs not based on reality that often contradict the evidence (e.g. believing that the government is after you)
  • muddled thoughts based on hallucinations or delusions
  • changes in behaviour

There is no clear one cause of schizophrenia, it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The disorder affects 1 in 100 people but if a parent has schizophrenia there is a 1 in 10 chance that their child will have the disorder as well. External factors, such as stress, drug and alcohol abuse, and family situation can trigger the symptoms of the disorder.

Schizophrenia is usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy appropriate to each individual. In most cases, this will be antipsychotic medicines and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). People with schizophrenia will usually receive help from a community mental health team (CMHT), which will offer day-to-day support and treatment.

Common misconceptions about Schizophrenia:

  • People with schizophrenia are not dangerous! Some people mistakenly equate schizophrenia with violent behaviour, but people with the condition are rarely dangerous. Any violent behaviour is usually sparked off by illegal drugs or alcohol, which is the same for people who don’t have schizophrenia.
  • People who hear, see or believe things that others don’t are not necessarily schizophrenic. There are several other disorders that have hallucinations or delusions as a symptom.
  • People have schizophrenia do not have multiple personalities. Dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, and schizophrenia are two different mental illnesses.



Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Intrusive thoughts, images or impulses known as obsession and the behavioural compulsions people engaged in to reduce the stress caused by the obsession. The actual disorder is far more debilitating than merely repetitive behaviours. People affected have little or no control over their obsessive thought and compulsive behaviours which may affect their everyday functioning.

The common behaviours associated with OCD may include:

  • Double checking things e.g. locks, switches
  • Counting
  • Ordering or arranging things
  • Handwashing or cleaning
  • Praying


  • OCD is only about cleanliness
  • Only women can get OCD
  • OCD is not treatable
  • OCD is rare in children


  • Exposure and Response therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Self-help by refocusing your attention e.g. exercising, surfing the web and making a call

What’s the difference between …?

Bulimia and Anorexia

They are both an eating disorder which means that a person tries to control their weight, but anorexia involves starving oneself or exercising excessively while bulimia involves eating and then vomiting or using laxatives to get rid of the food.

Clinical Depression and Manic Depression (Bipolar)

Clinical depression is a mental illness in which a person experiences periods of very low moods and energy, and feelings of hopelessness. Manic depression is another term for the bipolar disorder in which a person experiences periods of low mood (depression) and then a period of very high and elevated mood (mania).

Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder

A person that has been diagnosed as bipolar will experience periods of extreme lows, followed by extreme highs, and may have stable periods in between. A person with the borderline personality disorder will have difficulty in processing and controlling their emotions and will experience mood changes from extreme lows to extreme highs more rapidly, sometimes even within hours.

Schizophrenia and Psychosis

Psychosis is a general term for a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions. Schizophrenia is one of several disorders that that have hallucinations or delusions as a symptom. Other disorders that include psychosis are, for example schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, severe depression.

source: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Psychosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx