What is a mental illness?

Janni Lage Jensen Kvam, Nurse

Mental illness can be expressed in many different ways, but it typically involves changes in the way you think, feel and behave. Therefore, the illness affects the person and the way in which you perceive yourself, the way in which you socialise with other people and the way other people perceive and socialise with you. A mental illness can therefore be more or less radical in your life depending on the symptoms you have and how severe they are.

Most people recover after a mental illness. However, it varies a lot from person to person, and also depending on the diagnosis, how long the symptoms persist. And here it is important to emphasise that your diagnosis is not something you are, but a designation for an illness which you have. Therefore, one should not say that you are schizophrenic for example, but instead that you have the illness schizophrenia.

A mental illness is invisible and can therefore be difficult for others to deal with or take into account.

For example, it can be difficult for other people to understand how the condition affects your life, your energy level, your lines of action, relationships to other people and so on. And you may experience that you constantly must make others aware of your situation and defend yourself. And perhaps you do not always have energy for this due to your condition. A psychiatric diagnosis is not made on the basis of just a single symptom, but on the basis of a group of symptoms which you have.

In addition, it also depends on how long you have had them and how much of a burden they are for you in your daily life. It is thus the overall picture of your situation that determines the diagnosis. There are many different symptoms of a mental illness. And they can be expressed in different ways from person to person. Symptoms will often affect your mood so that you are depressed for a long period of time, for example, or perhaps hyper active. Or perhaps you feel a constant and undefinable anxiety.

You may also feel that others wish you ill will or that people talk about you behind your back. Maybe you also suffer from sleeping problems, problems with your appetite, fatigue and so on. Overall, however, the symptoms must have typically lasted for a long time before they can be considered as signs of an illness.

If you are considering whether you perhaps have a mental illness, the best indicator is how you feel you are doing. If you yourself – or your relatives – feel that you are in a poor psychological state, that you function poorly in your daily life, then you should go to your doctor and find out whether there could be a mental illness or not. In addition, your doctor will note whether there is a physical illness that is expressed through mental symptoms.

It may also be that the opposite is true: That you go to your doctor with a physical symptom, but that the physical symptom is due to the fact that you are in a poor psychological state. When you get a psychiatric diagnosis, it does not have to be forever. It is completely individual from person to person and depends on the diagnosis, how the outlook is for recovery. Some people have just a single episode of mental illness in their lifetime and then recover completely. Others may experience several recurring episodes years apart, but have a normal life in the years between the episodes.

Some may struggle with the symptoms all through their lives and learn to live with the illness. For all mental illnesses, the earlier you receive treatment, the better the outlook. The treatment depends on the diagnosis, but may consist of a combination of medical treatment and psychotherapy. In addition, it is important to acquire knowledge of the illness so that you gain an understanding of it. By getting to know yourself and the illness, you may discover what you can do yourself to feel the best you can. It is important for your mental well-being that you take care of your physical health, eat healthy and regularly, have a natural circadian rhythm and avoid being overstressed.