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Facts about Mental Illness


Mental health refers to the performance of mental function. That is, a person with good mental health can enjoy being productive in life, like doing things with other people, take care of daily routines, have a job and hobbies, have fulfilling relationships with other people, handle changes and cope with problems.

A mental illness makes it difficult for a person to do these things.


Mental illness is a term that refers to most mental disorders. Mental disorders are conditions of the brain that make changes in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination). These changes in brain functioning cause acute distress and/or impaired life functioning. It is like any other health condition, and mental disorders range from minor to serious and life-threatening.

Mental illness is not:

  • A hopeless diagnosis with a deteriorating course
  • Caused by a character flaw
  • A developmental disability (mental retardation)

From the 1999 Surgeon General's Report:

  • Mental health is fundamental to health.
  • Mental disorders are real health conditions.
  • Mental health treatment is effective.
  • A range of treatment exists for most mental disorders.


  • People with mental illnesses are not more violent than the general society.
  • With effective treatment, a supportive environment, and a regaining of hope, most people with a serious mental illness live successfully in the community and have normal lives.
  • Treatment success rates for many mental illnesses range between 60% and 80%, more than for diabetes or heart conditions.
  • Stigma and fear prevent many people from seeking help for their mental illness.
  • Failure to recognize signs of serious mental illness delay help, cause emergencies and often have serious consequences such as jail or suicide.
  • Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia contribute to the high rates of suicide.


Common symptoms of mental illness include:

  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Lack of usual communication or disjointed communication
  • Loss of interest in self (personal hygiene, hair care, clothing, etc.)
  • Loss of interest in surroundings, activities, friends
  • Marked decrease in functioning
  • Drastic unexplainable changes in behavior, emotions and moods
  • Inappropriate laughing and responses to situations
  • Apathy or unexplainable fears
  • Hallucinations, delusions (irrational beliefs), paranoia, grandiosity
  • Disorientation and confused thoughts
  • Severe Agitation or hyperactivity

If you or your family member shows one or more of these symptoms, consider talking with a mental health professional.  If it is not a mental illness, you will feel relieved. If it is, you can start earlier with treatment and often prevent the worst from happening.  


As with any other health condition, some illnesses are more serious than others. The various types are listed below:

SEVERE MENTAL ILLNESSES: PSYCHOSIS or PSYCHOTIC EPISODE - A mental state in which a person cannot distinguish reality from internal perception. This state may exist at times with any of the severe mental illnesses, as well as with reactions to drugs and alcohol and some medical conditions or brain injury. Medications can control symptoms in these episodes.


SCHIZOPHRENIA – Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects mental processes such as thinking, sensory perception, and ability to correctly identify, judge, interpret and respond to situations or stimuli. Active symptoms (behavior that is added to normal brain processes) can include: hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, inappropriate emotional responses or reactions, communication difficulties, unjustified fears and/or drastic changes in behavior and personality. Negative symptoms (behavior that used to be there but isn’t now) may include social withdrawal, apathy, inability to feel emotions and difficulty relating to others.


CLINICAL DEPRESSION – Clinical depression is brain disorder causing a feeling of sadness for more than two weeks without stopping, and difficulty functioning in daily life. Symptoms include lack of decision about anything, irritability, insomnia or excessive sleeping, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts. Severe forms may include psychosis. Some forms of depression are related to a traumatic life event, and symptoms go away when the stress is relieved.

  • For more information go to Achieve Solutions and type in “depression” in the search tab.

BI-POLAR DISORDER - This brain disorder is also known as manic-depression. When not treated, a person will experience mood swings from a high feeling to a low feeling and back again. The low feeling is like depression (described above). The high feeling is called mania or hypo-mania. The highs and lows are mixed with periods of generally level behavior. In the hypo-manic state, excitement, euphoria, agitation, or demonstration of poor judgment is common. The more severe manic state is characterized by grandiose ideas, sleeplessness, self-destructive or dangerous behavior, extreme irritability, and paranoia and/or psychotic delusions. There are many variations in the behavior and the experience of highs and lows of bi-polar disorder. Symptoms can emerge in childhood, but more commonly in adulthood. This disorder tends to run in families.

  • For more information go to Achieve Solutions and type in “bi-polar disorder” in the search tab.

SCHIZO-AFFECTIVE DISORDER - A brain disorder that affects both thought and mood processes. It is a combination of symptoms of both schizophrenia and bi-polar disorders.

  • For more information go to Achieve Solutions and type in “Schizo-affective disorder” in the search tab.


Anxiety disorders are brain disorders characterized by unexplained, non-rational fears and high levels of stress that can be disabling. Anxiety disorders often are present with other mental illnesses. Anxiety disorders can be general or specific. Examples of specific anxiety disorders include:

OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER (OCD) - An individual with this disorder experiences both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are repeating thoughts, images and impulses that invade the mind and cause intolerable anxiety. Compulsions are actions taken by the individual to relieve the unbearable anxiety and doubts caused by the obsession. Left untreated, OCD can be disabling.

  • For more information go to Achieve Solutions and type in “anxiety disorder” in the search tab.

PANIC DISORDER - Someone who has this disorder has repeated and unexpected panic attacks plus the worry that the attacks will "strike again". People feel that they are going to die, go insane or lose complete control. The intense fears may cause heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness, but these symptoms are not physically measurable.  People who go to the emergency room for the pain are often turned away. Panic disorder can be disabling because the fear prevents people from leaving their homes.

  • For more information go to Achieve Solutions and type in “panic disorder” in the search tab.

POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) - PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which physical harm occurred or was threatened. Veterans returning from wars, accident victims, witnesses to other horrible events in person or on television, and children who are victims of physical or mental abuse may develop PTSD. PTSD can be disabling in many ways because the mind replays the traumatic event and creates fear and distrust of others.

  • For more information go to Achieve Solutions and type in “PTSD” in the search tab.

To learn more, go to the Resources page and look up the disorder you want to know about.


Stigma makes people believe that they are alone and isolated, and they do not know that millions of people have mental illnesses. World-wide, and in Colorado statistical records show the percentage of people who experience a variety of mental illnesses. The percentages are prevalence rates in the whole population.

  • Schizophrenia 1%
  • Bipolar Disorder 1.2 %
  • Panic Disorder 1.6 %
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 2 - 3%
  • Major Depression 5%

In the United States, 3.6% of the population experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)