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Mental Illness

Mental Illness is a term used for a group of disorders causing severe disturbances in thinking, feeling and relating. They result in substantially diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. (Mental Illness Defined) There are some different perspectives on the causes of mental illness. The perspectives include the biological, psychodynamic, humanistic and existential, behavioral, cognitive, and sociocultural. Advances in brain imaging techniques have helped scientists study the role of brain structure in mental illness. Some studies have shown brain abnormalities in certain mental illnesses. Some people with schizophrenia have enlarged brain ventricles. In addition, a variety of medical conditions may cause mental illness. Brain damage and strokes can cause loss of memory, impaired concentration and speech, and unusual changes in behavior. Brain tumors, imbalance of hormones, deficiencies in diet, and infections from viruses are other factors. Freud believes that mental illness is caused by unconscious and unresolved conflicts in the mind. Both the humanistic and existential perspectives view abnormal behavior as resulting from a person’s failure to find meaning in life and fulfill his or her potential. The behavioral perspective explains mental illness, as well as all of human behavior, as a learned response to stimuli. Despite all of these different theories, most modern day psychologists agree that mental illness is caused by a combination of these things. (Mental Illness)
Schizophrenia results not from a single cause, but from a variety of factors. Most scientists believe that it is a biological disease caused by genetic factors, an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, structural brain abnormalities, or abnormalities in the prenatal environment. In addition, stressful life events may contribute to the development of schizophrenia in those who are predisposed to the illness.

Approximately 1 percent of people develop schizophrenia at some time during their lives. It is estimated that about 1.8 million people in the United States alone have schizophrenia. (Schizophrenia) The prevalence of schizophrenia is the same regardless of gender, race, and culture.

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For many schizophrenic patients the symptoms gradually become less severe as they grow older. About 25 percent of people with schizophrenia become symptom-free later in their lives.

A variety of symptoms characterize schizophrenia. The most prominent include symptoms of psychosissuch as delusions and hallucinationsas well as bizarre behavior, strange movements, and disorganized thinking and speech. (Brain Disorders: schizophrenia) Many people with schizophrenia do not recognize that their mental functioning is disturbed. Usually a family member points it out.

Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, effective treatments exist. These treatments can improve the long-term course of the illness. Most doctors use antipsychotic drugs (also called neuroleptics) to treat people with schizophrenia. Skills training and rehabilitation programs may also help people with this illness function in the community. Antipsychotic medications, discovered in the mid-1950s, can dramatically improve the quality of life for people with schizophrenia. The drugs reduce or eliminate psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. The medications can also help prevent these symptoms from returning after a period of remission. Antipsychotic drugs help reduce symptoms in 80 to 90 percent of people with schizophrenia. (Schizophrenia) Unfortunately, those who benefit often stop taking medication because they think they are well again, do not understand that they are ill, or because of unpleasant side effects.

Family intervention programs can also benefit people. These programs focus on helping family members understand the nature and treatment of schizophrenia, how to monitor the illness, and how to create a minimal-stress environment that helps patients make progress towards independence or at least a greater independence.


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