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What is Mental Illness?

WHAT IS MENTAL ILLNESS?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that affect the brain and often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. The good news is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

In addition to medication treatment, psycho-social treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, peer support groups, and other community services can also be components of a treatment plan that assist with recovery. The availability of transportation, diet, exercise, sleep, friends, and meaningful paid or volunteer activities contribute to overall health and wellness, including mental illness recovery.

Learn more about treatment and services that assist individuals in recovery.

Find out more about a specific mental illness:

Find out more about conditions sometimes related to mental illness:

Treatment & Services

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Navigating a Mental Health Crisis

Download the GuideWhen mental illness is present, the potential for crisis is never far from mind. Crisis episodes related to mental illness can feel incredibly overwhelming. There’s the initial shock, followed by a flood of questions—the most prominent of which is: “What can we do?”People experiencing mental illness—and the people who care for them—need information. However, that information is not always readily available and the search for answers may require more energy and persistence than possible in times of crisis.

“Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency” (Crisis Guide) provides important, potentially life-saving information for people experiencing mental health crises and their loved ones. This guide outlines what can contribute to a crisis, warning signs that a crisis is emerging, strategies to help de-escalate a crisis, available resources and so much more.

Getting Answers When You Need Them

Like any other health crisis, it’s important to address a mental health emergency quickly and effectively. With mental health conditions, crises can be difficult to predict because, often, there are no warning signs. Crises can occur even when treatment plans have been followed and mental health professionals are involved. Unfortunately, unpredictability is the nature of mental illness.

Unlike other health emergencies, people experiencing mental health crises often don’t receive instructions or materials on what to expect after the crisis. That is why we created this guide, so people experiencing mental health emergencies and their loved ones can have the answers and information they need when they need it. In the pages of our Crisis Guide, you’ll find:

  • Understanding mental health crises
  • Preparing for a crisis
  • What to do during a crisis
  • What to do following a crisis
  • A sample crisis plan

Share with Your Community

We encourage sharing these tools and resources in local communities, specifically with those who are most likely to be in contact with people experiencing a mental health emergency, like:

  • Emergency departments
  • Law enforcement officials
  • Primary care physicians
  • Court clerks where involuntary commitment processes are initiated
  • Anywhere a person in crisis might be seen for the first time

A Portable Treatment Record from the Crisis Guide is available for download and use to begin creating your personal crisis plan.

You can also download the following info-graphics. They cover warning signs, what to do if you expect someone is thinking about suicide and how to prepare for a crisis. These printable resources are a great way to spread awareness about what to do in a crisis.

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