Mental Illness – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Mental illnesses

The daily press reports more and more often that mental illnesses are on the rise in the population. Environmental experts know that mental illness statistics are meaningless as long as environmental illnesses and people with previously unexplained multisystem illnesses are counted as mental illnesses. It is true, however, that our modern life is increasingly taking its toll on the soul.

What are mental illnesses?

Mental illnesses are increasingly the result of loneliness, increased work pressure or a lack of stress compensation. They can be favored by genetic disposition, environmental factors, substance abuse, parental violence or other negative experiences.

A definition of mental illnesses is difficult, since mental illnesses have different clinical pictures. Mental illnesses are united by the location of the illness: the soul. There are different opinions as to when mental illnesses need to be treated. If there is a “considerable deviation” in the areas of feeling, thinking, acting and experiencing, mental illnesses are assumed to be the cause.

Physical symptoms can hide the fact that the disease is mental. One then speaks of somatization. The concept of illness is problematic because everyone experiences and feels differently. Physical symptoms are often attributed to the psyche. In this case, time is wasted on useless therapy sessions.


Repressed or unconscious fears, experiences or conflicts that may have arisen in early childhood are considered to be the cause of mental illnesses. They often only become noticeable years later through mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders.

In many cases, the causes of mental illness are multicausal, but in others they can be traced back to a drastic experience such as early childhood trauma. People process stressful life experiences differently. Mental illnesses arise when processing is inadequate and compensation for the trauma fails.

Genetic, diet-related, abuse-related factors or factors such as low stress resistance, excessive demands or the inability to deal with conflict can also trigger mental illnesses. Most mental illnesses have their own causation profile. Some people are more prone to mental illness than others.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The symptoms of mental illness can be very different. It all depends on what mental illness it is. Completely different symptoms occur during a psychosis than, for example, during an eating disorder. However, there can definitely be overlaps, such as depressive episodes.

However, there are abnormalities that generally indicate a mental illness, such as indefinable or unfounded fears, constant preoccupation with illnesses and one’s own body. Regular visits to the doctor or even emergency doctor visits, where nothing is found, can also indicate that one’s mental health is out of balance.

In addition, long-lasting, depressive phases and constantly bad mood can be an indication, as well as irregular or pathological eating habits . This also includes long periods of hunger or regular vomiting after eating. The case is particularly acute when those affected develop hallucinations or convey the feeling that someone is in the room when no one is there.

Sometimes self-injurious behavior can occur, which can be accompanied by a sudden withdrawal from normal everyday life. Constantly changing partners and frequently changing sexual contacts are increasingly sought out as confirmation of one’s own person. Sometimes this is associated with drug use or regular and massive alcohol consumption.

The affected persons usually have memory gaps over a long period of time without the person having taken mind-altering drugs. If they are asked about the change, it can happen that they react with aggression , in extreme cases there is a tendency towards acts of violence or even crime.

Diagnosis & History

The diagnosis and the course prognosis are different for all mental illnesses. Various mental illnesses are difficult to recognize because they manifest themselves through physical symptoms.

The diagnosis must rule out other diseases if no clear diagnosis can be made based on the symptoms. Environmental toxins, drug abuse, drug side effects and thyroid disorders can all have the same effect as mental illnesses. The anamnesis must also include family history or experiences. Certain mental illnesses can be verified through testing.

The course of mental illness varies. Depending on the classification in the “International Classification of Diseases” (ICD-10), the courses and treatment options for mental illnesses can be very different. Dementia progresses differently than a narcissistic disorder, a psychosis , borderline disorder or clinical depression.


Mental illnesses often occur together with other mental illnesses and promote the development of physical illnesses. Without proper treatment, the likelihood of developing other symptoms is particularly high. In addition, without timely therapy, there is a risk of chronification.

In this case, the symptoms of mental illness become so severe that they persist or only disappear after many years of treatment. However, the course cannot be predicted with certainty in individual cases. Treatment successes are still possible even after several decades.

Treatment with psychotropic drugs can lead to complications caused by the drugs taken. Depending on the extent of the side effects, the doctor treating you must decide together with the patient whether the advantages or disadvantages of a particular medication outweigh the disadvantages.

Side effects can occur not only with treatment with psychotropic drugs. Psychotherapy can also have undesirable effects. This includes the lack of therapeutic success, the worsening of symptoms and the emergence of new symptoms. These side effects are particularly possible if the right treatment method for the patient in question has not yet been found.

Many mental illnesses have social complications. The private environment is often stressed due to the illness and professional or school performance can also suffer as a result. Serious mental illness can constitute a disability that can be officially identified.

When should you go to the doctor?

If the sick person is aware that everyday life with family, job and free time is becoming increasingly difficult to cope with, they will be better able to accept the help of a specialist.

If the following signs persist for more than four weeks, professional help must be sought:

  • Getting up in the morning is difficult because total physical and mental exhaustion spreads.
  • Unexplainable fears make it almost impossible to do necessary tasks such as household chores or errands.
  • Social contacts are reduced or broken off.
  • Seemingly unsolvable problems, negative thoughts and extreme mood swings dominate daily life.
  • The person concerned is depressed, irritable or even aggressive.
  • Insomnia and severe inner restlessness set in.
  • The general physical condition is poor. The affected person tries to calm down with medication or alcohol.

It makes sense to have an initial consultation with your trusted doctor or family doctor . This usually knows the person concerned and their immediate environment and can, if necessary, refer them to an appropriate specialist.

Treatment & Therapy

Mental illnesses can now be treated preventively if there is a family history of addiction or psychosis. In the case of genetic disease risks, early detection is important. The treatment will look different depending on the clinical picture.

Many mental illnesses can be treated with medication, while others are better treated with psychotherapy. Psychotropic drugs or sedatives can be used to influence the brain metabolism in the event of a deficiency or excess of certain messenger substances. The problem is that therapy for mental illnesses such as depression can take a long time to start working. For some therapies, such as anxiety disorders, you have to wait several years before you can be accepted into a clinical program.

Before a patient is that far, he has often already built up a long-term burden of suffering that needs to be remedied more quickly. A delay in therapy can also have fatal consequences in the case of psychologically caused sleep disorders . The side effects of antidepressants or the addictive potential of certain drugs are also problematic. You have to carefully weigh up which therapeutic approaches make sense for certain mental illnesses in order not to cause even more damage.


In the case of psychosomatic clinical pictures, completely different considerations make sense. Here mental and physical symptoms must be treated together. The physical symptoms are by no means imaginary, but certain diseases can actually develop due to constant psychological stress, certain addictions or incorrect behavior.


Those affected by mental illness are often accompanied by their illness for the rest of their lives. Even after therapy has been completed or after a stay in a psychiatric ward, in many cases a mental illness has not been completely eliminated, but the patient has found ways to cope better with his or her depression or anxiety disorder in everyday life.

If there is a mental illness, consistent follow-up care is not only advisable, it is even a necessity. Affective disorders such as depression are often associated with an increased risk of suicide, especially if the person concerned is still comparatively unstable even after therapy. In such cases, the omission of aftercare could sometimes be life-threatening.

As part of the follow-up care, a psychologist or psychiatrist accompanies the patient when they return to everyday life (after a stay in the hospital). If the patient experiences stigma from non-affected individuals, this experience can be brought up during follow-up. Subsequent care is also necessary for crisis intervention in order to prevent relapses or a significant deterioration in the condition. In the long term, regular aftercare aims to stabilize the patient on the one hand and improve their quality of life on the other. This enables him to cope with everyday life more easily.

You can do that yourself

A doctor should be consulted at the slightest suspicion of suffering from a mental illness: the sooner therapy begins, the better the chances of success. In phases of great mental stress, medical treatment is recommended if symptoms such as nervousness, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, tiredness and listlessness do not improve or even worsen even after physical and mental rest.

In a life crisis, it is important to seek dialogue with friends, family or a self-help group. If this is not enough to restore mental stability, medical help should be sought. A doctor’s visit must not be postponed if there is a risk of endangering yourself or others. A change in eating behavior that is associated with massive weight loss must also be clarified.

Other signs of a mental illness that requires treatment can be unexplained mood swings, lack of concentration, aggressiveness, irritability and joylessness that have existed for a long time. A wide range of physical complaints such as headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, back pain and heart problems can also be traced back to psychological causes: If no physical causes can be detected in clinical examinations, psychological counseling should be considered. The first point of contact is usually the family doctor , who can refer you to a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist depending on the symptoms .

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.