Mental Health and Causes of Mental Illness


A person’s mental health has been an intriguing part of studies among associations, medical doctors, and professions that serve mentally diseased clients. Experts are yet to find the exact cause of mental illness, but, a blend of environmental, physical, and psychological conditions have been linked to it as shown in this paper. After extensive research, treatment approaches to mental illness have been proposed by the American Psychiatric Association as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. These include drug therapy, Electroconvulsive therapy and psychotherapy treatment as discussed in detail in the paper.

Mental health

The National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) defines mental health as the facilitator of “thinking and communication skills, learning, emotional growth, resilience and self-esteem” (Thompson, 2006). When a person’s ability to conduct his/her activities well, have fulfilling relationships with other people, adapt to change and handle negative situations is challenged, that person is said to have a mental disorder or illness. Mental illnesses are disorders of the mind that are manifested as certain kinds of behaviors. They encompass a wide range of diagnoses that are ever-evolving as described by the American Psychiatric Association, (2003). Mental illness is directly related to physical functioning and therefore cannot be separated from each other since memory and cognition are mental functions initiated in the brain. Change in brain chemistry caused by, for example, stress can result in mental functioning changes marked by anxiety, depression or panic attacks according to Thompson, (2006).

Causes of mental illness

The exact cause of mental illness is not known according to Bedell, (1994). However, current research shows that a combination of biological, environmental and psychological features are responsible for a large number of these disorders according to American Psychiatric Association, (2003). Biological disorders include abnormal balance of neurotransmitters in the brain which, may lead to the messages being relayed incorrectly in the brain. Other mental conditions are inborn, meaning they are passed on from parents to children through genes. Experts claim that abnormality of multiple genes causes susceptibility to mental illness with mental illness itself being triggered by other factors such as stress and abuse. Researchers have also linked certain infections to brain damage which results in mental illness itself or deterioration of the symptoms. The Streptococcus bacteria causes a condition known as pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder (PANDA) manifested by an obsessive-compulsive disorder among other illnesses in children (Repper & Perkins, 2003). Brain defects or injuries in some parts of the brain have been shown to result in mental illnesses. Conditions such as autism have been indicted to be caused by fetal brain trauma during birth as a result of for example lack of oxygen as Repper & Perkins, (2003) reports. Other causes as described by Bedell, (1994) could be long-term substance abuse, nutrition deprivation and exposure to toxins such as lead.

Psychological aspects that have been attributed to mental illness comprise severe disturbance experienced as a child as a result of maybe sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse etc., abandonment, loss of a dear person in early life or the inability to relate with others (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2008). Environmental factors include those stressors that trigger illness in a susceptible person such as death of a loved one or divorce, poverty, low self-esteem, change in environment and social and cultural expectations among others.

Treatment approaches for mental illnesses

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition published by the American Psychiatric Association, (2003) gives in detail the treatment approaches that have been proposed after extensive research. An understanding of the causes of mental illness guides the doctors towards the right treatment. There are three approaches to the treatment as outlined below.

First, Drug therapy, which involves prescription of psychoactive drugs by psychiatrists and other medical doctors and is classified according to the illnesses they primarily treat. Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin- Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are used in the treatment of depression (Thompson, 2006).

Second, Electroconvulsive therapy involves the use of electrical shocks to the brain using electrodes attached to the head while a person is in a sedated state. This treatment has been proven to be effective for treatment of severe depression with no complications as World Health Organization, (2003) adds. This also includes other forms of treatment such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and vagal nerve stimulation. Lastly, the psychotherapy treatment which involves a person with illness opening up to a psychotherapist in a relationship based on trust and support. This way a person can recognize the source of his/her problem and reflect on different ways of dealing with it. This can be used to treat people with a wide range of illnesses and also those with mental illness but dealing with difficult situations such as divorce, bereavement and chronic illnesses according to World Health Organization, (2003).

Reference List

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2003). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV0-TR. USA: R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company.
  2. Bedell, J. R. (Ed). (1994). Psychological Assessment and Treatment of Persons with Severe Mental Disorders. Washington: Taylor and Francis.
  3. Child Welfare Information Gateway., (2008). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect.
  4. Repper, J. & Perkins, R. (2003). Social Inclusion and Recovery: A model of Mental Health Practice. Philadelphia: Bailliere Tindall.
  5. Thompson, M. L. (2006). Health and Medical Issues Today: Mental Illness. USA: Greenwood Publishing Group Inc.
  6. World Health Organization. (2003). The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioral Disorders: Diagnostic Criteria for Research. Geneva: World Health Organization.