Understanding Mental Illnesses

Anxiety Disorders

Simple anxiety is characterized by temporary nervousness or worry motivated by our mind’s attempt to warn us of danger. On the other hand, an anxiety disorder, causes unexpected and often heightened physical and mental symptoms of anxiety which impacts our daily lives and how we think, feel and act.

  • Phobias: A phobia is a generalized, intense fear of a specific object, animal or situation. It is common for individuals to alter their daily routines to avoid facing the feared object or situation.
  • Panic Disorder: Those battling with a panic disorder have recurrent, unexpected panic attacks; that are sudden periods of intense fear which come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Panic attacks may also be brought on by a trigger, such as a feared object or situation. People with panic disorders often spend a lot of time worrying about when the next attack will happen and try to preemptively prevent them by avoiding certain places, situations or behaviours they associate with them.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: People with social anxiety disorder have a generalized, intense fear of being embarrassed or negatively evaluated (or rejected) by others. As a result, they avoid most social situations.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Individuals battling GAD commonly display excessive anxiety or worry for most days for at least 6 months, about personal health, work, social interactions and everyday routine circumstances. The anxiety is often disproportionate to the concern, and is typically characterized by feeling restless, being irritable, having muscle tensions, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, and difficulty in controlling feelings of worry.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions, with someone individuals experiencing one of the two, and others experiencing both. Those battling OCD are usually aware of their obsessions and compulsions but are unable to control them. Obsessions are unwanted and repetitive urges and thoughts that are anxiety-inducing and difficult to get rid of. Compulsions are actions which are meant to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions; characterized by repeatedly engaging in behaviors until the result feels ‘right’. Someone experiencing OCD may feel high levels of distress if they are unable to complete the compulsion.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a disorder which develops after an individual has experienced a shocking, traumatizing or dangerous event. While most people experience a range of reactions after trauma, those with PTSD experience constant, persistent symptoms and may feel stressed, anxious or frightened even when they are not in danger. Symptoms can begin within the first 3 months of the traumatic incident, but sometimes may begin many years afterwards. Individuals with PTSD typically relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and show signs of avoidance symptoms (such as staying away from places, events or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience), high reactivity symptoms (being easily startled and constantly feeling tense), and mood symptoms (such as having distorted feelings like self-blame and guilt).


Mood Disorders

  • Depression: Depression, either major depressive disorder or clinical depression is a common but serious illness which causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think and handle routine activities. To be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. Depression is characterized by persistent sadness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, helplessness or worthlessness, irritability, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, difficulty concentration, changes in sleep patterns and appetite, and in extreme cases, thoughts of death or suicide. Symptoms of depression vary between person to person, however, several symptoms must persist in addition to low moods in order for a diagnosis to be made.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Those with bipolar disorder experience episodes of depression followed by episodes of mania. Mania is characterized as an unusually ‘high’ mood, by being unrealistically confident, happy, or hyperactive. During manic episodes, people may act impulsively and take risks they otherwise would not. Between episodes of depression and manic, some may experience periods of wellness; and the frequency and type of episodes may vary greatly between individuals.


Eating Disorders

Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders are not lifestyle choices but rather illnesses which cause severe disturbances to eating habits. Eating disorders are less about food and more often a way to regain a sense of control due to poor body image, low self-esteem, perfectionism or difficulties dealing with stress.

  • Anorexia Nervosa: Those experiencing anorexia nervosa may be unwilling to maintain a healthy, normal weight for their body by excessively restricting food intake and/or exercising more than usual. They may feel overweight despite their actual weight, often have an intense fear of putting on weight, and tend to use body weight to measure their self-worth and ideal self-image.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia Nervosa involves periods of uncontrollable urge to eat, usually leading to binge-eating, followed by acts of compensation such as purging (eliminating food through forced vomiting), or through excessive use of laxatives. Like anorexia nervosa, those experiencing bulimia may use body weight as a measure of self-worth and ideal self-image.
  • Binge-eating disorder: Binge-eating disorders involve periods of over-eating, characterized by feelings of unable to control intake of food, and followed by feelings of distress, depression or guilt.


Substance Use Disorder:

Addiction to alcohol and/or drugs changes perceptions of normal desires and priorities; often negatively impacting behavior and interferes with the ability to maintain healthy relationships.

Substance abuse disorders occur when frequent or repeated use of alcohol and/or drugs cause significant impairment, including their inability to meet everyday responsibilities at work, school or at home. Mental illnesses and substance abuse disorder often occur together, with one being a contributing factor to the other, or making symptoms worse.