Frequently Asked Questions About Mental Illness

What does it mean to have a mental illness?

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt 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 often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal. When these occur in children under 18, they are referred to as serious emotional disturbances (SEDs). Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income.

Here are some key facts about mental illness and recovery:

Mental illnesses are biologically-based brain disorders. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.

It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 or 43.8 million adults in America. Mental disorders fall along a continuum of severity. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion, nearly 10 million Americans, or 1 in 25 people suffer from a serious mental illness.

Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.

The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.

With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.

Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. By ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm related to the course of illness is minimized.

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)


What causes mental illness?

Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors.

Is anyone immune to mental illness?

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income.

Once someone has had a mental illness can they ever get better again?

Remember, most people with mental illnesses who are diagnosed and treated will respond well and live productive lives. Many never have the same problem again, although some will experience a return of symptoms. The important thing is that there is a range of effective treatments for just about every mental disorder.

How common is mental illness?

Mental illnesses are very common; in fact, they are more common than cancer, diabetes or heart disease. According to NAMI, approximately 43.8 million adults in the U.S. or 18.5% experience mental illness in a given year.

Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion, about 1 in 25 Americans, who suffer from a serious mental illness (one that significantly interferes with functioning). It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 individuals in America.

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)


Can mental illness be prevented?

While there’s no way to prevent mental illness completely, seeking treatment early on can help you manage and/or recover from a disorder. Being able to recognize the warning signs of mental illness is the first step in the recovery process.

What are some of the warning signs of mental illness?

Symptoms of mental disorders vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Some general symptoms that may suggest a mental disorder include:

In adults:

Confused thinking

Long-lasting sadness or irritability

Extreme highs and lows in mood

Excessive fear, worrying or anxiety

Social withdrawal

Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits

Strong feelings of anger

Delusions or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there)

Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities

Thoughts of suicide

Denial of obvious problems

Many unexplained physical problems

Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol

In older children and pre-teens:

Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol

Inability to cope with daily problems and activities

Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits

Excessive complaints of physical problems

Defying authority, skipping school, stealing or damaging property

Intense fear of gaining weight

Long-lasting negative mood, often along with poor appetite and thoughts of death

Frequent outbursts of anger

In younger children:

Changes in school performance

Poor grades despite strong efforts

Excessive worrying or anxiety


Persistent nightmares

Persistent disobedience and/or aggressive behavior

Frequent temper tantrums

What do I need to know about medications?

The best source of information regarding medications is the physician prescribing them. He or she should be able to answer questions such as:

What is the medication supposed to do and when should it begin to take effect?

How is the medication taken and for how long?

What food, drinks, other medicines, and activities should be avoided while taking this medication?

What are the side effects and what should be done if they occur?

What do I do if a dose is missed?

Is there any written information available about this medication?

Are there other medications that might be appropriate? If so, why do you prefer the one you have chosen?

How do you monitor medications and what symptoms indicate that they should be raised, lowered, or changed?

All medications should be taken as directed. Most medications for mental illnesses do not work when taken irregularly, and extra doses can cause severe, sometimes dangerous side effects. Many psychiatric medications begin to have a beneficial effect only after they have been taken for several weeks.

If a medication is prescribed to me and I begin to feel better after taking it is it okay to stop taking it?

It is not uncommon for people to stop taking their medication when they feel their symptoms have become controlled. Others may choose to stop their medication because of side effects. A person may not realize that most side effects can be effectively managed. While it may seem reasonable to stop taking the medication, the problem is that at least 50% of the time the symptoms come back. If you or your child are taking medication, it is very important that you work together with your doctor before making decisions about any changes in your treatment.

Another problem with stopping medication, especially if you stop it abruptly, is that you may develop withdrawal symptoms that can be very unpleasant. If you and your doctor feel a trial off your medicine is a good idea, it is necessary to slowly decrease the dosage of medications so that these symptoms don’t occur.

It is important that your doctor and pharmacist work together to make sure your medications are working safely and effectively. You should talk with them about how you are doing and whenever there are side effects that might make you want to stop your treatment.

Will my insurance plan be accepted?

We accept Louisiana Bayou Health Medicaid plans; Aetna, AmeriHealth, Amerigroup & Louisiana Health Connections