Are you suffering from a mental health issue? Do you want to know how these mental illnesses affect the anatomical structure of the brain? Reading this article will help you learn more about mental health problems and how mental illness can affect your daily life. 

Mental illnesses are real and have an impact on our physical health. Having a healthy mental condition is also important to our overall well-being. Mental illnesses can be managed and treated if correctly diagnosed.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is a vast range of mental disorders that affect our emotions and behavior. These include anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and depression. There are different kinds of mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

A lot of us have been through an emotional rollercoaster since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Many of us have experienced different mental health issues, ranging from mild depression to suicidal ideation. These issues can develop into an illness if not treated, as their symptoms can affect our behavioral function.

Mental illness can cause complications in our daily lives. It can affect our relationships, work, and personality. But did you know that mental illness can also affect our body, especially our brain? Mental illness can affect brain chemistry and structure, chemical reactions, and different brain regions. 

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness

Signs and symptoms vary depending on the kind of mental problem. Trying to differentiate these mental illnesses through presenting symptoms is not easy. 

We usually go to a qualified mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis, but the signs below are some of the common symptoms of mental illness in adults. 

  • Mood swings or severe changes in mood
  • Prolonged feelings of anger
  • Extreme feeling of sadness
  • Decrease ability to cope with stress
  • Being delusional and paranoid
  • Difficulty sleeping or insomnia
  • Having difficulty in focusing and learning new things
  • Avoiding social groups and friends
  • Inability to perceive changes in personal feelings and what others might feel
  • Substance abuse like drug addiction or alcoholism
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Being worried about gaining body weight and physical appearance 
  • Prolonged apathy and depression

What Causes Mental Illnesses?

The definite cause of mental illness is unknown, but there are a lot of factors that contribute to mental disorders. These factors can be genetic, environmental, behavioral, or psychological. 

Mental illnesses may cause the abnormality of the nerve pathways and other nerve cells. These are the pathways that connect the different brain regions. The biological factors of a mental illness contribute to the adverse effects that influence mental health. 

1. Genetics or Heredity

Mental illness runs in the family. Having a family member with a history of mental illness increases the risk of developing it, too. Being at risk is passed on to generations through genes, and life experiences such as abuse, stress, or a traumatic event can trigger it. 

2. Prenatal Damage

Unborn children exposed to environmental stressors can have developmental problems. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can affect the child’s brain development. This could cause common mental health disorders, such as autism and ADHD. 

3. Infection

Some psychiatric disorders are caused by viruses and bacteria. This is when bacteria enter the central nervous system and infect the brain. This leads to inflammation and the destruction of brain tissue. Infection can influence brain activity and develops into mental or brain disorders.

4. Brain Damage or Injury

A traumatic brain injury can lead to mental disorders. The brain is important for our nervous system to function well. Any damage to it can cause our bodies to malfunction. Head traumas and brain tumors can both alter brain function and structure.

5. Poor Parenting or Child Abuse

Having a traumatic childhood can lead to depression and anxiety. It can also have a negative impact on the child’s brain development, which may lead to psychological and behavioral problems later in life. Experiencing adverse childhood events (ACEs) may cause aggressive behavior or PTSD. 

6. Poor Nutrition

What we eat affects our mental health. Having a healthy diet is beneficial to our body and brain. Eating the right food is important for proper brain development. A protein-rich diet nourishes brain tissues and enzymes. 

How Mental Illness Affects the Brain

The human brain is the organ that controls decision-making, behavior, and how we react to things. It controls everything, from our actions and movement to our senses and memories. It is also the source of all human emotions. 

We all know that understanding brain function can be complex and confusing. But all we need to know is that the brain sends a message all throughout the body through the spinal cord and the nerves.

The brain sends electrical signals through a process called neurotransmission. Nerve cells that are responsible for these electrical signals are called neurons. Neurons communicate with each other and control our glands, muscles, and nerves. 

When someone has a mental illness, it affects the brain’s chemistry and function. It disrupts the communication between the neurons. These changes also affect the flow of neurotransmission. Mental disorders are linked to changes in levels of the chemicals in the brain.

Suffering mental stress causes our adrenal glands to produce an excessive amount of cortisol. This chemical is our body’s main hormonal response to stress. It helps our brain control our moods and emotions. Too much of it can change the brain’s chemistry and trigger symptoms of depression. 

Our brains have chemicals called neurotransmitters. They help the brain communicate with other neurons. Having a mental illness affects the levels of these chemicals in the brain. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health believe that a patient with depression has a lower level of serotonin, a type of neurotransmitter known for its mood-boosting benefits. 

Taking antidepressants can also cause an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. When taken for a long time, it could lead to mental disorders such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease. 

Different Kinds of Mental Illness

Diagnosing mental illness does not rely on the psychological aspect alone. The abnormal behavior shown by a person can be influenced by environmental factors. Each of us is unique and responds differently to stressors.

Imagine you and a friend both failed an exam. Then he started crying while you moved on. It doesn’t mean that he has mental issues. The way he copes with stress is different from yours. 

Here are some mental illnesses that are recognized by mental health professionals:

1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Patients with OCD are bothered by constant fears. These worrying thoughts make them perform repetitive actions. 

Missing a single step from their ritual increases their anxiety. This urges them to repeat the routine all over again to gain relief from their obsession. These rituals are called compulsions. For example, a person with a fear of germs would wash their hand every 10 minutes. 

2. Bipolar Disorder (BPD)

BPD is also known as manic depression. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings. It can range from extreme happiness to intense sadness or anger. There are times that a patient with BPD does not have any psychotic symptoms. 

3. Panic Disorder

A person experiencing recurrent panic attacks has panic disorder. These attacks are sudden surges of extreme terror even if there is no danger. These discomforts peak within a couple of minutes. They even show physical symptoms such as increased heartbeat and sweating. 

4. Major Depressive Disorder

This type of mental illness is a mood disorder. Depression does not only mean that the patient is feeling sad. 

Feeling low could also mean loss of enjoyment and interest or reduced energy. Extreme depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and ideations. Treating depression could be challenging, especially if the patient is in denial of their mental health issue.  

5. Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a type of major mental disorder that affects how the patient thinks, feels, and behaves. It is characterized by delusions and imagining things. It could be acquired through genes or psychosocial factors.

How to Treat Mental Health Conditions

The diagnosis or treatment of mental illness is not the same as other diseases. Heart disease can be easily identified through a blood test. Mental illness is more behavioral and subjective. There are no laboratory tests that could determine if you have bipolar disorder. 

The 5th edition of DSM by the American Psychiatric Association is the standard manual for diagnosing most mental illnesses. Mental health experts also use tools to see what’s inside the brain to monitor and understand how these mental conditions affect the function of the brain. 

There are scanning devices used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental conditions. One of these is a task-based device called functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI. 

Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health use this tool to compare the brain’s involvement while patients complete an activity. Mental illness can change the way how we carry out daily activities, and the fMRI machine can scan the brain to detect such changes. 

Brain scan results alone cannot prove the presence of a mental illness. It is still important to seek a mental health expert for proper diagnosis. 

When To See a Professional

Reading and being well-informed of the different causes of mental illness is the first step. If you or someone close to you is suffering from a mental health condition, ask for help. 

Do not be afraid or embarrassed. Find a mental health professional to help you or your loved one. Psychological illnesses that impact the brain’s anatomy and function do not get better on their own. Mental illness can get worse if not treated immediately. 

Dealing with a mental health problem can be challenging. You have to understand that the symptoms you are experiencing are subjective. You do not just imagine things! 

You might be at risk for mental health illness. If you need support and assistance with your mental health, you could always contact us at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC). You can set an appointment on our website KCC Direct Service and avail of mental health counseling at your convenience.

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