How Different Mental Illnesses Are Diagnosed and Treated (2023)

Mental health conditions are disturbances in a person's thinking, feeling, or behavior (or a combination of these) that reflect a problem in mental function. They cause distress or disability in social, work, or family activities. Just as the phrase “physical illness” is used to describe a range of physical health problems, the term "mental illness" encompasses a variety of mental health conditions.

Is Mental Illness Genetic? What the Research Says

What Is Mental Illness?

The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as a health condition that involves “changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior—or a combination of these.” If left untreated, mental illnesses can have a huge impact on daily living, including your ability to work, care for family, and relate and interact with others. Similar to having other medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease, there is no shame in having a mental illness, and support and treatment are available.


Mental illnesses are incredibly common in the United States. Each year:

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness
  • 1 in 25 U.S. adults live with serious mental illness
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6 to 17 years experience a mental health illness

Serious mental illness (SMI) is a term used by health professionals to describe the most severe mental health conditions. These illnesses significantly interfere with or limit one or more major life activities. Two of the most common SMIs are bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.


There are hundreds of mental illnesses listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. The DSM-5 puts illnesses into categories based on their diagnostic criteria.

Anxiety Disorders

This group of mental illnesses is characterized by significant feelings of anxiety or fear, accompanied by physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and dizziness.

Three major anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)

Bipolar and Related Disorders

Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorders are characterized by alternating episodes of mania, hypomania, and major depression.

There are three broad types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I
  • Bipolar II
  • Cyclothymia

How Mania Varies Between the Bipolar Types

(Video) Mental Illness Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment | Merck Manual Consumer Version

Depressive Disorders

The common feature of all depressive disorders is the presence of sad, empty, or irritable mood, accompanied by physical symptoms and cognitive changes that significantly affect a person's capacity to function.

Examples include major depressive disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders

A group of psychiatric conditions that involve problems with the self-control of emotions and behaviors.

Disorders in this group include:

  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Kleptomania
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Pyromania

Dissociative Disorders

This group of psychiatric syndromes is characterized by an involuntary disconnection between consciousness, memories, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors—even one's own identity or sense of self.

Elimination Disorders

Children with elimination disorders repeatedly void urine or feces at inappropriate times and in inappropriate places, whether the action is involuntary or not.

Feeding and Eating Disorders

Eating disturbances are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating patterns that leads to poor physical and psychological health.

Three major eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Binge-eating disorder
  • Bulimia nervosa

Gender Dysphoria

Formerly known as gender identity disorder, gender dysphoria occurs when a person feels extreme discomfort or distress because their gender identity is at odds with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Neurocognitive Disorders

These disorders are characterized by a decrease in a person's previous level of cognitive function. In addition to Alzheimer's disease, other conditions in this category include:

  • Huntington's disease
  • Neurocognitive issues due to HIV infection
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Medication or Substance-Induced Neurocognitive Disorder

(Video) 10 Common Mental Illnesses Crash Course

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

These disorders typically manifest early in development, often before a child enters grade school. They are characterized by impairments of personal, social, academic, or occupational functioning.

Examples of neurodevelopmental disorders include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism
  • Learning and intellectual disabilities

Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders

As the name suggests, these disorders are characterized by the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions.

Examples obsessive-compulsive and related disorders include:

  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Hoarding disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Paraphilic Disorders

Describes intense or persistent sexual interests that cause distress or impairment. These may involve recurrent fantasies, urges, or behaviors involving atypical sexual interests.

Personality Disorders

These disorders are characterized by an enduring inflexible pattern of experience and behavior that causes distress or impairment. There are currently 10 recognized personality disorders.

Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders

These disorders are defined by abnormalities in one or more of the following areas:

  • Delusions
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Disorganized or abnormal motor behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Negative symptoms

Sexual Dysfunctions

This heterogeneous group of disorders is characterized by a person's inability to fully engage in or experience sexual pleasure.

Some of the most common sexual dysfunctions include:

  • Delayed ejaculation
  • Erectile disorder
  • Female orgasmic disorder
  • Female sexual interest/arousal disorder

Sleep-Wake Disorders

There are several different types of sleep-wake disorders, and all involve problems falling asleep or staying awake at desired or socially appropriate times.

These disorders are characterized by misalignment of circadian rhythms with the surrounding environment or abnormalities of the circadian system itself. Common sleep-wake disorders include insomnia and narcolepsy.

Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders

People with these disorders feel extreme, exaggerated anxiety about physical symptoms—such as pain, weakness, or shortness of breath. This preoccupation is so intense that it disrupts the person's daily life.

Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders

All substance-related disorders are characterized by a cluster of behavioral and physical symptoms, which can include withdrawal, tolerance, and craving. Substance-related disorders can result from the use of 10 separate classes of drugs.

(Video) Complex Psychiatric Cases: Diagnosis and Treatment

Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders

This group includes disorders that were related to exposure to a traumatic or stressful event. The most common is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Signs and Symptoms

Everyone experiences peaks and valleys in their mental health. A stressful experience, such as the loss of a loved one, might temporarily diminish your psychological well-being. In general, in order to meet the criteria for mental illness, your symptoms must cause significant distress or interfere with your social, occupational, or educational functioning and last for a defined period of time.

Each disorder has its own set of symptoms that can vary greatly in severity, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include:

  • Excessive fear or uneasiness: Feeling afraid, anxious, nervous, or panicked
  • Mood changes: Deep sadness, inability to express joy, indifference to situations, feelings of hopelessness, laughter at inappropriate times for no apparent reason, or thoughts of suicide
  • Problems thinking: Inability to concentrate or problems with memory, thoughts, or speech that are hard to explain
  • Sleep or appetite changes: Sleeping and eating dramatically more or less than usual; noticeable and rapid weight gain or loss
  • Withdrawal: Sitting and doing nothing for long periods of time or dropping out of previously enjoyed activities

It's important to note that the presence of one or two of these signs alone doesn't mean that you have a mental illness. But it does indicate that you may need further evaluation.

If you're experiencing several of these symptoms at one time and they're preventing you from going about your daily life, you should contact a physician or mental health professional.


There is no single cause of mental illness. Instead, it’s thought that they stem from a wide range of factors (sometimes in combination). The following are some factors that may influence whether someone develops a mental illness:

  • Biology: Brain chemistry plays a major role in mental illnesses. Changes and imbalance in neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers within the brain, are often associated with mental disorders.
  • Environmental exposures: Children exposed to certain substances in utero may be at higher risk of developing mental illness. For example, if your mother drank alcohol, used drugs, or was exposed to harmful chemicals or toxins when she was pregnant with you, you may be at increased risk.
  • Genetics: Experts have long recognized that many mental illnesses tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic component. People who have a relative with a mental illness—such as autism, bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia—may be at a higher risk of developing it, for example.
  • Life experiences: The stressful life events you’ve experienced may contribute to the development of mental illness. For example, enduring traumatic events might cause a condition like PTSD, while repeated changes in primary caregivers in childhood may influence the development of an attachment disorder.


Diagnosis of a mental illness is a multi-step process that may include more than one healthcare provider, often starting with your primary care physician.

Physical Exam

Before a diagnosis is made, you may need to undergo a physical exam to rule out a physical condition. Some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, can have physical causes. Thyroid problems and other physical diseases can also sometimes be misdiagnosed as mental health disorders due to overlapping or similar symptoms; this is why a thorough physical exam is essential.

Your doctor will take a lengthy history and may order lab tests to rule out physical issues that could be causing your symptoms. If your doctor doesn't find a physical cause for your symptoms, you'll likely be referred to a mental health professional so you can be evaluated for mental illness.

Is There a Blood Test for Depression?

Psychological Evaluation

A mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, will ask you a series of questions related to your symptoms and family history. They may even ask one of your family members to participate in the interview so they can describe the symptoms they see.

(Video) Top 3 Most common Psychological disorders explained

Sometimes, the mental health professional will administer tests and other psychological evaluation tools to pinpoint your exact diagnosis or help determine the severity of your illness. Most psychiatrists and psychologists use the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose mental health illnesses.

This manual contains descriptions and symptoms for all of the different mental illnesses. It also lists criteria like what symptoms must be present, how many, and for how long (along with conditions that should not be present) in order to qualify for a particular diagnosis. This is known as the diagnostic criteria.

It's not uncommon to be diagnosed with more than one mental illness.Some conditions increase the risk of other disorders. For instance, sometimes an anxiety disorder can develop into a depressive disorder.

The Difference Between Provisional and Differential Diagnoses


Most mental illnesses aren’t considered "curable," but they are definitely treatable.Treatment for mental health disorders varies greatly depending on your individual diagnosis and the severity of your symptoms, and results can vary greatly on the individual level.

Some mental illnesses respond well to medications. Other conditions respond best to talk therapy. Some research also supports the use of complementary and alternative therapies for certain conditions. Often, treatment plans will include a combination of treatment options and will require some trial and error before finding what works best for you.

A Word From Verywell

Living with mental illness, whether it affects you or a loved one, can be very hard—but help is available. If you suspect that you or someone you love may have a mental illness, talk to your doctor, who may refer you to a mental health professional for further assessment, evaluation, and treatment. You can also reach out directly to a psychotherapist.

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health, contact theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helplineat 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see ourNational Helpline Database.

(Video) Schizophrenia - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment & pathology

How to Choose the Right Therapist for You


How are mental illnesses diagnosed? ›

A medical professional determines a diagnosis by interviewing you about your history of symptoms. Sometimes a doctor will require a couple of medical tests to rule out possible physical ailments, but we cannot evaluate mental health itself through blood tests or other biometric data.

What are the 6 types of treatment for mental disorders? ›

Most mental health practitioners practice one of six types of psychotherapy:
  • Behavioral therapy.
  • Cognitive therapy.
  • Interpersonal therapy.
  • Psychoanalysis.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy.
  • Supportive psychotherapy.

What are the various types of treatments for mental illness? ›

They include:
  • Psychotherapy or counseling. This also is called talk therapy. ...
  • Prescription medicine. ...
  • Support groups. ...
  • Other therapies. ...
  • ECT or other brain stimulation therapy. ...
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. ...
  • Hospital or residential treatment program.
Feb 7, 2018

What are the 3 most common diagnosed mental illnesses? ›

The most common are anxiety disorders major depression and bipolar disorder.

What is the most diagnosed mental illness? ›

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1 in every 5 Americans is currently living with a mental illness. Of those, the three most common diagnoses are anxiety disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What are 4 possible treatments to mental disorders? ›

To help, here is a list of some of the more common types of medications used to treat the symptoms of mental illnesses.
  • Antidepressants. ...
  • Anti-anxiety medications. ...
  • Mood stabilizers. ...
  • Antipsychotic medications. ...
  • Long-acting injectable antipsychotics. ...
  • Psychotherapy. ...
  • Rehabilitation and skills training. ...
  • Support groups.

What are the 8 categories of mental disorders? ›

Some of the main groups of mental disorders are:
  • mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder)
  • anxiety disorders.
  • personality disorders.
  • psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia)
  • eating disorders.
  • trauma-related disorders (such as post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • substance abuse disorders.

What are 4 treatments and or therapies for mental illness? ›

Some people find complementary and alternative therapies helpful to manage stress and other common symptoms of mental health problems. These can include things like yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, herbal remedies and acupuncture.

What is the best method of treatment for mental illness? ›

Psychotherapy investigates thoughts, sentiments, feelings, and behaviors and seeks to further improve a person's overall well-being. Psychotherapy combined with medication is the best method for advancing recovery.

What are the two most common treatments for mental health challenges? ›

Management and Treatment
  • Medication: Some mental illnesses respond well to medication, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics. ...
  • Psychotherapy: Talking to a mental health professional can help you work through the challenges of an illness and manage its symptoms.
Jan 24, 2022

Is ADHD a mental health diagnosis? ›

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children.

How long does it take to diagnose mental illness? ›

Typically, a psychiatric evaluation lasts for 30 to 90 minutes. At J. Flowers Health Institute, evaluations take approximately 2 hours to ensure a comprehensive and accurate evaluation.

What is the difference between mental illness and mental disorder? ›

A mental disorder shares the same qualities as a mental illness but is used in reference to the Mental Health Act to describe the particular symptoms a person has.

What mental illness is most treatable? ›

Depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. Between 80% and 90% percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment. Almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.

What is the most difficult mental illness to treat? ›

Personality disorders are some of the most difficult disorders to treat in psychiatry. This is mainly because people with personality disorders don't think their behavior is problematic, so they don't often seek treatment.

What is the most painful mental illness? ›

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) has long been believed to be a disorder that produces the most intense emotional pain and distress in those who have this condition. Studies have shown that borderline patients experience chronic and significant emotional suffering and mental agony.

What is the number 1 mental illness in the world? ›

Each year, around 1 million people die from suicide in the world, of which some 63,000 are in the Americas. Depression is the most common mental disorder in the world.

What are the top 5 most diagnosed mental illnesses in America? ›

Below are the five most common mental health disorders in America and their related symptoms:
  • Anxiety Disorders. The most common category of mental health disorders in America impacts approximately 40 million adults 18 and older. ...
  • Mood Disorders. ...
  • Psychotic Disorders. ...
  • Dementia. ...
  • Eating disorders.
Jan 30, 2020

Why is it hard to diagnose a mental illness? ›

With few exceptions, medical tests don't yet exist. While brain imaging can show how mental illness affects the brain, it's not used for diagnosis. Further, there are no blood or other lab tests to show a mental illness. Receiving a diagnosis of mental illness can feel like nothing more than trial and error.

How many main types of treatment are there for mental health disorders? ›

Most mental health practitioners practice one of six types of psychotherapy:
  • Behavioral therapy.
  • Cognitive therapy.
  • Interpersonal therapy.
  • Psychoanalysis.
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy.
  • Supportive psychotherapy.

Can mental illness be cured or treated? ›

There's no cure for mental illness, but there are lots of effective treatments. People with mental illnesses can recover and live long and healthy lives.

What are the 7 major mental disorders? ›

What Are the 7 types of Mental Disorders?
  • Anxiety Disorders.
  • Mood Disorders.
  • Psychotic Disorders.
  • Eating Disorders.
  • Personality Disorders.
  • Dementia.
  • Autism.
Apr 6, 2021

What are the 10 types of mental disorders? ›

Many people also experience stigma, discrimination and violations of human rights.
  • Anxiety Disorders. ...
  • Depression. ...
  • Bipolar Disorder. ...
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) ...
  • Schizophrenia. ...
  • Eating Disorders. ...
  • Disruptive behaviour and dissocial disorders. ...
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders.
Jun 8, 2022

What are the 5 major psychiatric disorders? ›

Five major mental illnesses — autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia — appear to share some common genetic risk factors, according to an examination of genetic data from more than 60,000 people worldwide (The Lancet, online Feb. 28).

What mental illness can ADHD turn into? ›

Behavior or Conduct Problems

When these behaviors persist over time, or are severe, they can become a behavior disorder. Children with ADHD are more likely than other children to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder.

Is ADHD a neuro or psych? ›

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurobehavioral disorder marked by trouble controlling impulsive behavior, difficulty paying attention, or overactivity. It is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood.

What are the 9 symptoms of ADHD? ›

  • Impulsiveness.
  • Disorganization and problems prioritizing.
  • Poor time management skills.
  • Problems focusing on a task.
  • Trouble multitasking.
  • Excessive activity or restlessness.
  • Poor planning.
  • Low frustration tolerance.

How do psychiatrists diagnose mental illness? ›

Psychiatrists are medical doctors and can order or perform a variety of medical and/or psychological tests. These tests, combined with conversations about symptoms and medical and family history, allow psychiatrists to diagnose mental health conditions.

Do psychiatrists diagnose on first visit? ›

It might take a few appointments for your psychiatrist to make a full diagnosis. The next step is to work out a treatment plan.

What happens when you are diagnosed with a mental illness? ›

You might have difficult thoughts around the diagnosis. On top of that, you may also be dealing with the difficult feelings like guilt and self-blame that are part of many mental illnesses themselves. You may also worry how others will react. With time, you will become an expert on your own mental health.

Is anxiety a mental illness or disorder? ›

Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.

Is PTSD a mental illness or disorder? ›

Overview. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it.

What is the biggest difference between mental health and mental illness? ›

The terms “mental health” and “mental illness” are sometimes interchanged, but they differ in meaning. While mental health refers to anyone's state of mental, emotional well-being, mental illnesses are diagnosed conditions that affect thoughts and behaviors.

What are the 6 main classifications of mental disorders? ›

What are some types of mental disorders?
  • Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias.
  • Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Personality disorders.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia.
May 30, 2020

What are the 6 domains of mental health? ›

We identified six domains of quality of life: well-being and ill-being; control, autonomy and choice; self-perception; belonging; activity; and hope and hopelessness.

What are the 6 components of mental health? ›

The Ryff Scale is based on six factors: autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. Higher total scores indicate higher psychological well-being.

Is ADHD a mental illness? ›

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children.

What are the 5 pillars of mental health? ›

5 steps to mental wellbeing
  1. Connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. ...
  2. Be physically active. Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness. ...
  3. Learn new skills. ...
  4. Give to others. ...
  5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)

What are the 10 principles of mental health care? ›

The 10 fundamental components of mental health recovery include the following principles:
  • Self-Direction. ...
  • Individualized and Person-Centered. ...
  • Empowerment. ...
  • Holistic. ...
  • Non-Linear. ...
  • Strengths-Based. ...
  • Peer Support. ...
  • Respect.

What are the 8 dimensions of mental health? ›

Wellness comprises of eight mutually co-dependence dimensions: emotional, physical, occupational, social, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, and financial. If any one of these dimensions is neglected over time, it will adversely affect one's health, well-being, and quality of life.

What is not mental illness? ›

For example, autism and elderly dementia do not qualify as mental illnesses. But those with autism and dementia can develop mental health conditions. Medical conditions (such as heart disease) can also lead to the development or onset of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

What are some risk factors in mental illness? ›

Risk factors

Stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one's death or a divorce. An ongoing (chronic) medical condition, such as diabetes. Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury), such as a violent blow to the head.

Why are the 6 C's important in mental health? ›

The purpose of the 6Cs is to ensure people are looked after with care and compassion, by professionals who are competent, communicate well, have the courage to make changes that improve care and can deliver the best, and commit to delivering this all day, every day (NHS 6Cs England, 2012).

What is the most widely used treatment today for mental disorders? ›

There are several different types of drugs available to treat mental illnesses. Some of the most commonly used are antidepressants, anti-anxiety, antipsychotic, mood stabilizing, and stimulant medications.


1. #1 Sign You're Still Suffering From Emotional Abuse 😢
(AskAwayHealth - Simple Health Information)
2. Understanding Mental Health Disorders
(InHealth: A Washington Hospital Channel)
3. Bipolar disorder (depression & mania) - causes, symptoms, treatment & pathology
(Osmosis from Elsevier)
4. Types of Psychological Disorders – Behavioral Health | Lecturio
(Lecturio Medical | Free Self-Assessments)
5. Psychological Disorders: Crash Course Psychology #28
6. Reimagining Mental Health Diagnosis | Matcheri Keshavan | TEDxMcphs
(TEDx Talks)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Delena Feil

Last Updated: 02/15/2023

Views: 5683

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (65 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Delena Feil

Birthday: 1998-08-29

Address: 747 Lubowitz Run, Sidmouth, HI 90646-5543

Phone: +99513241752844

Job: Design Supervisor

Hobby: Digital arts, Lacemaking, Air sports, Running, Scouting, Shooting, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Delena Feil, I am a clean, splendid, calm, fancy, jolly, bright, faithful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.