Steven Gans, MD, is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Mental disorders affect thinking, emotions, and behaviors. They are often associated with distress and trouble functioning in social, work, or other daily activities.
They are common. It was estimated that one in five American adults experienced mental illness in 2019 and one in 20 had a serious mental disorder.
There are many different types of mental disorders, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychotic disorders.
Many factors can contribute to the risk of mental disorders. Genetics, life experiences, and biological factors can all play a role. There is no single cause.
Effective treatment for mental disorders generally involve a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and social support and education. These treatment options can help you live well and manage your symptoms.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, is a handbook used by healthcare providers for diagnosing mental disorders. It contains descriptions and symptoms for more than 100 mental disorders. The American Psychiatric Association has been reviewing and revising the manual to reflect new research and knowledge about mental disorders since it was first published in 1952.
Anxiety disorders occur when feelings of intense fear or anxiety become so overwhelming that they cause significant distress or prevent you from doing everyday activities. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, these feelings could be triggered by certain situations, people, or objects. They can also reflect excessive worry about a variety of everyday situations.
Mood disorders affect a person’s emotional state. People with these disorders may experience long periods of abnormally sad, elevated or irritable moods. Depression and bipolar disorder are examples of mood disorders.
Personality disorders are characterized by long-term patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are unhealthy and inflexible. These patterns can cause problems with relationships and work. People with these disorders often have unstable relationships with others.
Eating disorders involve serious problems with thoughts about food and eating behaviors. People with eating disorders may eat too much, too little, or cut out whole food groups entirely. These disorders can lead to health issues, such as heart and kidney problems. Treatment often involves getting help from nutritionists and mental health professionals.
Short for post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD could happen after someone experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. It could be any event in which someone is exposed to the threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence, such as a serious accident or natural disaster. People with this disorder have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings about their experience long after it happened.
Psychotic disorders cause abnormal thinking and perception. People with these disorders lose touch with reality, and often experience delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are false beliefs, while hallucinations are false perceptions. Schizophrenia is one type of psychotic disorder.
Short for borderline personality disorder, BPD is characterized by unstable mood, self-image, and behavior. People with this disorder experience mood swings, intense episodes of anger, fears of abandonment and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. They also have a distorted or constantly changing sense of self. Other symptoms include unstable relationships and impulsive, often dangerous behaviors. Examples include shopping sprees and reckless driving.
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder that interferes with a person’s perception of reality. People living with this condition may not be able to tell what is real and what is not. There are different types of schizophrenia symptoms. Positive symptoms are those that are abnormally present, such as hallucinations, paranoia, or disorganized thoughts and behaviors. Negative symptoms refer to those that are abnormally absent, such as a lack of motivation or an inability to express emotions.
Also known as major depressive disorder, depression is characterized by feelings of sadness, low mood, and loss of interest in usual activities. It interferes with a person’s ability to perform daily tasks. There are different specifiers that can further characterize types of depression, including, perinatal depression, seasonal affective disorder, and psychotic depression.
Psychologists diagnose and treat mental and developmental disorders. The treatment they provide is psychotherapy, or talk therapy. The goal of psychotherapy is to eliminate or control disabling or troubling symptoms, so the patient can function and feel better. Psychologists are not medical doctors, so they cannot prescribe medications to their patients. Psychologists hold doctoral degrees like a PsyD, PhD, or EdD.
Psychiatrists also diagnose and treat mental and developmental disorders. They hold a degree in medicine, an MD or DO, so they can prescribe medications and assess both the psychological and physical aspects of mental disorders. Psychiatrists can also treat patients with psychotherapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy used to treat a wide range of mental disorders. Examples include depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. CBT involves using a variety of techniques and approaches to change dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
National Alliance on Mental Health. Mental health by the numbers. Updated March 2021.
MedlinePlus. Mental disorders. Updated May 4, 2021.
American Psychiatric Association. DSM-5: Frequently asked questions.
American Psychiatric Association. What is posttraumatic stress disorder? Updated August 2020.
National Institute of Mental Health. Borderline personality disorder. Updated December 2017.