Student's Guide to Mental Health

Mental health disorders are a major problem in the United States and around the world. According to Johns Hopkins, roughly 26 percent of adults in the U.S. have some form of mental disorder. Unfortunately, there is still a significant amount of misunderstanding about mental illness, which can prevent people from getting the help that they need. Mental illness can affect both men and women and can begin while one is in college or at various stages in life. The best way to ensure that people get the help that they need to live fulfilling lives is to understand what some of the common forms of mental illness are and to recognize their signs.

Anxiety

Occasional anxious or nervous feelings are not uncommon for most people. It is a natural and often beneficial response to certain situations; however, when these feelings are so strong that they are overwhelming and occur on a regular basis, it is called an anxiety disorder. Unlike nervousness or stress, an anxiety disorder can negatively impact a person’s life by preventing them from participating in routine activities such as attending classes in college or spending time socially with friends. People who suffer from anxiety not only feel nervousness, fear, and panic, but they may also experience difficulty sleeping, dry mouth, sweaty palms, dizziness, a tensing of the muscles, and heart palpitations.

Anxiety comes in different forms. When a person has generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, they worry over things that are generally considered minor. This worry takes place daily for at least six months out of the year. Panic disorder is another type of anxiety disorder. People who suffer from panic disorder often experience sudden moments of intense terror or panic that may make them feel as if they are unable to breathe or as if they are having a heart attack. Social anxiety is a disorder in which a person feels excessive worry, fear, or self-consciousness at the thought of being in a social setting. The person suffering from a social anxiety disorder is often afraid of being ridiculed or embarrassed by or in front of others. Phobias are also anxiety disorders. A phobia is an overwhelming fear of an object, place, or action. A fear of heights, for example, is a phobia.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are extreme eating behaviors that can cause problems both physically and mentally. These disorders are often associated with poor body image; however, they may also be caused by issues such as a need for control, or they may be associated with other forms of mental illness, such as anxiety disorders or depression. There are a number of different types of eating disorders, with anorexia and bulimia being the two most recognized. Anorexia, also known as anorexia nervosa, is a condition in which a person perceives themselves as being overweight even when they are underweight. People who are anorexic may eat and then purge what they’ve eaten, or they may only eat very small quantities of food. Often, a person with this condition will repeatedly weigh themselves. Side effects may include a thinning of the bones, low blood pressure, constipation, weakness and wasting of muscle, and even infertility.

A person of relatively normal body weight who has episodes of uncontrollably eating large quantities of food followed by purging behavior such as taking laxatives, excessive exercising, or vomiting may have bulimia, also called bulimia nervosa. These binge-and-purge episodes typically occur several times a week and are done in private. A person with bulimia may develop problems such as tooth decay, a chronic sore throat, acid reflux, intestinal distress, and dehydration. Binge eating disorder is another type of eating disorder, and it differs from bulimia and anorexia in a number of ways. The person who is doing the binge eating is typically overweight and does not purge after. Binge eaters may develop heart disease, diabetes, or other weight-related problems.

Suicide

When a person intentionally takes their own life, it is known as suicide. Most often, a person who commits or plans to commit suicide is suffering from a mental disorder such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In some cases, a person may feel unable to cope with a certain situation that leaves them with a feeling of hopelessness, such as poor finances, or intense feelings of rejection or loss. In some cases, a person may subconsciously not want to actually die, but a suicide attempt is made as a cry for help. Signs that a person may be having suicidal thoughts include indulging in self-destructive behavior, giving away personal belongings, isolating oneself, a sudden fascination with death, or sudden calmness in someone who has been distraught. If someone fears that a friend or relative is contemplating suicide, they should get help immediately. One way to do that is to contact a suicide hotline. If the situation is urgent, call 911.

Addiction

When a person has an addiction, they have a craving that is beyond their ability to control it, even when it is detrimental to their health, relationships, employment, or general well-being. Commonly recognized forms of addiction involve substances such as drugs and alcohol; however, other things that bring people enjoyment can also turn into addictions, such as food, shopping, gambling, Internet usage, and even video games. Although not everyone develops an addiction to these behaviors, some people may experience a release of dopamine and endorphins in the reward system in the brain. Because of the pleasurable reward, the desire, or craving, exists to repeat the behavior and the experience. In addition, addiction can also affect the part of the brain that controls impulsive behaviors. While there is no definitive reason why some people suffer from addiction, there are a few factors that increase the risk. These include starting the behavior at an early age, particularly drug use, having a history of family members who are addicts, experiencing trauma or abuse, or having certain mental disorders, such as depression. Signs of addiction can vary somewhat depending on the specific addiction, but one may notice symptoms such as being overly secretive, lying, withdrawal from friends and social activities, an inability to cut back on the behavior, and a preoccupation with the behavior.