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What are the Different Types of Mental Illness and Disorders?

By Susan Abe
Updated Jan 24, 2024
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Not long ago, mental illness and disorders were roughly categorized into one of three types: personality disorders, neuroses and psychoses. These categories were thought to approximate the degree of a patient's separation from reality along a continuum of sorts. Now, mental illness and disorders are classified more by their types of presentation or their origins. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) in the US and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) outline names of disorders, a minimum number of symptoms to exhibit and a description of the illness’s presentation. Examples of frequently occurring mental illness and disorders include mood disorders, addiction disorders and eating disorders.

Mood disorders are among the most prevalent mental illnesses and include the diagnoses of depression, its opposite presentation of mania and the fluctuation between the two known as bipolar disorder. Time is not wasted evaluating the degree of a patient's separation from an objective reality for classification purposes. Rather, a comparison of the patient's subjective belief versus objective reality is assessed only to ascertain the efficacy of treatment, usually by medications that stabilize mood swings. Many patients with mood disorders have been self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs for years before formal diagnosis and treatment. While some talk therapy may be helpful to mood disorder patients, large numbers are aided by medication and physical activity.

Anxiety disorders are another very common type of mental illness and disorders and can range from idiosyncratic oddities to life altering conditions. This classification includes generalized phobias, anxiety disorder, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD). Some anxiety-related mental illnesses and disorders might simply mean that a sufferer avoids public speaking engagements or skips the reptile house at her local zoo. Others, however, can leave the patient literally housebound — as in agoraphobia — or living a life severely constricted by avoiding anxiety-provoking situations. As with mood disorders, those with anxiety disorders frequently self-medicate with alcohol prior to medical diagnosis and pharmacological treatment.

Addiction, substance abuse, anorexia and bulimia can comprise a separate classification of mental illness and disorders in the uncontrollable relationship of the substance or focus of addiction to the sufferer. Conversely, some references lump alcohol and drug addiction into a separate category of impulse control disorders, which might include antisocial behavior, pyromania or shoplifting. Regardless of how these types of mental illness and disorders are classified, treatment includes separation of the patient from the substance or activity and medications to smooth out mood fluctuations that often precede poor impulse control.

Personality disorders are among the most common and least amenable to treatment of the various types of mental illness and disorders. Whether demonstrated as borderline, narcissistic or passive-aggressive personality disorders, these disorders represent extremely rigid personalities and very limited means of dealing with others socially. These individuals rarely seek help for themselves and tend to interpret the usual drama surrounding them as the fault of others.

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