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What is mental illness?

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

Mental illness is a disease of the mind that impacts the psychological status, thereby rendering emotional or behavioral problems serious enough to require psychiatric intervention. 

Thomas Bellinger, MD
Family Medicine

Mental illness from my perspective as a family physician has been shaped from watching a revolution over the last ten years in the understanding and treatment of mood and though disorders through the lens of neuroscience - how the brain works in both health and in illness. From the chemical messenger molecules that are released from one nerve cell (neuron) to another, and how patterns of neurons fire, say from the cortex that processes sensations and emotions and integrates them into thoughts, and from the limbic brain that generates emotions and ties them together with memories and meanings, it has become clear to me that a reasonably happy person utterly depends on some very complicated machinery to stay focused and positive. Conversely, there are many influences that disrupt this mental engine, that cause distortions of perceptions or negative feelings. These in turn cause self-destructive or self-neglecting beliefs, which in turn drastically influence behavior.

With today's understanding of brains and moods and thoughts, more and more psychiatrists and therapists and primary care physicians are able to better diagnose and treat more types of mental illness, regardless of the cause. Therapy can be directed more toward specific targets in the brain and in the environment that push people toward negative perceptions, feelings, beliefs, and then behaviors.  

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.