What is Mental Illness 2018-09-18T11:07:09+00:00
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What Is Mental Illness?

Mental illnesses can be difficult to diagnose, both because they can emulate other illnesses and because their symptoms can be intangible, emotional and/or hard to describe. But they are as real as physical illnesses and, even with medication and therapy, typically last a lifetime.

In truth, “mental illness” describes a spectrum of conditions that can affect each person differently, and that often have many overlapping traits between one illness and another. Currently, most can only be managed with a combination of therapy and medication—but it is our great hope that, one day, advances in medicine will eradicate the worst symptoms of these diseases.

Types of Mental Illness

What is Depression?

16 million American adults live with major depression. Once thought of as simply “feeling blue,” it is now better understood that the word “depression” describes a family of very real mood disorders.

While the symptoms and contexts of these illnesses vary, they can include prolonged periods of sadness or despair, detachment, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, or thoughts of suicide. Depression represents the Foundation’s single greatest area of investment, in hopes of finding treatments—and maybe even cures—for these difficult, often lifelong conditions.

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What is Bipolar Disorder?

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What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that inhibits a person’s ability to think clearly, recognize reality, interact with others, and manage emotions. Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions, hearing voices, flat emotional expression, and disorganized or obsessive thinking.

While the disease isn’t common, it still affects 3.2 million Americans, and can have devastating consequences for a sufferer’s ability to keep a job or maintain interpersonal relationships. Despite its relative lack of prevalence, its severity and high mortality rate makes schizophrenia the Foundation’s second most highly funded area of study, after depression.

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What is Anxiety?

Anxiety—irrational feelings of dread that can range from jittery nerves to crippling panic—is the most prevalent mental health concern in the United States. Even moderate anxiety can inhibit our ability to work, maintain a healthy social life, or complete basic daily routines.

It can take a measurable toll on our bodies, leading to medical conditions like high blood pressure, cardiac irregularities, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The Foundation has invested over half a million dollars into finding ways to alleviate the toll anxiety takes on nearly 1 in 5 Americans.

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What are Eating Disorders?

Often stigmatized as a sign of weakness or vanity, eating disorders have long been thought of as a character flaw of young women. In fact, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia are clinical disorders affect as many as 30 million Americans—of all ages, races, and gender identities.

Dangerously, these diseases have the highest mortality of any mental illness: they kill one person every hour. It is absolutely vital that we invest in early diagnosis and treatment, and strive to identify the genetic markers that tell us who may be most vulnerable.

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What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) describes a continuum of conditions affecting a person’s behavior and ability to communicate. Some of these may be severe, inhibiting an individual’s ability to speak or perform simple tasks; other, “high-functioning” forms of autism, may be so minor as to escape notice. Most people living with autism can, with treatment, have rich and fulfilling lives; there is a growing consensus that most forms of ASD are not disabilities at all. The Foundation supports research into developmental conditions like ASD and Down Syndrome not to “cure” them, but to find treatments that help manage the most disabling symptoms.

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What is Alcoholism?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about half of people with a mental illness abuse alcohol or other substances. The Foundation of Hope funds research that seeks to better understand the causes of substance abuse, explore its relationships to other illnesses, and find novel treatments that could, for example, help turn the tide of America’s opioid crisis.

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What is Postpartum Depression?

Nearly 15% of women experience severe depression following childbirth. Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder affecting women who have given birth, most often characterized by persistent symptoms of despair, anxiety and fatigue. Unlike the temporary “baby blues,” postpartum depression can linger for months or longer, and may not manifest until as long as six months after childbirth. Sufferers may have trouble sleeping, eating or concentrating, and may experience anxiety attacks or thoughts of doing harm to themselves or their babies.

In extreme cases, postpartum depression manifests as a more severe condition called postpartum psychosis (PPP). In these cases, sufferers may experience hallucinations, feelings of paranoia or obsessive thoughts about their babies, and may attempt to harm themselves or their babies.

In extreme cases, postpartum depression manifests as a more severe condition called postpartum psychosis (PPP). In these cases, sufferers may experience hallucinations, feelings of paranoia, or obsessive thoughts about their babies, and may attempt to harm themselves or their babies.

  • Nearly 15% of women experience severe depression following childbirth
  • Women who have previously given birth, or had experience with another mental illness, are more susceptible to postpartum depression
  • Postpartum depression can affect any woman regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or economic status.
  • Postpartum psychosis—the presentation of a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia—occurs in 3.4% of women.
  • Postpartum psychosis occurs in 20% to 30% of women with known bipolar disorder.

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What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder isn’t just a soldier’s disease. This psychiatric condition can develop in anyone who has survived or witnessed a traumatic event like a life-threatening accident, a natural disaster, or a violent assault—and the symptoms may not manifest until years later. Sufferers may experience severe anxiety or uncontrollable thoughts of reliving the event that terrified them; these symptoms can be ongoing, or triggered by something specific.

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