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Types of Mental Illness: Understanding the Types, Potential Causes, and Common Symptoms

Written by Nishant Garund
Medically Reviewed by Dr.Varuni Agarwal

Dr. Varuni Agarwal is an esteemed Ayurvedic physician specializing in
diagnosing diseases through Ayurvedic dosha imbalances and providing personalized treatments. She focuses on ahara (diet) and vihara (lifestyle) to manage and heal various ailments.

Types of Mental Illness: Understanding the Types, Potential Causes, and Common Symptoms

Mental illness. It’s a term that can conjure up a variety of images and emotions. But what exactly does it mean? The truth is, there are many types of mental illness, each with its own unique set of symptoms and experiences.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the diverse landscape of mental health conditions. We’ll explore different categories of mental illness, common signs to watch for, and the importance of seeking help. By understanding the types of mental illness, we can better support ourselves and those around us.

What Is a Mental Health Disorder?

Behavioural health or mental health is the overall well-being which includes an individual’s psychological, emotional and social well-being. Mental health plays a crucial role in how you affect stress in your daily life. According to studies, around 970 million people globally were living with various mental health disorders in 2019. Mental health disorders or mental illness affect the way you think and behave. It also alters your mood and makes it difficult for you to function in social situations. However, poor mental health doesn’t always mean that you have a mental health disorder. 

What Causes Mental Illness?

Understanding the root causes of different types of mental illness remains a multifaceted challenge. Unlike many physical ailments with singular causes, mental health conditions often arise from a complex interplay of factors. This can encompass biological, psychological, and environmental influences.

Biological Factors:

  • Neurotransmitter Imbalances:  Dysfunction in the brain’s complex network of nerve cells and chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) can contribute to mental illness. Fortunately, medications and psychotherapy can often address these imbalances and restore healthy neural functioning.
  • Genetics: Certain mental illnesses can be inherited through family history. However, it’s crucial to understand that genes simply increase vulnerability, not guarantee an illness. The interplay of genes with environmental and lifestyle factors significantly influences the development of mental illness.
  • Brain Abnormalities:  Structural abnormalities, injuries, infections, and long-term substance abuse can also have a detrimental impact on brain function and contribute to the development of mental illness.

Psychological Factors:

Traumatic Experiences:  Exposure to psychological trauma – including childhood abuse (sexual, emotional, physical), neglect, or the loss of a loved one – can significantly increase the risk of mental illness.

Socioeconomic Factors:

Social Determinants of Health: Factors like unemployment, poverty, poor living conditions, and social isolation can negatively impact mental health and contribute to the development of mental illness.

Environmental Factors:

Social and Cultural Pressures:  Unrealistic expectations from family or society, dysfunctional family dynamics, and low self-esteem fostered by the environment can increase vulnerability to mental illness.

While this breakdown highlights different categories, it’s important to remember that these factors often interact with each other. A comprehensive understanding of mental illness requires acknowledging this intricate interplay.

Mental illness can cause you loneliness

Understanding Different Types of Mental Illness 

Mental illness encompasses a diverse range of conditions that affect an individual’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. These conditions can significantly impact daily life and well-being. Some of the most prevalent types of mental illness are:

Anxiety Disorders:

Characterized by excessive worry, fear, and physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat or sweating in response to specific situations or objects. These anxieties become problematic when they’re out of proportion to the situation, uncontrollable, or interfere with daily functioning. Common types include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

Individuals with OCD experience persistent intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that trigger repetitive behaviours (compulsions) aimed at reducing anxiety.  For instance, someone with a severe fear of germs might engage in constant handwashing.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

PTSD can develop after exposure to a traumatic event such as an assault, a natural disaster, or the unexpected loss of a loved one. People with PTSD often experience flashbacks, nightmares, and emotional numbing related to the trauma.

Eating Disorders:

These conditions involve unhealthy and extreme attitudes, emotions, and behaviours surrounding food and weight. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa (characterized by self-starvation), bulimia nervosa (involving binge eating followed by purging), and binge-eating disorder (frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating).

Personality Disorders:

Individuals with personality disorders exhibit inflexible and extreme personality traits that cause significant distress or problems in work, social settings, or relationships. These traits often deviate significantly from societal expectations and hinder normal functioning. Examples include antisocial, obsessive-compulsive, histrionic, schizoid, and paranoid personality disorders.

Mood Disorders (Affective Disorders):

These conditions involve persistent feelings of sadness (depression) periods of extreme happiness (mania), or fluctuations between these extremes. Major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder are some of the most common mood disorders.


Psychosis refers to a state characterized by a distorted perception of reality, including hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) and delusions (fixed false beliefs). It can occur in various mental illnesses, including drug-induced psychosis, schizophrenia, and some mood disorders. Medication and therapy can significantly reduce or even eliminate psychotic symptoms.


A complex psychotic disorder characterized by disruptions in thinking, emotions, and a distorted perception of reality. Symptoms can vary but may include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking, social withdrawal, lack of motivation, and impaired cognitive abilities.  People with schizophrenia are at an increased risk of suicide. It’s important to note that schizophrenia is not the same as “split personality.”

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list, and seeking professional help is crucial if you suspect you or someone you know might be struggling with a mental illness.

Symptoms of Mental Health Illness 

There are some overlapping and common symptoms associated with types of mental illness. A few of them include: 

  • Substance abuse: Misusing alcohol or drugs to cope with difficult emotions.
  • Social withdrawal: Avoiding social interactions or activities you once enjoyed.
  • Mood changes: Feeling persistently sad, isolated, or experiencing sudden mood swings.
  • Anxiety: Excessive worry, fear, or nervousness.
  • Changes in sex drive: Increased or decreased interest in sexual activity.
  • Suicidal thoughts: Feeling hopeless or having thoughts of self-harm.
  • Low self-esteem: Feeling worthless or inadequate.
  • Body image concerns Excessive preoccupation with appearance or flaws.
  • Anger management difficulties: Struggling to control anger or rage.
  • Concentration problems: Difficulty focusing or paying attention.
  • Social difficulties: Trouble interacting or building relationships with others.
  • Empathy challenges: Difficulty understanding or responding to the emotions of others.
Seeking help during mental illness is crucial

How to Treat Mental Illness?

Here are some approaches to treating different types of mental illness: 

  • Medication: Certain medications can significantly improve symptoms for some disorders. These medications, like antidepressants and antipsychotics, work by influencing brain chemistry. It’s crucial to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions precisely when taking medication. Never stop taking medication for a mental health condition without consulting them first.
  • Talk therapy: Discussing your challenges with a mental health professional can be very helpful. This therapy, known as psychotherapy, can be done individually or in a group setting. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a common type that focuses on modifying negative thought patterns and behaviours.
  • Complementary therapies: Alongside traditional treatments, some people find relief from alternative therapies like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, or massage. It’s important to discuss any herbal remedies or supplements with your healthcare provider beforehand, as they might interact with other medications.
  • Brain stimulation techniques: If medication isn’t effective, your healthcare provider might suggest brain stimulation therapies. These techniques alter how the brain processes chemicals and responds to stimuli by affecting nerve cells. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are examples.

Prevention of Mental Illness

Mental illness can’t be prevented in any specific way, however, it can be managed with various therapies and by leading a happy lifestyle. Another important thing is to talk about them to your healthcare provider and seek help whenever needed. 

What We Suggest? 

While this post only covered a brief overview of the major types of mental illness, it hopefully provided a helpful starting point. If you think you might be experiencing any of these conditions, please reach out to a mental health professional. Remember, you’re not alone – millions of people deal with mental illness, and there is effective treatment available. With the right support system and resources, you can manage your condition and live a fulfilling life.  For more information on the specific types of mental illness, causes, and treatment options, consider talking to your doctor or a mental health specialist.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q.1 What are the types of common mental illness? 

Anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders are a few of the most common types of illness.

Q.2 What are the top 2 mental illnesses?

According to NIH, depression and OCD are the most common among the different types of mental illness. 

Q.3 What is a serious mental illness?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Serious Mental Illness or SMI is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.

Q.4 Can yoga help with preventing mental illness? 

Yoga can complement medical treatment including medicines and therapies and help in improving focus, cognitive function and overall mental well-being. 

Q.5 When to talk to a doctor about mental health?

If you observe any changes in the way you think, feel and work for a persistent time and that concerns you, you should consider going to your doctor.