What is Mental Illness?
Roughly thirteen hundred students meet with a counselor or therapist in our office each year. Most of them come because they find themselves in a temporary, but acute crisis; are having problems relating to friends or family; are having academic struggles; or having difficulties making major, and sometimes even minor, decisions. A small, but significant portion of these students, come to discuss how to cope with the mental, physical and behavioral symptoms of what turn out to be a signficant mental illness.
Mental illnesses, or mental disorders as the medical community calls them, are more common than most people realize. The American Psychiatric Association reports that at any given time, between 30 and 45 million Americans - nearly one in five - suffer from a clearly diagnosable mental disorder involving a degree of incapacity that interferes with employment, attendance and performance at school, or daily life.
At Brown we do see students with mood disorders such as Major Depression and Bipolar Disorder; anxiety disorders such as Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; alcohol and other substance-related disorders; and eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia.
Mental illnesses affect how we:
- Think - such as our ability to concentrate, think logically, and maintain hope
- Feel - such as our energy levels, irritability, and sense of pleasure
- Behave - such as our sleep, appetite, or how we relate to others
Treating Mental Illnesses
Most mental illnesses are best treated with psychotherapy and/or medication.
Because mental illnesses can disrupt students' studies, relationships, and routines, psychotherapy helps the student adjust to, and compensate for, these disruptions.
Because so many of the symptoms of mental illnesses have a biological basis, it is also not surprising that medication can alleviate many of the symptoms. Recent improvements have led to fewer side effects, thus making these medications easier to take.
Like other illnesses, such as heart disease or cancer, there are certain steps one can take to reduce, but not eliminate, the possibility of a mental illness developing. We recommend:
- Exercising regularly to reduce stress and increase resistance
- Eating nutritionally
- Routinely getting enough sleep
- Maintaining a support network of friends, family, and physicians
- Practicing spirituality, such as religion, meditation, and/or enjoying nature
If you are wondering if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a mental illness, we invite you to make an appointment at Psychological Services. You also can learn more by coming to our Self-Help Center or using the list of other Mental Health Web sites we have compiled for you on our "links" page.