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Are You Mentally Ill?

M. D. Jackson is a college psychology professor, author, family counselor, and a mother of nine adult children.

Are You Mentally Ill?

It’s a question I think people are starting to consider more often. Popular psychology has manifested a constant stream of educational information for the average person to immerse themselves in diagnosis. Many of us remember a time when the words queer or retarded were used as insults to other people. Today we have mental illness as both a label, insult, and an excuse for behavior. Is everyone mentally ill? Are all people saddled with something wrong inside their brains? After all; Sue is depressed, Tom has Obsessing Compulsive Disorder, Carrie is a narcissist, and Mark is introverted. We are all carrying a label or are we mentally ill?


Let’s start with the simple definition of mental illness? The American Psychiatry Association (APA) states the definition of mental illness as “Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these)” (APA. sic. 2018). Also according to the APA (2018), 19% of U.S. adults experience mental illness and one in 24 Adults experience severe mental illness. Knowing these statistics we can ascertain that quite a few people are walking around with a mental illness. That means it is not out of the realm of possibility that you have a mental illness. The truth is that the definition of mental illness is an over simplification. Mental illness covers any and all adverse behaviors from caffeine intoxication (DSM-IV-TR 305.90) to Autistic Disorder (DSM-IV-TR 299.00).

A disorder is any situation in the brain that causes unreasonable/extreme thoughts or actions. As mentioned above there is a diagnosis for being intoxicated via Caffeine. That statement seems to lend an almost unreasonable range for diagnosis, however in children caffeine intoxication can mimic hyperactivity disorders. Of course taking a kid off caffeine is an easy solution to the problem. In this scenario, we see that not all disorders are serious mental illnesses or a long term issue.


Changes in Thinking

What type of changes in thinking are we talking about? Does it need to be a change in thinking? The first indicator of an onset of a mental illness is a change in thinking. An example of this is the onset of Schizophrenia when a person thinks they hear voices when no one is speaking. Another change in thinking could be a person who starts obsessing over safety such as checking the home doors 25-60 times a night to ensure they are locked. For a person experiencing mania their thoughts may be racing with an inability to sleep, and grand thoughts about success. These are all extreme examples. When a person is born with mental illnes, there isn’t necessarily a change in thinking however, symptoms may become more intense.


Mental Illness Associated with Events

Although mental illness is sometimes caused by biological issues, many disorders are a response to an event. Mental Illness such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression often develop from a traumatic event. Emotions are our body’s way of processing external stimulation. When a loved one dies, we are supposed to be sad, that is normal. Often the death of a loved one will alter our view of the world and create a breeding ground for depression.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) happens in response to a traumatic, usually life threatening event in our lives. Is it unreasonable to expect someone to go into war and come out ok? I believe it is both unrealistic and unreasonable. We see that some disorders should be expected. Anytime a person survives a situation that challenges the way they view their reality, we may see the adverse effects.

Are You Mentally Ill?

The following questions are not meant to diagnose anyone. If you think you are having mental health issues, see a professional. If your answer is yes to any of these questions please seek the help of a psychiatrist or counselor. The author cannot give you other mental health advice. The following are some generalizations and are not used to diagnose illness.

  • Have you been thinking the same thoughts repeatedly?
  • Do your thoughts cause you to act in a manner uncharacteristic with your usual behavior? (not leaving the house, abusing a substance, or fighting with those around you)
  • Is your behavior erratic? (Are you happy one minute and angry throwing things the next minute?)
  • Have the people around you had to accommodate your behaviors?
  • Are you thinking thoughts that are not typical? (Suicide, violence, murder, sexually deviate)
  • Do you feel like you are not in control of your actions?
  • Are you often anxious with physical uncomfortable symptoms? (Sweats, increased heart rate, panic)
  • Have you had an extreme thoughts that are contrary to societal laws or norms?
  • Are you unable to control your own thoughts or actions?

If any of these are true consider seeking help. As stated this is not a questionnaire to diagnose anyone.

Personality Disorders

As human beings search for an understanding of ourselves we tend to look for both our attributes and our dysfunction. More often than not we are looking for these things in other people. If we can label a person then maybe we can understand them. Lately I’ve heard too many people labeled as “bipolar”. So many people in fact that one would think the entire area is somehow a mecca for people suffering with bipolar. Too often hormonal discord is negatively labeled “bipolar”. As a society we should be careful in throwing terms associated with mental illness around as a diagnosis.

Just as everyone has a bad mood now and then, everyone has a weird thought from time to time. It is the consistent nagging of a thought that makes it a disorder. It is the change in behavior or actions that are signs that a person has a mental illness. Almost all mental illness is diagnosed by frequency. People are also prone to bad judgment which is also not considered mental illness unless it is coupled with abnormal thoughts.

Why You Should Seek Treatment

The brain is an organ in your body just like your heart. Your brain can malfunction just like your heart. If you suspected you were having a heart attack you wouldn’t ignore it, you would see a doctor. Just as your heart can have a physical problem that needs to be fixed, your brain has can have physical problems that need to be addressed. There have been cases where tumors are discovered from what starts out as adverse thoughts or behavior. It is possible to have any number of physical things wrong with your brain. Issues with thinking can also be a symptom of hormonal imbalance or other physical conditions.

Will I get Committed to an Institution?

It is rare for people to go insane asylums. More often than not people who cannot function in society are sent to prison following committing a crime. This is another reason for you to get help. People with mental illness are estimated to make up 50-77% of the prison population depending on who is reporting. That means as mental illness goes untreated; we are seeing those numbers rise. Also a person who is having a mental health issue is likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol both of which will compound the problem increasing the chances of breaking the law. If you are on a treatment plan and adhere to that plan, your chances of any type of incarceration go down.

If you believe that you are going to harm yourself or others, go get help now. Do not wait. Tell someone in your family; have them get you to a doctor now. Do not wait and hope these thoughts will go away. Get help right now.

Labeling People

In the 90’s all the children were ADHD. That is not really true but, if you look at the alarming numbers of kids on drugs for ADHD you would think there wasn’t a well behaved kid in the United States. Those were loaded labels attached to small human beings who were just being kids. Today, I still hear people call themselves ADHD or ADD, people who clearly function just fine without drugs. Today’s popular diagnosis is Bipolar. This diagnosis is primarily given to women in the years when they are fertile. What does that mean? Are we just not honest about hormone issues? Could it be hormone fluctuation? It could.

Diagnosis is tricky. I am firm believer that actual mental illness, unless it is a product of drug use or physical change, is progressive. Over time a person’s perceptions of reality or behaviors become more erratic. People with mental illness are very perceptive and know early in life that they are different, so they work to their mental illness from others. This is how people end up in relationships with someone and don’t realize until much later that the person has a mental illness.


If all medical explanations have been ruled out then we can go with a diagnosis. Until then I am skeptical. I am also skeptical of any medical doctor who prescribes drugs for a patient having what would be considered “mental health problems”. A large number of medical doctors prescribed Ritalin for children in the 90’s without much more than talking to the parent. Just like with medical problems the symptoms of mental illnesses cross over. If you ever looked up a symptom on WebMD you know, you might be dying or you might have eaten something that doesn’t agree with you. Psychology is the same way. That is why you have to be completely honest with your psychologist. They can’t help you if you lie. Tell the truth. If you are hearing voices, tell the truth. If you feel suicidal, tell the truth. Whatever you have going on, tell the truth. Many of lives have been saved by a 24 hour watch. All psychological disorders are treatable.

Does Everyone have a Mental Illness?

No. In society we tease each other about disorders, which we shouldn’t do. We are not all the same person. When my children were young I was obsessive about my home being clean. I had babies in the house and I wanted them to live in a clean environment. I once bleached a carpet my dog threw up on (ruined it). Do I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? No, because my thoughts were situational. I do own a steam cleaner, but I do not think about cleaning the way I did when my kids were young.

As a culture we obsess over mental illness and trying to label each other. Is he a narcissist or passive aggressive; is she bipolar or manic depressive? The truth is that you cannot diagnose someone from a far and most people are not qualified to diagnose people. What’s worse is we label those around us by their sporadic actions more than their consistent actions. We all have moments of inferior judgment. We all have moments of selfish behavior. A human being is made up of many complex parts and none of us are definable in one word. Even people who are mentally ill are definable by more than their illness. You would not look as someone who has a heart condition and say “He’s low heart rate” to describe him. You wouldn’t do that because it has nothing to do with the person he is inside.

The final message is; if you think you might have a mental illness, get help. You have nothing to lose by seeing a mental health professional. You may find out there isn’t anything wrong with you or your condition is treatable.

© 2018 MD Jackson MSIOP


MD Jackson MSIOP (author) from Western United States on July 12, 2018:

Thank you, I appreciate the follow.

Centfie from Kenya on July 09, 2018:

In-depth and outstanding article about mental illness. Thanks for sharing this and promoting mental health awareness.

MD Jackson MSIOP (author) from Western United States on July 06, 2018:

Thank you Pamela.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 06, 2018:

I am glad to say I answered no to the questions! This is really such a thorough article about mental illness, and I agree that it is important not to label people with any label until you are sure because all other causes are ruled out.

When my youngest child was about 3 my neighbor thought he was hyperactive, and she tried to get me to ask the doctor to treat him with Ritalin I absolutely was not going to do that, and the overactive stage was something he just outgrew.

Very interesting and insightful article.

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