What are Mental Illnesses?

What are Mental Illnesses?

Mental illnesses refer to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect mood, thinking and behavior, or a combination of the three. Mental illnesses do not discriminate and can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, income, social status, or race/ethnicity. Mental illnesses can take many forms –  some are mild while others are more severe and may require hospitalization. Some examples of mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

One in four people in the world will be affected by psychiatric or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, yet stigma keeps people from seeking help or getting adequate treatment in developed and under-developed countries alike.1 Lack of treatment, in turn, often leads to disability and lack of self-sufficiency. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that investment in mental health treatments can quadruple returns in work productivity; however, most countries are investing far below what is needed to help those suffering from common mental disorders.2 In terms of health impact, increased access to treatment leads to 43 million extra years of healthy life.3

Only 25% of adults in the U.S. with mental health symptoms believe that people are caring and sympathetic to people with mental illnesses.4 Globally, lower social acceptance of people with mental illnesses has been correlated with suicide rates.5 In fact, according to WHO, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds globally – accounting for 800,000 deaths each year (or one person every 40 seconds).6,7

The magnitude of this mental health burden is not matched by the size and effectiveness of the response it demands. We are working to spread the word about the biological basis of mental illnesses to help increase acceptance, foster compassion, and combat discrimination, with the goal of destigmatizing these illnesses and cultivating empathy.

If you or a loved one is having a mental health crisis, know that there is help. Go to the nearest hospital, emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to reach someone live. You can also call 911 for immediate assistance. If you are living outside of the U.S., see a full list of country-specific suicide hotlines here.


1“Mental Disorders Affect One in Four People.” World Health Report. World Health Organization, 2001. Web. Feb. 2018. http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/

2“Investing In Mental Health: Evidence For Action.” World Health Organization, 2013. Web April 2018. <http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/87232/9789241564618_eng.pdf?sequence=1>.

3Chisholm, Dan et al. “Scaling-Up Treatment of Depression and Anxiety: A Global Return On Investment Analysis.” The Lancet Psychiatry Volume 3, Issue 5: 415-424.

4“Suicide and Self-inflicted Injury.” National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2014. Web. Oct. 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm

5Carpiniello, B, and Federica Pinna. “The Reciprocal Relationship Between Suicidality and Stigma.” Front Psychiatry Volume 8. (2017):35.

6“Suicide Data.” Mental Health. World Health Organization, 2015. Web. Oct. 2017. http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/

7“Suicide Data.” Mental Health. World Health Organization, 2015. Web. Oct 2017. http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suicideprevent/en/