In the past decade, mental health professionals have
begun applying research to the study of happiness. The result is "positive
psychology," a new field of inquiry that focuses on the emotions and personality
traits that add up to a satisfying life. Positive psychology also investigates
how its principles apply to community and social institutions, such as families,
schools, and workplaces.
Research has confirmed what most lottery winners have
found out the hard way; happiness is not necessarily waiting on the slopes of
Whistler or behind the wheel of a Maserati. It consists of having physical
health, intellectual challenges, close family ties, engaging social
relationships, and perhaps some kind of spiritual connection.
Of course, everyone is confronted with profound
challenges from time to time—job loss, legal problems, divorce, injury or
illness, and bereavement. These situations can be devastating. Such setbacks
are often accompanied by financial reversals, such as bankruptcy or home
foreclosure. But these experiences of loss, disappointment, and misfortune help
us appreciate what—and who—we have.
of the time, we bounce back from adversity. The degree to which we're able to
do so is called resilience. But
sometimes a person lacks the support system or inner resources to rally after a
hard blow. Depression, an anxiety disorder, or some other mental illness may follow.
of Mental Health Disorders
Like physical illness, mental illness takes many forms.
To make sense of these forms, experts have devised 16 categories, ranging from
factitious (faking) disorders to psychoses. Let's look at the characteristics
of several of the most common types of mental health disorder
There are three types of depression:
Dysthymia is a chronic (long term) but mild depression
that lasts more than two years and keeps people from functioning at their
highest level. People with dysthymia feel a great deal of self-doubt and may pass
up educational or career opportunities as a result. They're able to go through
the motions but tend to find little joy in life.
Major depression is a chronic, severe sense of
despair that lasts six months or more. Major depression usually impairs the
ability to work or study, interferes with relationships, and/or affects eating
or sleeping patterns. Dysthymia can evolve into major depression.
Also called manic-depressive disorder, bipolar
(meaning "two poles") illness is a form of depression in which a
person cycles through unpredictable highs and lows, punctuated by periods of
relative stability. The highs are sometimes referred to as "mania,"
but that term is a bit misleading because it suggests that the manic person is frenzied
or deranged. In fact, the person might simply appear excited, talkative, energetic,
and upbeat. During this phase, the person is apt to pursue overly ambitious
projects, show poor judgment, and display reckless behavior, such as engaging
in unsafe sex, spending or gambling sprees, or drinking binges. Conversely when
the person is moving through a depressive cycle, he or she will show traits
more common to depression such as sleep problems, loss of interest in hobbies,
guilt, indifference, and loss of concentration.
When normal apprehension escalates into alarm and
dread, it is classified as a mental health problem. Anxiety disorders are classified
Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
People with GAD might be called "high
strung." They expect poor outcomes, tend to be jumpy and fearful, and
worry a great deal about minor things that are beyond their control. Being
emotionally overwrought may contribute to physical symptoms, such as stomach
ailments, headaches, insomnia, and fatigue.
OCD is characterized by persistent, intrusive
thoughts that cause uneasiness, fear, or distress—the obsessive component of
the disorder—and by repetitive irrational rituals the person feels compelled to
perform in order to alleviate anxiety—the compulsive component of the disorder.
For example, a person who is afraid of contamination might iron clothes
obsessively—even socks, sheets, and underwear—in an effort to kill germs with
the heat of the iron.
The chief symptom of panic disorder is a sudden,
crushing wave of anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating,
nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, and heart palpitations. These waves of
panic generally peak within 10 minutes and then go away. About six million
adults in the United States have panic disorder. It can begin at any age, but the
typical onset is in the mid-20s. It may be accompanied by other conditions,
such as bipolar disorder.
Stress Disorder (PTSD)
As its name suggests, PTSD occurs among people who
have survived a severe trauma, such as combat, rape, a natural disaster, or diagnosis
of a life-threatening illness. This disorder can induce either a state of
hyperarousal, in which the person remains constantly vigilant for threats, or a
state of dissociation, in which feelings and thoughts are separated or
compartmentalized. The person may have flashbacks; become detached or
irritable; or avoid certain people, places, or situations that arouse disturbing
Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)
People with social phobia are enveloped by an
overwhelming sense of dread in certain social situations, such as job
interviews, parties, or dates. Even being called upon to answer a question during
a business meeting or needing to ask for directions can cause a person with
social phobia to blush, sweat, tremble, or feel faint. This disorder often
accompanies bipolar disorder and other depressive illnesses. It can also occur
with anxiety disorders such as OCD and panic disorder. For reasons that are
unclear, about 40 percent of people with social phobia have a coexisting
substance abuse problem.
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder that entails a
loss of touch with reality. A person with schizophrenia cannot cope with daily
life or meet the reasonable expectations and demands of others, such as an employer
or partner. Symptoms of the disorder include the following:
- Disordered, delusional thoughts, which may include hallucinations
- Incoherent, disjointed speech and behavior
- Blunted emotions and withdrawal from others
- Impaired judgment and intellectual abilities
- Poor impulse control
- An unkempt personal appearance
Schizophrenia affects one percent of adults and generally
appears earlier in men than in women. Men usually begin to show symptoms
between ages 18 and 25. Women usually begin to show symptoms between ages 25
and 35. Schizophrenia tends to ‘burn out’ by the mid-60s. Patients usually do
not regain normal mental functioning, but their hallucinations begin to