Mental Illnesses: The Basics02 Sep 2021
Mental illnesses are a wide range of mental disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples include anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
These illnesses can begin at any age and their effects can be temporary or long-lasting. A person can also have more than one mental illness at the same time (eg. depression and substance use disorder).
Mental illness is expected to be the second biggest health problem affecting Malaysians after heart disease. Thankfully, the stigma on mental illness has been lifting for the past few years to the point where it can be freely discussed.
Mental health vs. mental illness - are they the same?
Mental health and mental illness are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but it’s important to know the difference between both.
Mental health refers to your mental wellness. It is a reflection of your emotional, psychological and social well-being, and affects how you feel, think and act. It also influences how you interact with others, handle problems and make decisions.
Mental illness is a medical condition - a physical illness of the brain which affects a person’s ability to function over a long period of time. It isn’t the same as feeling sad or stressed due to situations such as losing a job or a loved one (although these situations can sometimes contribute to mental illness) - people with mental illness constantly feel distressed and are unable to cope with the ordinary demands of life.
Causes and risk factors
Mental illness is a result of many combined factors which can be biological (problems with chemical imbalances in the body), psychological (thought or emotional issues) or social (life events, stress).
A family history of mental illness, childhood abuse or neglect, and lack of healthy relationships are among the risk factors. Ongoing chronic health conditions, brain damage from a serious injury, as well as the use of drugs and alcohol, can also increase one’s chances of developing a mental illness.
Signs and symptoms of mental illness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Extreme mood changes
- Major changes in eating habits
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Fatigue/low energy
Where to get help
Nurturing your mental health can prevent or combat problems that lead to mental illness. Thankfully, there is growing awareness of the importance of mental health, and more resources that provide help are now available for those who need it. These are just a few of them:
- Befrienders KL
- Mental Illness Awareness & Support Association (MIASA)
- Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA)
- Women's Aid Organisation (WAO)
- Talian Kasih
Mental illness in Malaysia, and many parts of the world, is an emerging issue and should be taken seriously. Left untreated, it can contribute to poorer performance at school and work, fewer employment opportunities and increased risk of suicide.
However, while professional and medical treatments are available, the long-term costs can become a huge burden. But the good news is, insurance companies have now started offering coverage for mental illnesses.
Gibraltar BSN’s GoXtra Care currently offers financial coverage for the treatment of Bipolar Affective Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Schizoaffective Disorder, and Schizophrenia.