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What Exactly Defines Mental Illness for Patients?

It is becoming increasingly clear to society that language matters. The language people use to discuss struggles with substances, mental health, and medication has a significant impact.

For example, calling someone who struggles with substance use an “addict” reduces them to a label, instead of a person.

Instead of seeing an individual who has challenges, society at large sees them as an “addict.” More nuanced, person-centered language destigmatizes their struggles, increases empathy, and even makes it easier to seek treatment.

That makes it even more important to use accurate terms when discussing mental health and mental illness.

Mental health is a general term that covers several different factors. Mental health covers an individual’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It is also dynamic and can change as a person grows and moves through their life. When a person maintains good mental health, they are proactively preventing mental illness.

It is possible to develop and maintain resilience to factors that may otherwise strain mental health. When an individual creates a routine that includes positive connections, healthy sleep, and nutrition, they are taking steps to increase and maintain positive mental health.


Mental illnesses are health conditions that create changes in emotions, thinking, and actions. They are commonly referred to as mental health disorders. They can negatively impact an individual’s relationships, ability to function, and perform at work. They impact a person’s mood and sleeping schedule.

They are diagnosable conditions that can be treated and managed. Examples include depression, eating disorders, and anxiety. They are incredibly common. Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. experiences some form of mental illness.

Mental illness is treatable, and the majority of people continue to function with it in their daily lives. However, cases come in varying degrees of intensity, from mild to severe. At times, they do not interfere with an individual’s ability to function, and others require in-patient treatment.

It is important to keep in mind that culture and background impact views on mental illness, and treatment plans can be adjusted accordingly.


Identifying when a person is struggling with a mental illness can be tricky. It can take time to notice if the symptoms are consistent, and how they are impacting an individual daily. They may also vary in intensity and frequency. It is normal to go through periods of poor mental health due to an external event or circumstance. Factors like increased stress, loss of a loved one, or moving can cause symptoms of poor mental health.

Here are signs of a mental health disorder:

  • Sadness or irritability that does not improve
  • Withdrawing from social connections
  • Feeling numb
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities that were previously pleasurable (anhedonia)
  • Changes in libido, sleep schedule, and appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Thoughts of self-harm


When a person feels ready to reach out for support will vary. Often, a person’s social circle or partner will want them to seek support before they themselves feel they need to. Mental illness impacts an individual’s loved ones as well.

A general guide is when a person is struggling to maintain their daily routine due to their symptoms, they should seek professional support. However, that will look a little different to each person.

Family members of someone struggling with a mental illness may benefit from talking with a therapist. Our team of therapists here at the Center for Intimacy, Connection and Change (CICC) are happy to work with you. Please feel free to schedule a free consult, or learn more by giving us a call: 443-671-1146 or email us:


If you want to improve your relationship, need support with separation or divorce, need help with intimacy, or are trying to resolve family conflict… our supportive, solution-focused approach will help you live the life you want and deserve. We are a therapy practice with locations in both the greater Washington DC (Rockville), and Baltimore (Lutherville) regions.

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