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Psychiatric Disabilities

Mental illness is not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness. People can’t make themselves well by trying to "snap out of it." About 26% of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year.

Here are some of the most prevalent types of mental illness:

Anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social phobia, are the most common psychiatric illnesses, affecting about 18% of adult Americans every year. Anxiety disorders may be characterized by the following symptoms: overwhelming feelings of panic and fear; uncontrollable obsessive thoughts; painful intrusive memories; recurring nightmares and physical sensations; such as heart pounding, stomach pains, muscle tension and jumpiness. What causes anxiety disorders remains unclear, but the conditions run in families, suggesting a genetic component probably operates in conjunction with environmental stressors.

Bipolar Disorder
Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older. People with this serious condition experience dramatic shifts in mood (known as episodes of mania and depression) and changes in energy and ability to function. It is likely that many different genes act together, and in combination with other factors of the person or the person’s environment, to cause bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder who are in the depressive phase of the illness exhibit similar symptoms as people with major depression. In the manic phase of the illness, they may exhibit any or all of the following symptoms: grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, increased creativity, risk-taking, and/or irritability.

It has been estimated that 5 to 12% of men and 10 to 25% of women experience depression at some point in their lives. Characterized by sadness, loss of interest and pleasure in activities, and decreased energy. Depression is differentiated from normal mood changes by its severity, symptoms and duration. Can run in families, and body chemistry can bring on a depressive disorder, due to experiencing a traumatic event, hormonal changes, altered health habits, the presence of another illness or substance abuse.

Schizophrenia, which affects about 1 percent of the U. S. population, is a chronic brain disorder characterized by the following: a difficulty distinguishing between real and unreal experiences; an inability to think logically; and inappropriate emotional responses to others and situations. While the term schizophrenia literally means "split mind", it should not be confused with a "split", or multiple, personality. It is more accurately described as a psychosis -- a type of illness that causes severe mental disturbances that disrupt normal thoughts, speech, and behavior. Schizophrenia is believed to be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Substance Abuse and Dependence
Many people believe that those who abuse drugs, alcohol or cigarettes are morally weak or have criminal tendencies, and that abusers or addicts should be able to stop their addiction if they simply change their behavior. While substance abuse starts when an individual makes a choice to take a drug or drink the alcohol, changes occur in the brain that can turn drug abuse into addiction, a chronic, relapsing illness. Those addicted to drugs suffer from compulsive drug craving and usage, and cannot quit by themselves.
Also, it is believed that people with mental illness may take drugs, alcohol and cigarettes in an effort to self-medicate their depression, anxiety or altered mental state.


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