A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in psychiatry, the branch of medicine devoted to the diagnosis, prevention, study, and treatment of mental disorders. Psychiatric illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addictions.

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individualized treatment plan.

Here are some important facts about mental illness and recovery:

  • Mental illnesses are biologically-based brain disorders. They cannot be overcome through “willpower” and are not related to a person’s “character”.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that, by 2020, depression will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children.
  • One in four adults has a diagnosable psychiatric illness. One in ten children suffers from a psychiatric illness.
  • Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.
  • The most effective treatments for many mental illnesses today are medicines; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have a significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with treatment.
  • Early identification and treatment are of vital importance; they result in accelerated recovery and minimize further harm related to the course of illness.
  • Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now-unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural, and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery. It is time to take these barriers down.