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Mental health education

Learn more about how mental illness impacts people and how you can support their recovery.

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About mental illness

Mental health disorders are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions of the brain 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 (OCD), panic disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Mental illnesses can affect people of any age, race, religion or income. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. 

Mental illness is treatable, and recovery is possible. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

Resources for understanding mental illnesses

At The Kim Foundation, we strive to connect individuals, families and the community to valuable, trustworthy resources. Organizations such as the National Institute of Mental Health and Mental Health America are dedicated to educating the public on mental illnesses and treatments. 

Learn more below about signs and symptoms, risk factors, treatments and therapies, clinical trials, free brochures and shareable resources. 

If you are in crisis and need immediate help, please call or text the 988 Lifeline or call 911.

Mental health FAQs

Explore frequently asked questions about mental illness, including causes, warning signs, symptoms, recovery, treatment options and medications.

What does it mean to have a mental illness?

Mental illnesses are health conditions that disrupt a person’s thoughts, emotions, relationships and daily functioning. They are associated with distress and diminished capacity to engage in the ordinary activities of daily life.

Mental illnesses fall along a continuum of severity: some are fairly mild and only interfere with some aspects of life, such as certain phobias. On the other end of the spectrum lie serious mental illnesses, which result in major functional impairment and interference with daily life. These include such disorders as major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and they may require that the person receives care in a hospital.

It is important to know that mental illnesses are medical conditions that have nothing to do with a person’s character, intelligence or willpower. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illness is a medical condition due to the brain’s biology.

Who does mental illness affect?

It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 adults in America, and that 1 in 24 adults have a serious mental illness. Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, income, social status, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or background.

All ages are susceptible, but younger and older people are especially vulnerable. Seventy-five percent of mental health conditions develop by the age of 24. This makes identification and treatment of mental disorders particularly difficult — the behavioral changes of adolescence may mask symptoms of a mental health condition.

Parents and caregivers should be aware of this fact and take notice of changes in their child’s mood, personality, personal habits and social withdrawal. When these occur in children under 18, they are referred to as serious emotional disturbances (SEDs).

Similarly to how one would treat diabetes with medication and insulin, mental illness is treatable with a combination of medication and social support. These treatments are highly effective, with 70-90% of individuals receiving treatment experiencing a reduction in symptoms and an improved quality of life. With the proper treatment, it is very possible for a person with mental illness to be independent and successful.

What causes mental illness?

Although the exact source of mental illness is not known, research points to a mix of genetic, biological, psychosocial and environmental factors as the root of most conditions.

Since this combination of causes is complex, there is no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, you can reduce your risk by practicing self-care, seeking help when you need it and paying attention to early warning signs.

What are some of the warning signs of mental illness?

In adults:

  • Confused thinking
  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extreme highs and lows in mood
  • Excessive fear, worrying or anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there)
  • Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Many unexplained physical problems
  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol

In older children and pre-teens:

  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical problems
  • Defying authority, skipping school, stealing or damaging property
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Long-lasting negative mood, often along with poor appetite and thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger

In younger children:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worrying or anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience and/or aggressive behavior
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Can people with mental illness recover?

When healing from mental illness, early identification and treatment are vitally important. Based on the nature of the illness, there are a range of effective treatments available. For any type of treatment, it is essential that the person affected is proactive and fully engaged in their own recovery process.

Many people with mental illnesses who are diagnosed and treated respond well, although some might experience a return of symptoms. Even in these cases, with careful monitoring and management of the disorder, it is still quite possible to live a fulfilled and productive life.

What should I do if I know someone who appears to have the symptoms of a mental disorder?

Although this website cannot substitute for professional advice, we encourage those with symptoms to talk to their friends and family members and seek the counsel of a mental health professional. The sooner the mental health condition is identified and treated, the sooner they can get on the path to recovery.

If you know someone who is having problems, don’t assume that the issue will resolve itself. Let them know that you care about them and that there are treatment options available to help them heal. Speak with a mental health professional or counselor if you think a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of a mental health condition. If the affected loved one knows that you support them, they will be more likely to seek out help.

How can I find a mental health professional for myself or my child?

Feeling comfortable with the professional you or your child is working with is critical to the success of the treatment. Finding the professional who best fits your needs may require research. Start by searching for providers in your area or visiting

What treatment options are available?

Just as there are different types of medications for physical illness, different treatment options are available for individuals with mental illness. Treatment works differently for different people, so it is important to find what works best for you or your child.

If I become involved in treatment, what do I need to know?

Beginning treatment is a big step for individuals and families and can be very overwhelming. It is important to continue involvement in the treatment process as much as possible. Some questions you will need to ask include:

  • What is known about the cause of this particular illness?
  • Are there other diagnoses where these symptoms are common?
  • Do you normally include a physical or neurological examination?
  • Are there any additional tests or exams that you would recommend at this point?
  • Would you advise an independent opinion from another psychiatrist at this point?
  • What program of treatment is the most helpful with this diagnosis?
  • Will this program involve services by other specialists? If so, who will be responsible for coordinating these services?
  • What do you see as the family’s role in this program of treatment?
  • How much access will the family have to the individuals who are providing the treatment?
  • What medications are generally used with this diagnosis? What is the biological effect of this medication, and what do you expect it to accomplish? What are the risks associated with the medication? How soon will we be able to tell if the medication is effective, and how will we know?
  • How much experience do you have in treating individuals with this illness?
  • What can I do to help you in the treatment?

What should I know before starting a new medication?

The best source of information regarding medications is the physician prescribing them. They should be able to answer questions such as:

  • What is the medication supposed to do?
  • When should it begin to take effect, and how will I know when it is effective?
  • How is the medication taken and for how long?
  • What food, drinks, other medicines or activities should be avoided while taking this medication?
  • What are the side effects, and what should be done if they occur?
  • What do I do if a dose is missed?
  • Is there any written information available about this medication?
  • Are there other medications that might be appropriate? If so, why do you prefer the one you have chosen?
  • How do you monitor medications and what symptoms indicate that they should be raised, lowered or changed?

All medications should be taken as directed. Most medications for mental illnesses do not work when taken irregularly, and extra doses can cause severe, sometimes dangerous, side effects. Many psychiatric medications begin to have a beneficial effect only after consistent use over several weeks.

If I feel better after taking medication, does this mean I am “cured” and can stop taking it?

It is not uncommon for people to stop taking their medication when they feel their symptoms are under control. Others may choose to stop taking their medication because of its side effects, without realizing that most side effects can be effectively managed. While it may seem reasonable to stop taking the medication, the symptoms will likely return. If you or your child is taking medication, it is essential that you work together with your doctor before making decisions about any changes in your treatment.

Another problem with stopping medication, particularly for stopping it abruptly, is that you may develop withdrawal symptoms that can be very unpleasant. If you and your doctor think stopping your medication is a good idea, it is necessary to slowly decrease the dosage so that withdrawal symptoms don’t occur.

It is important that your doctor and pharmacist work together to make sure your medications are working safely and effectively. You should talk with them about how you are doing and if there are side effects that make you unwilling to continue treatment. They will work with you to develop strategies for minimizing these side effects or will create a plan for switching to a different treatment that may be a better fit.

How can I get help paying for my medication?

Some pharmaceutical companies offer prescription assistance programs to individuals and families with financial needs. Others may offer special drug discount cards. These programs typically require a doctor’s consent and proof of your financial status. They may also require that you have either no health insurance or no prescription drug benefit through your health insurance.

In addition, there are prescription programs you might qualify for. Visit to learn more.

Where else can I get help?

Where you go for help will depend on the nature of the problem and/or symptoms and what best fits you. 

Often, the best place to start is talking with someone you trust about your concerns, such as a family member, friend, spiritual mentor, healthcare provider or other professionals. Having this social support is essential in healing from mental illness, and you will be able to ask them for referrals or recommendations for trusted mental health practitioners. 

There are people and places throughout Nebraska that provide services to help you on your journey to recovery. You can search for mental health resources in your area here.

Many people find peer support a helpful tool that can aid in their recovery. There are a variety of organizations that offer support groups for individuals, their family members and friends. Some support groups are peer led while others may be led by a mental health professional.

Recovery is possible

While recovery is very individualized, it is attainable for everyone. To promote greater public awareness and the importance of recovery, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life and strive to reach their full potential.”

Four major dimensions support a life in recovery:

  • Health: Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms as well as living in a physically and emotionally healthy way
  • Home: Having a stable and safe place to live
  • Purpose: Conducting meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society
  • Community: Having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope

Hope, the belief that challenges and conditions can be overcome, is the foundation of recovery. A person’s recovery is built on his or her strengths, talents, coping abilities, resources and inherent values. It is holistic, addresses the whole person and their community, and is supported by peers, friends, and family members.

Learn more about supporting recovery

Request a presentation

Our presentations, called “A Voice for Hope & Healing,” are available at no charge to any schools, entities, organizations, churches, service clubs or offices covering a variety of topics aligned with our mission to serve as a supportive resource and compassionate voice for lives touched by mental illness and suicide. Presentations can be tailored more specifically to the group’s size, age and specific needs.

Learn more