Mental Illness FAQs

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

If you are looking for more information about mental illness, we encourage you to visit our Mental Illness page. If you have a question that is not included in our FAQs, please contact us.

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 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.

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 percent 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.

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.

Although mental illness can affect anyone, certain conditions may be more common in different populations. For instance, eating disorders tend to occur more often in females, while disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is more prevalent in children.

Additionally, all ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable. Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, with 75 percent of mental health conditions developing by the age of 24. This makes identification and treatment of mental disorders particularly difficult, because the normal personality and behavioral changes of adolescence may mask symptoms of a mental health condition.

Parents and caretakers 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).

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

Symptoms of mental health disorders vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. The following is a list of general symptoms that may suggest a mental health disorder, particularly when multiple symptoms are expressed at once.

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

When healing from mental illness, early identification and treatment are of vital importance. 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 such cases, with careful monitoring and management of the disorder, it is still quite possible to live a fulfilled and productive life.

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 that will help them heal. Speak with a mental health professional or counselor if you think your friend or family member 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.

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.

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.

There are many types of mental health professionals. The variety of providers and their services may be confusing. Each have various levels of education, training, and may have different areas of expertise. Finding the professional who best fits your needs may require some research.

Feeling comfortable with the professional you or your child is working with is critical to the success of your treatment. Finding the professional who best fits your needs may require some research.

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. It is important to find what works best for you or your child.

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 have answered 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?

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 by talking with someone you trust about your concerns, such as a family member, friend, clergy, 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. Search for mental health resources in your area.

Secondly, there are people and places throughout Nebraska that provide services to talk, to listen, and to help you on your journey to recovery. Thirdly, 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 consumers, their family members, and friends. Some support groups are peer led while others may be led by a mental health professional.

The best source of information regarding medications is the physician prescribing them. He or she 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, and 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 they have been taken for several weeks.

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 problem is that most often, the symptoms will return. If you or your child is taking medication, it is very important 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 feel a trial off your medicine is a good idea, it is necessary to slowly decrease the dosage of medications so that these 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 will be a better fit.

Some pharmaceutical companies offer prescription assistance programs to individuals and families with financial needs, while others 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.