POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 47 What are mental illnesses? continued Mental illnesses are health problems that affect the way we think about ourselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around us.They affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Mental illnesses can disrupt a person’s life or create challenges, but with the right supports, a person can get back on a path to recovery and wellness. It’s important to understand that there are many different types of mental illness that affect people in different ways. Within each mental illness, people may have very different symptoms and challenges. However, symptoms are just one piece. Access to services, support from loved ones, and the ability to participate in communities play a big part in the way people experience mental illnesses. Culture, background, and personal beliefs also shape the way people understand mental illnesses. Some people don’t see the name of a diagnosis as an important part of their journey, while others prefer the medical terms to describe the illness. No matter how people talk about their experiences, they will likely need to use medical terms if they seek help in the health system. This is just how the system works right now - but it isn’t the only way to talk about wellness. Different mental illnesses Health professionals divide mental illnesses into several different groups based on signs or symptoms. Common groups of mental illnesses include: Anxiety disorders Anxiety disorders are all related to anxiety. They may include excessive and uncontrollable worry, strong fears around everyday things or situations, unwanted thoughts, panic attacks, or fears around a past scary situation.Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses, and they can create barriers in people’s lives. The different types of anxiety disorders include: o Phobias: A phobia is an intense fear around a specific thing like an object, animal, or situation. o Panic disorder: Panic disorder involves repeated and unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a feeling of sudden and intense fear that lasts for a short period of time. It causes a lot of physical feelings like a racing heart, shortness of breath, or nausea. Panic attacks can be a normal reaction to a stressful situation, or a part of other anxiety disorders. With panic disorder, panic attacks seem to happen for no reason. People who experience panic disorder fear more panic attacks and may worry that something bad will happen as a result of the panic attack. Some people change their routine to avoid triggering more panic attacks o Agoraphobia: Agoraphobia is fear of being in a situation where a person can’t escape or find help if they experience a panic attack or other feelings of anxiety. A person with agoraphobia may avoid public places or even avoid leaving their homes. o Social anxiety disorder: Social anxiety disorder involves intense fear of being embarrassed or evaluated negatively by others. As a result people avoid social situations. o Generalized anxiety disorder: Generalized anxiety disorder is excessive worry around a number of everyday problems for more than six months. This anxiety is often far greater than expected - for example, intense anxiety over a minor concern. Many people experience physical symptoms too, including muscle tension and sleep problems. Mood disorders Mood disorders all affect a person’s mood - the way they feel. This can affect every part of a person’s life. When someone experiences a mood disorder, they may feel sad, hopeless, tired, or numb for long periods of time.At times, some people experience an unusually ‘high’ mood and feel powerful and energetic, but this can also create problems. Depression and bipolar disorder are examples of mood disorders. Eating disorders Eating disorders really aren’t about food. They are complicated illnesses that are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. Eating disorders may include seriously restricting how much food a person eats, bingeing, or purging food.Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are examples of eating disorders. Psychotic disorders Psychosis is a health problem that affects how people understand what is real and what isn’t real. People may sense things that aren’t real or strongly believe things that can’t be real. Schizophrenia is one example of a psychotic disorder.