Living Well with Serious Mental Illness
What are Serious Mental Illnesses?
Mental illnesses are disorders that affect a person’s thinking, mood, and/or behavior —and they can range from mild to severe. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, nearly one-in-five adults live with a mental illness.
A mental illness that interferes with a person’s life and ability to function is called a serious mental illness (SMI). With the right treatment, people with SMI can live productive and enjoyable lives.
There are many kinds of serious mental illnesses. Common ones include:
- Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes intense shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. People have manic episodes in which they feel extremely happy or euphoric, and energized. Usually , they also have depressive episodes in which they feel deeply sad and have low energy.
- Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most common mental disorders. Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, pessimism, irritability, worthlessness, and fatigue. These symptoms interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy their life.
- Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that causes people to interpret reality abnormally. People may experience hallucinations, delusions, extremely disordered thinking and a reduced ability to function in their daily life.
Despite common misperceptions, having an SMI is not a choice, a weakness, or a character flaw. It is not something that just “passes” or can be “snapped out of” with willpower. The specific causes are unknown, but various factors can increase someone’s risk for mental illness including, family history, brain chemistry, and significant life events such as experiencing a trauma or death of a loved one.
View and share videos and fact sheets about SMI.
Having an SMI can make it a struggle to work, keep up with school, stick to a regular schedule, have healthy relationships, socialize, maintain hygiene, and more. However, with early and consistent treatment—often a combination of medication and psychotherapy—it is possible to manage these conditions, overcome challenges, and lead a meaningful, productive life. Today, there are new tools, evidence-based treatments, and social support systems that help people with SMIs feel better and pursue their goals.
Some strategies for living with SMI include:
- Stick to a treatment plan. Even if you feel better, don’t stop going to therapy or taking medication without a doctor’s guidance. Work with a doctor to safely adjust doses or medication if needed to continue a treatment plan.
- Keep your primary care physician updated. Primary care physicians are an important part of the long-term management of an SMI, even if you also see a psychiatrist.
- Learn about the disorder. Being educated can help you stick to your treatment plan. Education can also help your loved ones be more supportive and compassionate.
- Practice self-care. Control stress with activities such meditation or tai-chi; eat healthy and exercise; and get enough sleep.
- Reach out to family and friends. Maintaining relationships with others is important. In times of crisis or rough spells, reach out to them for support and help.
Treatment works. SAMHSA can help you find it.
Effective treatments for serious mental illnesses are available in your area. The earlier that you begin treatment, the greater likelihood of a better outcome. For confidential and anonymous help finding a specialty program near you, visit SAMHSA’s Early Serious Mental Illness Treatment Locator.
If you, or someone you know, need help to stop using substances – whether the problem is methamphetamine, alcohol or another drug – call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889, or text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U), or use the SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to get help.
References and Relevant Resources
- National Helpline
- 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health | Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Schizophrenia | National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH)
- Bipolar Disorder | NIMH
- Mental Health Myths and Facts | MentalHealth.gov
- Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC) | SAMHSA
- SMI Adviser | American Psychiatric Association (APA) and SAMHSA
- Technology Transfer Centers (TTC) Program | SAMHSA