What is a Serious Mental Illness?
Serious Mental Illness (SMI) is a smaller and more severe subset of mental illnesses, which is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as having one or more mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder(s) that result in serious functional impairment, substantially interfering with or limiting one or more major life activities. People who are diagnosed with SMI may experience a variety of symptoms, including but not limited to:
Common Symptoms of SMI
- Hallucinations: Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not really there
- Delusions: False, fixed beliefs that cannot be changed by facts or reason
- Disorganized thinking: Difficulty with thinking, reasoning, and connecting ideas logically
- Impaired memory: Difficulty with remembering recent events and retaining new information
- Impaired judgment: Difficulty making decisions or comprehending the consequences of those decisions
Types of Serious Mental Illness
SMI can be divided into three broad categories, each of which has a variety of subtypes:
- Psychotic Disorders: These disorders involve distortions of reality and may involve delusions, hallucinations, and/or disorganized thinking. Examples include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.
- Mood Disorders: These disorders involve changes in mood, energy, and activity levels, and can involve episodes of depression and/or mania. Examples include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.
- Anxiety Disorders: These disorders involve intense fear or worry that can be disabling. Examples include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
Causes of Serious Mental Illness
The exact cause of SMI is unknown, but research has identified several potential factors that may contribute to the development of these conditions. These include genetic factors, environmental stressors, and brain chemistry and structure.
Research suggests that SMI can be caused, in part, by genetic factors. This means that a person’s genes may play a role in the development of a serious mental illness. Some research has found that people with SMI have a higher rate of certain genetic mutations than those without SMI.
Environmental stressors, such as trauma, poverty, and social isolation, may also contribute to the development of SMI. Traumatic events, such as abuse or the death of a loved one, can trigger symptoms of SMI in some individuals. Poverty and social isolation can also contribute to the development of SMI by increasing stress levels and reducing access to mental health services.
Brain Chemistry and Structure
Research has found that changes in brain chemistry and structure can play a role in the development of SMI. For example, some research has found that people with SMI have differences in the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters play a role in regulating mood, emotion, and behavior. Additionally, research has found that people with SMI have structural changes in the brain that may contribute to the development of these disorders.
Treatment of Serious Mental Illness
Treatment for SMI typically involves psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help a person learn to manage their symptoms and cope with stress. Medications, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics, can help to reduce symptoms and improve functioning.
Serious Mental Illness (SMI) is a smaller and more severe subset of mental illnesses, which is characterized by one or more mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder(s) that result in serious functional impairment, substantially interfering with or limiting one or more major life activities. SMI can be caused by a combination of genetic factors, environmental stressors, and changes in brain chemistry and structure. Treatment for SMI typically involves psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of both. It is important to seek treatment for SMI, as it can help to manage symptoms and improve functioning.