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Mental Illness: Definition, Symptoms, Stigma

Mental Illness: There is no health without mental health.
Samyak Lalit
Samyak Lalit | October 4, 2019 (Last update: August 4, 2021)

Samyak Lalit is an author and disability rights activist. He is a polio survivor and the founder of projects like Kavita Kosh, Gadya Kosh, TechWelkin, WeCapable, Dashamlav and Viklangta Dot Com. Website:

Mental illness or mental disorder refers to a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behavior, capacity to recognize reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life. But it does not include retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially  characterized by sub-normality of intelligence.

Types of Mental Illness

Some of the main groups of mental disorders are:

  1. Mood disorders (e.g. depression or bipolar disorder)
  2. Anxiety disorders
  3. Personality disorders
  4. Psychotic disorders (e.g. schizophrenia)
  5. Eating disorders
  6. Trauma-related disorders (e.g. post-traumatic stress disorder)
  7. Substance (drugs) abuse disorders
  8. Attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  9. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  10. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

More than 300 different mental disorders have been listed in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

Most Common Mental Illnesses

Following are the five most prevalent mental illnesses:

  1. Depression
  2. Anxiety
  3. Eating disorder
  4. Substance abuse
  5. Attention deficit disorder

Symptoms of Mental Illness

In Adults, Young Adults And Adolescents:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Strange thoughts (delusions)
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance use

In Older Children And Pre-Adolescents:

  • Substance use
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Changes in ability to manage responsibilities – at home and/or at school
  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
  • Intense fear
  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger

In Younger Children:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Mental Illness and Social Stigma

Persons with disabilities often face a society that is full of prejudice and cliche about disabilities. And it happens all over the world. Only the degree of severity varies. A social stigma is when people view you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype).

Mental Illness: There is no health without mental health.

In India, people with mental illness are probably the worst affected by social stigma. The taboo associated with mental illness is so strong that it keeps people from seeking medical help even when they realize that they may be suffering with a mental illness. People often feel reluctant and tend to postpone seeing a doctor. This only worsens that situation.

In general the society is not kind toward those diagnosed with mental issues. The general public does not understand that mental illness can be treated and the affected persons can significantly contribute to the society’s development.

In popular culture (in cinema, TV etc.) also, persons with mental illness are shown to be useless, poor, harmful, comic and targets of jokes.

Harmful Effects of Mental Illness Stigma

  1. Reluctance to seek help or treatment
  2. Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
  3. Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
  4. Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  5. Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment
  6. The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation

You if you think that you or someone you know is suffering with a mental illness, it is advisable to immediately meet a doctor. A number of people remain confused whether they should meet a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Well, it does not matter — you should meet the doctor who is most easily accessible to you. If need be, that doctor will refer you to a more specialized medical professional.

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14 responses to “Mental Illness: Definition, Symptoms, Stigma”

  1. Avatar aseem gupta says:

    I am epileptic sir/madam. I wish to know if that comes under RPWD 2016 and is considered a disability or not.

  2. Avatar Anjali Agarwal says:

    Namaste Sir,

    I need to thanks railways for recognizing the mentally sick people as disabled. Also thanks to you for making this resourceful website.
    Myself Anjali Agarwal (49 yrs) want to permanently shift to Bengaluru from Chandigarh with my mother (73 years) and a schizophrenic elder brother(55 yrs) via Delhi in first week of January 2021.(The direct train from Chandigarh to Bengaluru are not operating due to COVID). My mother has her senior citizen card and brother has a UDID.

    Kindly advise if I still need a Railway Concession card for this travel for my brother as I may be needing this card only for one time travel. I want to travel in First Class in both the routes with some extra luggage.

    Your suggestions and guidance are highly required.

    • Lalit Kumar Lalit Kumar says:

      Namaste Anjali ji,

      Well, as of now, yes you would need a Railway Concession Card to avail the concession on rail travel. Having UDID card is not enough. You may apply for the card at the DRM’s office — however, as you want to use the concession only once, I don’t know if the efforts would be worth it.

  3. Avatar ajay says:

    my friend is suffring from pitutary adenoma since 2013 continuosly taking treatments , but she is facing more and more problems due to this hormonal imbalance. is she eligible for disability certificate

    • Lalit Kumar Lalit Kumar says:

      She may be eligible to get disability certificate. But for this, her condition would need to assessed. Please meet the Chief Medical Officer of your district hospital for the assessment.

  4. Avatar Princess Strong says:

    Yes my husband does go through these every last one of them help please

  5. Avatar Nandini Bazaz says:

    My daughter, age 19, is suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder coupled with Bipolar Disorder, depression and severe anxiety. Her class XII college is not recognizing her inability to study and is seeking certificates of such disorders from government hospital only…. though she has undergone multiple hospitalizations due to her extreme ill mental condition. Is there a way to get the Maharashtra State Board to recognize the plight of my daughter? I do have doctor’ certificates for her from her ongoing treatments since past 6 odd years. Will be obliged for your reply.

  6. Avatar ANEESH KUMAR S says:

    I am suffering from OCD. Will I come under pwd category?

  7. Avatar Dharampal says:

    my son is suffered with OCD since his age of 16. and he is now 41 years old. From last 21 years he is on medication. He has been issued UDID card for mental illness with disability percentage 39%. It is one percent less than 40%. This Card has been issued to him recently just a month ago. But the 39% which is not a benchmark disability not provide him a reservation in govt. job.
    my request to you is please guide us whether can I apply for him a new assessment for increase his disability % if he has actually. OR please suggest other way to assess his disability.
    Thanks in advance

    • Lalit Kumar Lalit Kumar says:

      Well, giving disability percentage is completely in hands of the medical board. There is no official channel to file for a review but you can approach the CMO and request for a reassessment. We can only hope that they would listen to your request.

  8. Avatar Sumakumari says:

    Sir, my son has a disability certificate with 45 percentage disability and also mentioned …the disability is permanent (mental illness).I have applied for family pension for him..but my department said that there’s no mention in the disability certificate that “he is not able to earn his livelihood for lifetime”. Is he eligible for family pension..

  9. Avatar prabhat ranjan panigrahi says:

    I am an ex-army personal released from army in metal illness (depression) with 40% disability for life. and in my service book medical board mentioned that, I am unfit for civil employment requirement high mental fitness. due to mentioned unfit for civil employment requirement high mental fitness, I unable to get job in civil sector in both govt and private.
    few month back through your YouTube channel, I get to knew that in government has reserved job for mentally ill person under in the category of intellectual disability
    I had approached military hospital for disability certificate to avail benefit of PWD reservation quota. Medical board rejected my application and told me verbally you are not comes under PWD category and you are fit now.
    when I demanded for fitness certificate again rejected by saying you are 40% mentally ill as per medical board.
    reason of writing my issue is to get perfect guidelines in legal aspects to avail disability certificate or fitness certificate these days i am in severe depression to think about my career.kindly guide me over the call or mail, as soon as possible.

    • Lalit Kumar Lalit Kumar says:

      You can get the disability certificate from the CMO of your district. The medical board will examine you and issue disability certificate as per their opinion.

      As for the reservation, not many posts are identified for the people with mental illness. You can keep an eye on employment news and apply wherever people with mental illness are given reservation.

  10. Avatar Dharmesh says:

    My son is having mental illness since 2011. The assessment was done indicating 60% disability. UDID card was issued in 2019 showing the validity up to permanent. Will this card require reassessment in future? Is the card valid for tax deduction under 80DD? Kindly share the knowledge.

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