About UsResourcesFAQCalendarContact Us

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions About Mental Illness

Can people get over mental illness without medication?

Health care professionals have differing opinions on the effectiveness of medication to treat mental illness. There are treatment facilities like The San Joaquin Psychotherapy Center, www.breggin.com/sjpc.html, and Golden State Psychological Health Center in San Francisco, www.gsphc.net, that advocate for medication-free treatment for many mental health illnesses. Mental illness is a medical illness. A person does not simply "get over" mental illness without some form of treatment. Mental illness is generally a lifelong, chronic medical illness that needs consistent treatment.

Can people stabilize a mental illness simply with medication alone?

Though medications can often aid in the treatment of mental illness, it is unlikely that taking medication as the sole form of treatment will be effective in "getting over" or stabilizing one's mental illness. Professionals generally recommend therapy along with medications to manage mental illness most effectively.

People who suffer the mental illness of severe depression may put pressure on themselves to just "get over" return to active participation again, but like other mental illnesses, it takes therapy and sometimes medication to stabilize.

Why does someone with mental illness need to have a routine?

Mental illness can often disrupt a person's life by hindering that person's ability to focus on and complete tasks that they otherwise would be able to complete. Establishing a productive daily routine can help to normalize that person's daily life and having a routine most often contributes to increased life satisfaction that comes with personal accomplishment (in the human population as a whole, not just those living with mental illness).

Why do some people choose to just take meds and no therapy, is that safe?

The decision to take prescription medication is one that every individual must make for his or herself. Some people do not feel comfortable divulging information to doctors or others living with mental illness in a therapy environment so they choose to rely solely on medication to combat the disturbances in their lives caused by mental illness. The question of whether it is safe to take prescription medication without partaking in therapy can best be answered by stating that it might be less effective to take medication without the benefit of therapy, but it does not seem to have been proven to be unsafe.

Does exercising help control mental illness just by itself?

By itself, exercise is unlikely to control many types of mental illness. Many health care professionals think that physical exercise has a positive effect on depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, though all caution that more clinical research must be done on the subject. There does seem to be a large section of the medical community that believes physical exercise, in conjunction with therapy and prescription medication, is very beneficial to persons living with mental illnesses, as it is for all people.

Are there any ethnic/racial groups that more likely to have mental illnesses?

The types of mental illness and the percentage of the population with each illness is the same across cultures. Cultures vary in how mental illness is stigmatized, beliefs about the cause of mental illness, and response to different treatments. Mental Health professionals from many different fields differ in their opinions on this and related questions. One argument is that people with lower economic and social status (not ethnicity) are possibly more likely to develop mental illness due to the barriers to advancement implicit in those groups' social stature.

How does someone acquire a mental illness?

Scientists are still studying how people become mentally ill, so we do not know as much as we would like about how a person develops a mental disorder. There may be genetic causes or inherited vulnerabilities, prenatal care injuries or difficulties, exposure to toxins, or other unknown sources. Poverty, homelessness, overcrowding, stressful living conditions, frequent exposure to violence, abusive parents or severe marital or relationship problems can contribute to the development of a mental illness.

Is mental illness a chronic disorder?

Chronic is defined as, "lasting for a long period of time or marked by frequent recurrence" or "of long duration; continuing." Many, if not most, mental illnesses could be categorized as chronic in that the individual living with a certain mental illness will never "get over" that illness. But this is not to say that many symptoms of various mental illnesses cannot be largely alleviated through treatment. If treated correctly, many mental illnesses will have a minimal impact on those living with them.

Is it all in the person's head?

As was partly addressed in question #7 above, mental illness can be caused by many factors. Physical well-being can greatly affect mental well-being and alleviating certain types of physical distress can improve a person's mental health. Mental illnesses are by definition, medical illnesses. The feelings, thoughts, hallucinations, and fears that a person with mental illness might experience are not imagined. They are very real to the person.

How many people a year commit suicide? Is it more than homicide?

According to the American Association of Suicidology's report U.S.A. Suicide: 2003 Official Final Data, 31,484 people committed suicide in that year. The number of suicides in that year was greater than the number of homicides. According to an estimate by the US Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 16,582 homicides in that year.

Is it true that more people in the world have died by suicide than by homicide?

Yes, more people have committed suicide. In a report from the year 2000, The World Health Organization stated that one person commits suicide every 40 seconds, that one person is murdered every 60 seconds, and that one person dies in armed combat every 120 seconds. In 2000, 815,000 to 1 million people took their own lives.

Is it true that nearly 90% of people who attempt or commit suicide have had some form of mental illness?

Yes, this statistic is cited by the National Institue of Mental Health on its website and is taken from: Conwell Y, Brent D. Suicide and aging I: patterns of psychiatric diagnosis. International Psychogeriatrics, 1995; 7(2): 149-64.

Where are the best resources for suicide prevention?

A good place to start looking for information about suicide prevention is at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) at www.sprc.org or by telephone at 877-438-7772. Another resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or by telephone at 800-273-8255. Also check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) at www.afsp.org or by telephone at 888-333-AFSP.

There are many organizations dealing with issues surrounding suicide prevention. The above-listed organizations are a good starting point in your research on prevention. Click on the Resources link for mental health organizations and services.

Why is it so hard to get medical coverage for mental health issues?

There are several factors that make acquiring medical coverage for mental illness difficult. First, insurance companies often restrict benefits available to individuals with mental illness by placing greater limits on their use (i.e. by restricting the annual amount of inpatient and outpatient services covered) or by imposing greater cost sharing than for other medical needs. Second, many insurance companies refuse to cover illnesses or conditions they believe to be preexisting. Simply put, if you have had a diagnosed mental illness for many years, securing insurance could be difficult or very costly. Finally, insurance companies may feel that mental illness diagnoses are not accurate and therefore will refuse to pay for medical treatment associated with that illness.

There are legislative efforts to require insurance companies to pay for mental illness the same as they do for physical illness. To find out more about this, www.nami.org

What is NAMI and how do I find a local chapter?

NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families. NAMI is represented in every state and in over 1100 local communities across the country. NAMI achieves its mission of eradicating mental illnesses and improving the quality of life of all whose lives are affected by these diseases through advocacy, research, support, and education.

Contact the NAMI National HelpLine at info@nami.org or 800-950-6264 for a chapter near you, or for volunteer opportunities or more information about the organization. For local NAMI contact in San Francisco, www.namisf.org.