Since 1949, national mental health organizations across the United States have dedicated the month of May as National Mental Health month to raise awareness and break the stigma on mental health disorders. According to statistics, approximately one in five Americans will be affected by a mental health condition at least once in their lifetime and this impact has a major ripple effect on their friends and family. Four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries are mental health disorders, specifically major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Throughout the month of May, mental health organizations and advocates will be rallying and raising awareness about the importance of maintaining good mental health and seeking treatment for mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and eating disorders.

Mood disorders: depression and bipolar disorder

Mood disorders are the most frequent mental health disorders occurring in the United States and are characterized by severe symptoms that affect how one thinks, feels, and interacts with others. They include depressive disorders such as major depressive disorder (MDD) as well as anxiety disorders, which can range from generalized anxiety disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a type of depressive disorder that affects more than 15 million adults in the United States and is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for individuals 15-44 years of age. This can result in extreme unhappiness in every aspect of an individual’s life resulting in potential turmoil in the workplace, in the home and in personal relationships with others. Depression is a multifactorial mood disorder meaning that many causes contribute to this disorder such as genetic factors and major life stressors. Children who have lost a parent before 10 years of age have an increase risk of depression later in life. Although major depressive disorder is the most well known depressive disorder, there are other depressive disorders such as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, substance/medication-induced depressive disorder, and persistent depressive disorder, formerly referred to as dysthymic disorder. Persistent depressive disorder differs from major depressive disorder in that the symptoms usually wax and wane over a period of years. Symptoms of depressive disorders include the following:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Loss of energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Suicidal ideations

Bipolar affective disorder or manic-depressive illness is a mood disorder characterized by periods of profound depression that alternate with periods of excessive elation and irritable mood known as mania. Symptoms of mania include racing thoughts, pressured speech, irritability, distractibility; thoughts of grandiosity, appetite changes with weight loss, and erratic uninhibited behavior. Individuals will suffer from extreme mood swings that interfere with personal relationships, occupational function, and daily activities. Bipolar disorder can be characterized into three types: bipolar disorder type I (BPI), bipolar disorder type II (BPII) and cyclothymia and differences depend on the frequency, duration and severity of the alternating symptoms.

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are considered the most common type of psychiatric disorders in the general population. The most commonly recognized anxiety disorders according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V), range from generalized anxiety (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), and specific phobias to panic disorder and agoraphobia. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive worry over everyday occurrences that usually do not produce worry in the general population. The worrying is almost impossible to control and must occur the majority of days for at least a six-month duration. The following are diagnostic symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder:

  • Restlessness
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance


Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that is characterized by psychotic symptoms and greatly affects how an individual feels, thinks, behaves and perceives reality. Auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) and delusions (false beliefs) are the hallmark of this disorder. Unfortunately like many other mental health disorders, there is severe stigma associated with schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia can demonstrate such bizarre behavior that often frightens others around them. This mental health disorder can affect anyone regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity and it important that awareness is raised in order to eliminate the stigma associated with this disabling mental health illness. Other disorders that fall within the schizophrenia spectrum but differ by duration and characteristics include schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and brief psychotic disorder.