Mental Health at a Glance…

Mental illnesses are disorders of the brain that disrupt a person’s thinking, feelings, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are brain disorders that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of daily life. Mental illnesses are NOT the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or a poor upbringing.  Mental illness cuts across all levels of society and can affect people of any age, race, religion, or education or income level.

What Causes Mental Illness?

The exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, but research suggests that a combination of factors, including heredity, biology, psychological trauma, and environmental stress, may be involved.

Heredity (genetics)

Serious mental illnesses such as bipiolar disorder and major depression tend to run in families, which means the likelihood to develop a mental disorder may be passed on from parents to their children.


Some mental disorders have been linked to special chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other. If these chemicals are out of balance or not working properly, messages may not make it through the brain correctly, leading to symptoms. Defects in or injury to certain areas of the brain have also been linked to some mental illnesses.

Psychological trauma

Some mental illnesses may be triggered by psychological trauma, such as severe emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; an important early loss, such as the loss of a parent; or neglect.

Environmental stress

Stressful or traumatic events can trigger a mental illness in a person with a vulnerability to a mental disorder.

Effective treatment for mental illness, in most cases, includes biological, educational, and social interventions. While medication is a cornerstone of treatment for mental illness, it should also always be seen as the means of improving psychological and social interventions.  

Types of mental illness commonly treated by the Clinics


Although widely feared and misunderstood, schizophrenia is actually a highly treatable brain disorder that affects more than two million Americans in a given year. Many people with schizophrenia experience hallucinations and delusions, which often occur for the first time in the late teens or young adulthood. Because the disorder causes unusual, inappropriate, and self destructive or, in rare cases, dangerous behavior, people with schizophrenia are often unnecessarily shunned and stigmatized. However, almost all people with the disorder are not dangerous when they are in treatment, although their behavior can be unpredictable. Research has shown that people with schizophrenia who attend structured, psychosocial rehabilitation programs and continue with their medicinal treatment manage their illness best.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a serious medical illness that affects more than two million adults in the United States. It is characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. People with bipolar disorder experience alternating episodes of mania (severe highs) and depression (severe lows). These episodes of abnormally intense moods may last for days, weeks, or even months, and are often separated by periods of fairly normal moods. Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition with recurring episodes that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood. It generally requires ongoing treatment. Treatment is successful in 80 to 90 percent of all cases, depending upon individual response and responsibility. There is considerable disparity in treatment among ethnic groups for this disease; African Americans, Asians and Latinos with bipolar disorder often go undiagnosed and untreated for reasons that range from cultural barriers to lack of parity in healthcare.

Major Depression

Major (or clinical) depression is much more than having a bad day or even coping with a serious loss such as a death in the family or other stressful life circumstances. Major depression involves disturbances in mood, concentration, sleep, activity, appetite, and social behavior. Unlike typical emotional experiences of sadness, loss, or passing mood states, major depression is a persistent mental illness that is estimated to affect 19 million American adults (or approximately 10 percent of the U.S. adult population) annually. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and many other developed countries. Because the outward behavior of depressed individuals can seem relatively normal and rarely disrupts the lives of others to the extent that some other serious mental illnesses do, major depression is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. Left untreated, however, it can lead to severe disability and suicide.  As devastating as this illness may be, it is highly treatable; treatment is successful in 80 percent of clinically-depressed individuals.

Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder symptoms look like a mixture of two kinds of major mental illnesses, namely mood (affective) disorders such as uni-polar or bipolar depression and schizophrenia. Because of this, the disorder may often be misdiagnosed, and therefore not effectively treated. One study showed that 33 percent of a group of roughly 1,000 persons with a severe psychiatric disorder were originally given diagnoses of depression but had final diagnoses of schizophrenia. Schizoaffective disorder is a lifelong illness for most people. As with schizophrenia, there is no known cure, but the disorder can be managed with a continuum of treatment so that sufferers can lead productive, fulfilling lives.

Alcohol, Drug Abuse, Addiction, and Co-occurring Disorders

Co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders are common. On average, more than half (52 percent) of persons surveyed in the past few years who have ever been diagnosed with alcohol abuse or dependence have also experienced a mental disorder at some time in their lives. An even larger proportion (59 percent) of people with a history of other drug abuse or dependence also had experienced a mental disorder.

Mental health problems often predate substance abuse problems by four to six years; alcohol or other drugs may be used as a form of self-medication to alleviate the symptoms of the mental disorder. In some cases, substance abuse precedes the development of mental health problems. For instance, anxiety and depression may be brought on as a response to stressors from broken relationships, lost employment, and other situations directly related to an alcohol and/or drug-using lifestyle.

Children’s Mental Illness

One in five families (seven out of every 100 children) are said to be impacted by significant mental disorders, including attention deficit disorder, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, and dyslexia.

What Are Some of the Symptoms of Mental Illness in Children?

Children's symptoms vary depending on the type of mental illness, but some of the general symptoms include:

  • Changes in school performance, such as poor grades despite good effort
  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Defying authority, skipping school, stealing, or damaging property
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Long-lasting negative moods, often accompanied by poor appetite and thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger
  • Loss of interest in friends and activities they usually enjoy
  • Significant increase in time spent alone
  • Excessive worrying or anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares or night terrors
  • Persistent disobedience or aggressive behavior
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations)


Substance use and abuse can be an issue that affects the mental health of preteens as well as adolescents and young adults. For some hints on how to talk with your pre-teen about drugs, click here Ask Us

Pacific Clinics has knowledgeable staff and competent programs that can help with questions and Issues about mental health and behavioral illnesses. If our website does not give you the information you need, please e-mail your questions to info@pacificclinics.org, phone our Call Center at 1 (877) PC-CARES or consult the helpful websites below:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has information on:

The National Council on Community Behavioral Healthcare (NCCBH) has a wealth of information on behavioral health issues:


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline focuses on issues around suicide ideation, such as bullying, and where to get help in a crisis:


Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Mental Health America (formerly National Mental Health Association) has abundant information on a wide range of mental illnesses and specific issues for various populations:


The National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a family-support-oriented organization whose website offers a wide range of information and assistance to families who have a loved one at risk or already diagnosed with mental or behavioral illnesses. Local NAMI chapters are available throughout Southern California, including one housed at the Pacific Clinics Foothill Boulevard building in east Pasadena.  Phone number is 626-577-6697


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