Monday, April 24, 2017

Understanding the Difference Between a Mental Illness and Dementia

Did you know that there is an estimated 43.8 million adults in the United States that suffer from mental illnesses and about 9.8 million with a serious mental condition? From psychotic disorders to anxiety, mental illness has the potential to affect anyone and it is becoming more common as health professionals improve their understanding of a myriad of different disorders.

Since 1949, May has been known as Mental Health Month. It’s a time when people from all across the country band together to spread awareness for mental illness. Introduced by the national organization Mental Health America, Mental Health Month is about providing support and educating the public on how mental health affects people, how others can prevent stigmas from growing and how to advocate for better care. At Preferred Health Choice, mental health awareness is an important cause that is dear to our hearts. Through this blog, we hope to educate people on what mental illness really is and how it differs from other cognitive impairments like dementia. First, we must understand what it means to have a mental illness.

What is mental illness?

According to, mental illness is classified as “a health condition that involves changes in thinking, emotion and/or behavior.” Many people who suffer from mental illness also have problems functioning in social, work or family situations. There is a variety of different mental illnesses, and they can take different forms. Some may be more serious than others, causing low or high levels of daily productivity. These can range from anxiety disorders and phobias to bipolar disorder and severe depression. We’ve listed the most common types of mental disorders below:

·        Anxiety and behavioral disorders
·        Eating disorders
·        Mood disorders
·        Obsessive-compulsive disorders
·        Personality disorders
·        Psychotic disorders
·        Substance abuse disorders
·        Suicidal behavior
·        Trauma and stress-related disorders

However, mental illness is treatable and an early diagnosis is crucial to alleviate symptoms and save lives.

How is dementia different?

The line between identifying dementia and mental illness can be blurry. Many people believe that dementia is a mental illness because of its effects on the brain. However, dementia is not necessarily a mental illness; it is a cognitive disorder that deteriorates memory connectors in the brain, effectively causing memory loss and trouble with communication or bodily function.

The loss of memory could prompt some erratic behavior normally associated with a mental illness like mood swings, confusion or difficulty communicating. Severe cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may also cause physical changes, such as the loss of mobility.  Oftentimes, patients suffering from a later case of dementia will need a wheelchair or require home care services to help them with daily activities. Unfortunately, dementia cannot be reversed and treatment is rarely reliable. While there are medications that may improve symptoms, there is no cure or treatment that can consistently and effectively slow the progression of this illness.

Though it may be hard to see the difference between dementia and a mental illness, we hope our blog helps you recognize that they are similar, but separate conditions that deserve awareness. 

If you think you or someone you love is suffering from a mental illness or dementia, it is imperative to seek medical assistance as soon as possible. We recommend contacting your preferred health professional to discuss the next steps.

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