Are mental illness and mental retardation related?
No. Mental illness has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence. Most developmentally disabled people have no psychiatric problems; many persons diagnosed with mental illness are very intelligent.
How common is mental illness?
After heart disease, mental illness is the nation’s second leading cause of disability. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates 23% of American adults, 18 and older, (about 44 million people) and 20% of American children suffer from a mental disorder during a given year. And, according to a 2008 study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (The Numbers Count: Mental Disorder in America), almost 2.5 million people are affected by schizophrenia and nearly 20 million adults are affected by mood disorders (e.g., major depression and bipolar disorder) in any given year.
  • It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 families in America.
  • Mental illnesses usually strike individuals between the ages of 14 and 24, often during adolescence and young adulthood.
How do I get help?
Often the best place to start is by talking with someone you trust – family, friends, clergy, health care provider – and ask for referrals and recommendations. They may refer you to a specialist, therapist, treatment program or service agency such as Green Door.
Is mental illness treatable?
While there are no cures for mental disorders, with the proper medicines and therapies, they are treatable and manageable.
  • Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. By ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm related to the course of illness is minimized.
  • With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.
  • Between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.
(Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI))
What are some general warning signs of mental illness?
The symptoms of mental illness vary by individual, type and severity. Normally, mental illness is indicated by a combination of symptoms. One individual symptom is rarely an indication of mental illness. Some general symptoms include:
  • Long-lasting feelings of sadness
  • Confusing thoughts
  • Excessive fears or worries
  • Social withdrawal
  • Problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions) or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Significant changes in eating habits
  • Change in sex drive
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
What causes mental illness?
The exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known; however, studies have shown that many conditions are caused by a combination of:

Inherited traits. Mental illness is more common in people whose biological family members also have a mental illness.

Biological factors. In addition to inherited traits, outside forces can also be linked to mental illness – such as traumatic brain injury or exposure to viruses or toxins while in the womb.

Life experiences and environmental factors can trigger the symptoms of mental illness such as the loss of a loved one or financial stress. Environment has also been linked to mental illness – neglect, a dysfunctional family life, poverty and instability leads to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety and anger or distorted ways of thinking.

Brain chemistry. Also known as biochemical causes or chemical imbalances, which affect mood and other aspects of mental health.

(Source: Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com/health/mental illness)
What is bipolar disorder and what are the symptoms of mania?
Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is a medical illness that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. These changes may be subtle or dramatic and typically vary greatly over the course of a person’s life as well as among individuals. Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally even in children. Symptoms may include:
  • Either an elated, happy mood or an irritable, angry, unpleasant mood
  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • Racing thoughts and flight of ideas
  • Increased talking, more rapid speech than normal
  • Ambitious, often grandiose plans
  • Risk taking
  • Impulsive activity such as spending sprees, sexual indiscretion and alcohol abuse
  • Decreased sleep without experiencing fatigue
(Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI))
What is considered a serious mental illness?
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “serious mental illness is a term defined by Federal regulations that generally applies to mental disorders that interfere with some area of social functioning.” Serious mental disorders include severe depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What is depression and what are the symptoms?
Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss or passing mood states, major depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity and physical health. Among all medical illnesses, major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States and many other developed countries. Without treatment, the frequency of depressive illness as well as the severity of symptoms tends to increase over time. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide. Common symptoms include:
  • Loss of energy
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Decreased activity and energy
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Increased feelings of worry and anxiety
  • Less interest or participation in, and less enjoyment of activities normally enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Change in appetite (either eating more or eating less)
  • Change in sleep patterns (either sleeping more or sleeping less)
(Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI))
What is mental illness?
Mental illness is a brain disorder that can affect people of every age, race and income; it is not “catchable” or the result of character flaws (weakness, lack or intelligence) or from using drugs. People affected by mental illness cannot “just get over it” or “fix it.” It is biologically base just like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
What is schizophrenia and what are common symptoms?
Schizophrenia is a serious and challenging medical illness and although often feared and misunderstood, schizophrenia is a treatable medical condition. Schizophrenia often interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, to distinguish reality from fantasy, to manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others. The first signs of schizophrenia typically emerge in the teenage years or early twenties, often later for females. A person with schizophrenia does not have a “split personality,” and almost all people with schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent towards others while they are receiving treatment. The World Health Organization has identified schizophrenia as one of the ten most debilitating diseases affecting human beings. The symptoms of schizophrenia are generally divided into three categories — Positive, Negative, and Cognitive:
  • Positive Symptoms, or “psychotic” symptoms, include delusions and hallucinations (lost touch with reality) as well as paranoia.
  • Negative Symptoms include emotional flatness or lack of expression, an inability to start and follow through with activities, speech that is brief and devoid of content, and a lack of pleasure or interest in life. “Negative” does not refer to a person’s attitude but to a lack of certain characteristics that should be there.
  • Cognitive Symptoms pertain to thinking processes. For example, people may have difficulty with prioritizing tasks, certain kinds of memory functions, and organizing their thoughts. A common problem associated with schizophrenia is the lack of insight into the condition itself. This is not a willful denial but rather a part of the mental illness itself.
(Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI))

Recommended resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Headquarters
3803 N Fairfax Drive, #100
Arlington, VA 22203
703.524.9600 Telephone
703.524.9094 Fax
800.950.NAMI Information Helpline

Find Your Local NAMI

DC Department of Behavioral Health (DMH)
64 New York Avenue, NE, 3rd Floor
Washington, DC 20002
202.673.7440 Telephone
888.793.4357 24-Hour Access Helpline
202.673.7500 TDD Access Helpline

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital
1100 Alabama Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20032
202.562.4000 Telephone

List of Community Based Service Providers