Mental Health Disorders: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Millions of Americans experience mental health disorders each year. And some symptoms of mental illness can make it hard to function in everyday life.

Yet with swift treatment, stress management, medication, and other interventions, people can manage their mental health. Balanced mental wellness can lead to a more fulfilling life.

Read on to learn about mental health disorders, including what causes them, symptoms, treatment options at Otter House Wellness in North Carolina, and more.

How Do You Define Mental Health Disorders?

Many people experience anxiety, low moods, or other mental health symptoms. This doesn’t mean they have a disorder, though.

Each mental disorder is defined by different characteristics. In general, people may have a mental health disorder if they experience disturbances in:

  • Cognition (thought processes)
  • Emotional regulation
  • Behaviors
  • Significant and ongoing distress
  • Impairment to areas of functioning
  • Risk for self-harm

In short, people who experience daily disruptions due to issues with thought processes, behavior, or mood regulation may have a mental health condition.

Key Facts on Mental Illness

  • About 57.8 million U.S. adults have a mental illness.
  • The number of adults in the U.S. getting mental health treatment has increased, even though access to care is limited in many areas.
  • There’s no specific way to prevent a mental health disorder, but there are risk factors that increase your chances of forming a disorder, such as childhood trauma.
  • Mental health treatment is highly effective: between 70-90% of people in treatment see reduced symptoms and improved quality of life.

What Causes Mental Health Disorders to Form?

To understand what causes a mental health condition to develop, you have to first understand the difference between a cause and a risk factor.

A cause is what directly leads to the formation of a health condition. Risk factors are what increase your likelihood of developing a health condition.

There’s no direct, single cause for mental health disorders. Instead, they may form after a person experiences or is exposed to a range of contributing risk factors.

Risk Factors for Mental Health Disorders

A host of risk factors can affect whether you develop a mental health disorder. These include:

  • Your genetics/history of mental illness in family members
  • Amount of stress you’ve experienced
  • History of childhood trauma/traumatic events
  • Sexual abuse or sexual assault
  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal and emotional abuse
  • Having a traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Having other mental health problems
  • Lacking friends, family, or support
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Exposure to toxic substances in the womb, like drugs or alcohol
  • A chemical imbalance in the brain
  • Substance abuse (use of drugs or alcohol)
  • Social media use
  • Experiencing a severe medical condition, such as cancer or a disability

Who Experiences Mental Illness?

Mental illness can affect anyone, at any age, and for a number of reasons. People affected by mental health disorders span various economic, racial, ethnic, social, religious, and sexual orientation backgrounds.

Most people with a mental illness developed the condition by the age of 24. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 49.5% of adolescents have a mental health issue. And the majority of those teens see significant distress from their condition.

Mental health conditions can begin very early on, with 1 in 7 10- 19-year-olds experiencing a  mental illness, per the World Health Organization.

Because mental illness is so prevalent, early intervention, management, and treatment is key. For people who don’t catch mental health issues early on, treatment can still help them live full lives.

Types of Mental Health Disorders

Mental health disorders range greatly from one type to the next. Here are the most common mental health conditions, their common symptoms, and best treatments.

Addiction Disorders

Addiction disorders, also called substance use disorders, involve misuse of drugs, alcohol, or other substances. These disorders affect a person’s impulse control, thoughts, and behaviors.

This is due to how substances change a person’s brain chemistry. With time, alcohol and drug use is no longer a choice, but a compulsion.

Common symptoms of addictions include:

  • An urge to continue using drugs and alcohol despite negative health effects
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Withdrawal symptoms or cravings when not using drugs or alcohol

Top treatments include inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, detox, behavioral therapy, and counseling.

Anxiety Disorders

People with anxiety disorders go beyond the typical anxiety that most people feel from time to time. 

They may experience symptoms of panic, dread, and fear that looks like stomach issues, headache, sleep troubles, rapid heart rate, and sweating.

Common anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorders, social anxiety disorder, and phobias.

Top treatments for anxiety disorder include anti-anxiety medications, behavioral therapy, and alternative treatments, like breath work, exercising, and meditation.

Depression (Mood Disorders)

Depressive disorders are also called affective disorders, and these conditions affect a person’s daily life and functioning.

Common symptoms of depressive disorder include:

  • Ongoing feelings of sadness
  • Periods of feeling very happy
  • Back-and-forth cycles of extreme highs and lows
  • Suicidal thoughts

Common mood disorders include major depression, bipolar disorders, seasonal affective disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. The best treatments involve medication and therapy.

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders affect a person’s well-being in school, work, and social relationships. This is mainly due to extreme and rigid personality traits that make it difficult for them to behave in a way that’s socially acceptable.

Personality disorders include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.

Top treatments include some medications and psychotherapy, as well as counseling from mental health professionals.

Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders experience greatly different emotions, behaviors, and thoughts surrounding food, eating, and their body weight and body image.

Examples of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. 

Common symptoms include restricting food intake, obsessions with weighing yourself, and eating far too much or far too little to be healthy.

Treatments vary greatly by the eating disorder, but could include medications, therapy, inpatient health care, and counseling.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

People who have OCD experience distressing thoughts and fears. 

These lead to obsessions over the fears, which cause them to form compulsions, or daily routines and rituals they feel they must perform.

Psychotherapy and medications are the top choices to help people with OCD manage their disorder.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD can result after someone experiences a distressing event or situation, like a car accident, physical assault, sexual assault, a natural disaster, or loss of a loved one.

This condition can cause such symptoms as memories of the event which scare them to the point of affecting their daily life, sleep issues, and a feeling of emotional numbness.

Treatments often include therapy, counseling, and medication.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD most commonly affects children, but is being diagnosed more often in adults in recent years as well.

ADHD has a wide range of symptoms that mostly include having trouble sleeping, impulse control (doing things quickly without thinking about them) and being hyper-active, or needing to move constantly.

Most commonly treated with medication, counseling and therapy also play a large role in treating ADHD.

Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders can greatly affect a person’s health by causing them to experience vast changes to their memory, sense of identity, and awareness of their surroundings and others.

Examples of dissociative disorders include dissociative identity disorder and depersonalization disorder. 

The most effective treatment for people who dissociate is talk therapy (psychotherapy). Medication works for some people as well.

Schizophrenia (Psychotic Disorders)

Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders cause delusions and hallucinations, and may even lead to psychosis. With psychosis, a person may have trouble understanding what’s real and what isn’t.

Mental health care providers may treat psychotic disorders with antipsychotic medications and a range of behavioral therapies, as well as hospitalization if necessary.

Mental Health Treatment Options

Mental health issues can affect your physical health and behavioral health as well, which is why effective treatment is so crucial.

The type of mental health services that will be right for you may not be right for another person, so getting evaluated before you start treatment is crucial.

Here are the top mental health treatment options:

  • Residential treatment: With this form of mental health program, you stay onsite and receive round-the-clock care, medical interventions if necessary, and ongoing support.
  • Outpatient treatment: For people who don’t need medical support, outpatient programs offer intensive therapy, counseling, group support, and case management.
  • Medications: Taking medication can play a vital role in regulating moods, thoughts, and other mental health symptoms.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment: Mental health disorders may occur two or more at a time, such as addiction and anxiety. In these cases, you may need both addiction treatment and mental health treatment to achieve lasting recovery.
  • Behavioral therapy: This treatment teaches you how to identify the thoughts and behaviors that lend to mental health issues and replace them with healthier ones.
  • Group therapy: Here, you can receive support from peers in mental health recovery and share your thoughts and feelings with others who are on a similar journey.
  • Family therapy: This form of therapy helps families heal from the effects of mental illness and learn ways to support their loved one in recovery.

Find Help to Improve Your Mental Health at Otter House Wellness

Mental health disorders can keep you from doing the things you love and bleed into every area of your life when left untreated.

Yet when well-managed, mental health can help you thrive in daily life and contribute to your overall well-being. A mentally balanced life is a happier life.

Reach out to Otter House Wellness today to learn about our mental health treatment programs for North Carolina and nearby residents. We can help you achieve lasting recovery and full-body wellness — so you can get back to doing what you love.


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