Session One -
What causes mental illness?
Handout C: "What is Mental Illness"
Handout D: "Biopsychosocial Model and Diathesis
Video: NAMI Science and Treatment Video
- What is mental illness?
- Distribute Handout C: "What
is mental illness?" (Bisbee, 1991)
- Every organ in the human body
has a function, and numerous problems can arise with each organ.
The specific problem with the organ and the resultant disorder
dictate the appropriate treatments. This chart places mental
illness in the context of other forms of illnesses
- Mental illness is brain dysfunction,
- Patients may experience
the world with their senses (vision, smell, taste, touch,
hearing) in unusual and/or strange ways (e.g., hearing
voices, seeing things that others do not see)
- Thoughts may occur very
quickly/slowly, may be poorly organized, confusing,
illogical, irrational, etc.
- All human beings experience
a variety of moods (e.g., depression, anxiety, mania) and
mood changes. Mental
illness can emerge when the
symptoms cause significant distress over time and impair
one's ability to function in daily life.
- Patients' behavior may be quite
bizarre and confusing for those who do not understand the mental
illness (e.g., a patient with PTSD hiding in the closet when
he hears helicopters; a patient with obsessive-compulsive disorder
checking the stove 20 times before leaving the house; a depressed
individual lying in bed for days at a time)
- Effective treatment of mental illness
includes a combination of several elements: medications, healthy
life style, patient and family education, psychotherapy and rehabilitation.
- Categories of mental illness
- Many different classification systems
for mental disorders exist, but some general categories include:
- Write on Board (and very briefly
define each disorder)
Major depressive disorder
Bipolar disorder / manic-depressive disorder
Anxiety disorders (including PTSD)
Substance use disorders
Organic disorders (e.g., Alzheimer's disease)
- What are the causes of mental illness?
- Given the limited time and participants'
family members having different mental illnesses, overall themes
in the causes of mental illness will be discussed rather than addressing
the specifics of each disorder. Time will be available at the end
of the session for specific questions.
- What are some commonly held beliefs
about the causes of mental illness?
- Mental illness does not exist.
- Mental illness is a normal response
to a sick society.
- Mental illness is caused by the
devil, demons, or turning away from God.
- Mental illness is caused by poor
- Mental illness is caused by being
lazy and weak.
- Mental illness is caused by poor
- Over the years, different theories
have been proposed regarding the causes of mental illness. Myths
such as these develop because people need an explanation for confusing
behaviors. The myths can be transmitted down through many generations
without being checked for accuracy. Sometimes myths are a means
of denial or of avoiding responsibility for the mental illness in
- What our science does know:
- Biopsychosocial model: Mental
illnesses have several dimensions that are helpful to review
- Write on board: Bio, Psych,
- Each area can contribute to
the individual being at risk for mental illness.
- Refers to the structure of
the brain, chemicals in the brain, genes inherited from
parents, etc. Our science is gaining more knowledge about
the large influence of biology in the risk for acquiring
a mental illness.
- Refers to personality, personal
beliefs, thoughts, experiences, etc.
- Refers to environmental stress
(e.g., trauma of war, assault), cultural factors, discrimination,
Therefore … Treatment needs to be
aimed at all 3 of these areas:
BIO medication, nutrition, general physical health
PSYCHeducation (S.A.F.E. Program), psychotherapy, coping
SOCIAL environmental management, stigma of mental illness,
- Videotape: Show and discuss 10-minute
videotape, NAMI Science and Treatment Video, which emphasizes the
biological etiology of mental illness.
- Diathesis-Stress model (Vulnerability
- One can inherit a predisposition or increased
vulnerability ("diathesis") to a certain illness (or class of
illnesses). The importance of family history with some medical
problems (e.g., cancer) is well known. Investigating family
history with mental illness can similarly provide very valuable
information. Having a family history of a mental illness does not
mean you will necessarily get the illness, but you do have an
| 1% incidence
in general population
13% if 1 parent has the disorder
46% if both parents have the disorder
Fraternal twins: 10-15% incidence rate
Identical twins: 35-50% incidence rate
Precisely what is inherited that makes a person more likely
to get schizophrenia is still unknown, but research continues to
study the various causes of mental illnesses.
- Then life experience ("stress") can
trigger the emergence of a mental illness. All people struggle in
coping with major life events; however, individuals with a predisposition
for mental illness can have a harder time with the event and some
symptoms of mental illness may emerge.
- Do you have any questions about
- Do you have questions about the
causes of any