Council on Aging Answers 2017 - 40

Mental Health:
Identifying Risk Factors

HEALTHCARE

COUNCIL ON AGING - SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Most people believe that mental disorders are rare
and "happen to someone else." In fact, mental disorders
are common and widespread. An estimated 54 million
Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder
in a given year. Most families are not prepared to cope
with learning their loved one has a mental illness. It
can be physically and emotionally trying, and can
make us feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments
of others. If you think you or someone you know may
have a mental or emotional problem, it is important to
remember there is hope and help.
Did you know:
n About 1 in 5 American adults will have a mental
health condition in any given year but only 41
percent of them will receive services?
n About 10 percent of the American adult population
will have a mood disorder, such as depression or
bipolar and 18 percent have an anxiety disorder,
including post-traumatic stress disorder?

What is Mental Illness?
A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe
disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in
an inability to cope with life's ordinary demands and
routines. There are more than 200 classified forms of
mental illness. Some of the more common disorders are
depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia
and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes
in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social
withdrawal.
Mental health problems may be related to excessive
stress due to a particular situation or series of events.
As with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental
illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and
psychological. Mental illnesses may be caused by a
reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors,
biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these.
With proper care and treatment many individuals
learn to cope with or recover from a mental illness or
emotional disorder.
40

Answers Guide 2017	

Risk Factors
Genes: 17-28% of risk for mental illnesses can be
accounted for by variations in common genes.
Biology: In one study, head injury between the ages
of 11-15 was the strongest predictor for development
of schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Brain changes like building a "tolerance" or reward
response to stress, or abnormalities in the prefrontal
and frontal cortex, and irregularities in the function of
the neurotransmitter glutamate are also risk factors for
mental illness and substance use.
Environment: People who are exposed to adverse
childhood events including abuse, neglect, divorce,
witnessing domestic violence and having parents who
have substance use issues, mental illnesses or are in jail.
Lifestyle: Substance use can increase chances of
developing a mental illness and having a mental illness
can increase risk of using substances.
Early Warning Signs and Symptoms
Many people do not seek treatment in the early stages
of mental illnesses because they don't recognize the
symptoms. When you or someone close to you starts
to experience the early warning signs of mental illness,

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Council on Aging Answers 2017

Contents
Council on Aging Answers 2017 - Intro
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