Mental Illness vs. Mental Disorder: What’s the Difference?

mental illness vs mental disorder

Mental Illness vs. Mental Disorder: What’s the Difference?

Many people struggle with mental health issues. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 4 people worldwide will be affected by a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives.[1] Mental illness can affect anyone at any time, meaning these disorders do not discriminate.

If you have ever suffered from mental health symptoms, you know how difficult it can be to live your daily life. There is a wide range of symptoms people may suffer from, from anxiety and depression to hallucinations and paranoia.

Oftentimes, people use the terms mental illness and mental disorder interchangeably to describe a diagnosed psychiatric condition, however, these terms have different meanings.

What is a Mental Disorder?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines a disorder as, “a disturbance of normal functioning of the mind or body.” Disorders may be caused by genetic factors, disease, or trauma.[2]

Because a mental disorder is something that changes the normal functioning of your body and mind, this term can accurately describe eating disorders or addictions. However, this term is a little bit outdated, as in the past experts were not aware that mental disorders can affect the brain rather than only the mind.

Mental illness is the term that is used most commonly today, as it better displays that psychiatric conditions can affect more than just your “mind.” Additionally, the term “disorder” has a negative connotation, while illness encourages people to imagine a person struggling with a medical condition.

What is a Mental Illness?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), mental illness refers to “conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior.”[3]

Unlike the term “mental disorder,” this term includes language that suggests that mental health conditions affect more than just the mind. Examples of mental illnesses include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and much more. While many doctors use the terms mental disorder and mental illness interchangeably, mental illness is the correct term to describe psychiatric conditions.

Different Types of Mental Illnesses

If you have dealt with mental health symptoms, you may find yourself wondering whether you have a mental illness. While you can experience symptoms of anxiety or depression without necessarily having a diagnosable illness, knowing the types of mental illnesses can help you determine whether you need support.

There are 357 different mental illnesses listed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Revised Fifth Edition).[4] The DSM-V is an updated version of what mental health experts use to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.

The main groups of mental illnesses include:

  • Anxiety disorders (i.e. social anxiety or generalized anxiety)
  • Eating disorders (i.e. anorexia or bulimia)
  • Mood disorders (i.e. bipolar disorder or depression)
  • Personality disorders (i.e. narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder)
  • Psychotic disorders (i.e. schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder)
  • Substance use disorders (i.e. alcoholism or drug addiction)
  • Trauma-related disorders ( stress disorder or dissociative identity disorder)

Everyone has days where they feel a little down or stressed. If you begin to experience symptoms of mental health issues frequently, you may want to reach out to a mental health provider to receive an evaluation. Leaving mental illnesses untreated can cause them to worsen over time, making it difficult for you to function in your daily life.

Signs You Need Mental Health Treatment

You can receive mental health treatment at any time in your life. Even if you are not experiencing significant symptoms, attending therapy or counseling can help you improve your life. However, there may come a time when you need mental health treatment, so it is important that you can identify the signs.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should seek help for underlying mental illnesses:

  • Feeling depressed or unhappy several days out of the week
  • Having a hard time completing responsibilities due to a lack of motivation, anxiety, or depression
  • Experiencing high levels of stress that cannot be resolved on your own
  • Dealing with anxiety attacks or panic attacks
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Experiencing significant relationship issues with your loved ones
  • Experiencing mood swings or emotional outbursts
  • Going through appetite or weight changes that cannot be explained by normal causes, like new medications, dieting, or exercise
  • Dealing with thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Experiencing auditory, tactile, or visual hallucinations
  • Dealing with paranoid thoughts or symptoms of psychosis such as a disconnection from reality

It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms you should seek mental health treatment for. If you or a loved one are experiencing any mental health symptoms that cause you great distress or prevent you from functioning in your daily life, seek professional support as soon as possible. The longer you leave a mental illness untreated, the worse the symptoms can become.

Get Connected With a Mental Health Treatment Center

If you or a loved one suffer from the symptoms of a mental illness, attending a professional treatment center can help you receive a diagnosis and access the support you need to recover.

At Florida Recovery Group, we do an in-depth assessment to determine what symptoms you are suffering from, whether you meet the criteria for a diagnosis, and what methods of treatment you would most benefit from. Our treatment program is highly individualized, ensuring that every patient receives the help and support they need.

To learn more about our treatment programs for mental illness, contact Florida Recovery Group today.