Mental Disorders

Mental disorders (also called mental illnesses) refer to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that have an effect on your mood, thinking and behaviour.

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What to know about mental disorders

Mental disorders (also called mental illnesses) refer to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that have an effect on your mood, thinking and behaviour. Mental health disorders can affect anyone regardless of race, age, sex or social status, and there is no shame in having a mental health disorder.

Examples of mental illness include

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What is depression?

It is normal to go through times when you feel sad, stressed or tired, especially if you are experiencing problems at home, school or work. But these feelings are different from the prolonged and severe negative feelings experienced because of depression. Depression is not caused by the usual stresses of life, and experiencing depression has nothing to do with how ‘good’ or ‘easy’ your life is. Globally it is estimated that 300 million people of all ages experience depression, and depression is currently the leading cause of disability worldwide.

It is important that people are educated about depression, and that we are able to speak openly and honestly about our experiences and struggles. Depression can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic status. The disorder can affect a person’s ability to carry out even the simplest everyday tasks, with sometimes devastating consequences for relationships with family and friends as well as the ability to function at school or work.

Symptoms of depression to look out for:

Sad, low, or irritable mood or feeling nothing

Feeling restless or slowed down

Change in appetite or weight

Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

Sense of hopelessness

Decreased concentration

Decreased interest or pleasure in activities

Sleeping more or less than usual

Fatigue or loss of energy

Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Substance abuse

Know more about depression

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing depression, seek the help of a mental health professional

Anxiety Disorder

What is anxiety?

Feeling anxious now and then is a normal part of life. You might feel anxious before taking a test, when faced with a problem at work, or before making an important decision. This temporary anxiety can sometimes help you to deal with a difficult situation, motivate you to study harder for an exam, or to maintain focus on an important task. For most people, anxiety is a harmless feeling that lasts for a while and goes away on its own.

However, there are a number of anxiety disorders that can impact the lives of young people, leading them to experience fear, shyness, and nervousness, and can cause them to avoid certain activities and places.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common types of mental health problems which are experienced by people of all ages. They are mental health disorders that include extreme amounts of constant fear, nervousness, dread, or worry.

General symptoms of anxiety to look out for:

Feeling frightened, nervous or panicky all the time

Difficulty sleeping

Lack of concentration

Getting down or depressed


Stomach cramps and/or diarrhoea

Palpitations – when your heart feels like its racing

Low appetite

Tired and irritable

Dry mouth

Feeling faint

Know more about anxiety

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, seek the help of a mental health professional.

Bipolar Disorder

What is bipolar disorder?

Mood swings are often seen as a normal part of adolescence and growing up, however the changes in mood associated with bipolar disorder are not the same as the normal ups and downs every teenager or young adult goes through. In bipolar disorder the mood swings are more extreme and are accompanied by changes in sleep patterns, energy levels, and the ability to think clearly. Bipolar symptoms can affect your performance at school or work, as well as relationships with friends and family members.

In Bipolar disorder, your mood cycles between periods of mania and periods of either normal mood or depression. These cycles (sometimes called episodes) of depression and mania may be daily, monthly, or even years apart.

The three most common types of bipolar disorder are:

Bipolar I disorder which involves periods of severe mood episodes ranging from mania to depression.

Bipolar II disorder which is a milder form of mood elevation, involving milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with periods of severe depression.

Cyclothymic disorder which describes brief periods of hypomanic symptoms alternating with brief periods of depressive symptoms that are not as intense or as long-lasting as seen in full hypomanic episodes or full depressive episodes.

Know more about bipolar disorder


What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is still one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses, with many false ideas and stigma surrounding the disorder. It is an illness of the brain that affects how a person perceives the world, thinks, and behaves. Having schizophrenia does not mean that you have multiple personalities.

Many people also mistakenly believe that people with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous, but this is not true. In fact, people with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia are much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than to commit one. Psychosis means ‘to break from reality’, and that’s exactly what schizophrenia is – a mental disorder that causes the individual to have difficulty distinguishing what is real from what is not. Although schizophrenia is a psychotic illness, psychosis can also occur in other mental disorders, such as: bipolar disorder, depression, or as a result of taking drugs or alcohol.

General symptoms of schizophrenia to look out for:

Hallucinations where you see, feel, smell or hear things that aren’t there

Delusions, where you ‘just know’ things that seem unreal to other people

Confused thinking and difficulty concentrating

Feeling paranoid, believe that people are watching you or are out to get you

Isolating yourself from friends or family

Not paying attention to personal hygiene

Facial expressions appearing ‘flat’ and expressionless

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Eating Disorder

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are mental disorders that involve extreme disturbances in eating behaviour and the person’s perception of their body and weight. Eating disorders often co-occur with other mental disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, depression, substance abuse, or the person may engage in self-harming behaviour. It is important to identify and address these co-occurring disorders if they are present. Eating disorders can affect both men and women, and it is important that young men also receive screening and care for eating disorders if necessary.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, you can contact Eating Disorders South Africa for more information and help in finding treatment.

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