What are mental health disorders?

Mental health disorders (MHDs) are psychiatric illnesses or mental (intellectual) disabilities that restrict a person’s ability to work and take care of themselves and hinder social integration.

What are the differences between intellectual disabilities and psychiatric illnesses?

Both intellectual disabilities and psychiatric illnesses belong to MHDs, but the care and treatment are different.

People with intellectual disabilities have difficulty learning, and their development is slower than that of other people. This condition is usually discovered at birth or in early childhood. Sometimes it can be the result of brain damage that occurs after sickness or trauma. There are three levels of intellectual disability: mild, moderate and severe. In cases of intellectual disability, it is care, attitude and support that matter the most. This condition is relatively stable and unchanging.

In cases of psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anorexia and others, it is medication and psychotherapy that make a difference. This condition can fluctuate. Illnesses also differ by severity: they can render a person disabled or they can be easily coped with, such as mild depression.

MHDs are very varied: not only are psychiatric illnesses different from intellectual disabilities, they can also manifest differently in people with the same diagnosis. The large spectrum of autism symptoms is a perfect example: a person with this condition can either have a highly developed intellect and unnoticeable impairments or be so severely disabled that they never learn to speak. Another highly variable illness is schizophrenia with its related mental health problems. When given the necessary support, people with MHDs can study, successfully enter the labour market and live a happy, fulfilled life.

People with MHDs are not all the same. Just like the severity of intellectual disabilities and psychiatric illnesses is different, so are the people themselves. However, regardless of the type of MHD they have, their feelings, wishes, emotions and the need for self-expression are exactly the same as with other people.

The quality of their social life depends on the severity of their functional impairments. These people can be fully independent and work a paid job or they might need continuous support.