The Link Between Depression & Other Mental Illness (cont.)

While anxiety disorders generally affect women more often than men, OCD affects both genders equally. However, the degree to which OCD affects each person varies. For some it is mild, but for others, it can control their lives if left untreated. This disorder is typically first seen in adolescence or early childhood. OCD is sometimes accompanied not only by depression, but also eating disorders, substance abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD) and other anxiety disorders. OCD affects more than 3 million Americans in any given year.

Treatment is less straightforward for patients with OCD. Some patients benefit from medicines alone, while others only respond to behavior therapy.


Schizophrenia is a type of psychotic illness. A psychotic illness prevents people from being able to distinguish between the real and imaginary worlds. A person with schizophrenia experiences jumbled thoughts, images and sounds that come and go in phases, often suddenly and severely. Because the severity of schizophrenic episodes varies, some people can understand reality and function at work and at home, while others may be unable to function at all. Examples of schizophrenic symptoms include the following:

  • Hallucinations -- seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that aren't really there
  • Delusions -- false beliefs from which the person cannot be dissuaded
  • Inability to make sense out of the world
  • Emotions, thoughts, and moods that do not correspond to an event
  • Hyperactivity
  • Catatonia -- a set of symptoms that can vary from near motionlessness to abnormal purposeless movements
  • Speaking in sentences that do not make sense
  • Depression
  • Isolation from the outside world, including family and friends
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to function in school, work, or other activities
  • No longer washing or grooming oneself

In order to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, these symptoms generally must last at least six months. There is no one cause of schizophrenia, but it has been attributed to genetic changes and variations in brain chemicals. More recent studies have implicated defects in brain structure and how nerves are arranged in the brain. Schizophrenia does tend to run in families. While stress can aggravate the symptoms of schizophrenia, it is not the cause of this psychosis. Poor parenting and a bad upbringing have also been ruled out as causes.

Schizophrenia affects men and women equally, though it tends to affect men earlier (late teens to early 20s) than women (20s to early 30s). Over 2 million Americans are affected by schizophrenia in a given year.

The most common approach to treating patients with schizophrenia is prescribing antipsychotic drugs. These medicines can lessen or stop hallucinations, help patients distinguish between reality and the imaginary, and lessen feelings of confusion. Once use of the medicine stops, the symptoms often return.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders are poorly understood and typified by harmful eating habits. They are most common among teenage girls and women, and frequently occur along with other psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders. Eating disorders often get worse the longer they go untreated. The lack of nutrition associated with eating disorders can harm the body's organs and, in severe cases, lead to death. The two most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa .

People with anorexia purposefully starve themselves, despite their hunger. They tend to be very good in sports, school, and work -- often seeking perfection. Some people with anorexia stop eating in order to gain a feeling of control over their lives, while others may do so to rebel against parents and other loved ones. The diagnosis of anorexia nervosa requires that a person weigh at least 15% less than his or her normal body weight. Symptoms associated with this illness include:

  • Rapid weight loss over several weeks or months
  • Dieting even though weight is already very low
  • Having an intense fear of gaining weight or getting fat
  • Believing that the body is fat when in reality it is not
  • Watching every bite of food
  • Eating in secret
  • Having an unusual interest in food
  • Exercising very often
  • Becoming very depressed or anxious
  • Infrequent or absent menstrual periods
  • Wearing loose clothing to hide weight loss
  • Wanting to be perfect or being highly self-critical

It is not uncommon for people with anorexia nervosa to purge, or empty themselves, through vomiting and abuse of laxatives, enemas and diuretics. Some physical signs of anorexia nervosa include a low tolerance to cold weather, brittle hair and nails, dry or yellowing skin, anemia, constipation and swollen joints.

Like other mental and emotional illnesses, the degree to which people suffer from anorexia varies. Some may recover fully after a single episode, while others spend years battling the illness. It is estimated that up to 3.7% of females will suffer from anorexia at some time during their lives.