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By Catherine Prestigiovanni, LPC-S

Licensed Professional Counselor –Supervisor

With so much media attention on mental illness recently, it seems an appropriate time to define what is really meant when someone says, “they are suffering from a mental illness.”  A “Mental Illness” is a diagnosable illness that affects a person’s thinking, their emotional state, and their behavior; which then can disrupts the person’s ability to attend to and carry out daily activities, and to engage in satisfying relationships.

Three of the most debilitating are Bipolar, Major Depression, and Schizophrenia.  The most confusing of these three is often Schizophrenia.  Many folks tend to think that Schizophrenia is having multiple personalities or a “split personality”.  In fact, it has nothing to do with an individual’s personality; but rather a separation or split from reality.  Some of the most common symptoms of Schizophrenia include false beliefs where the individual may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts or plotting to hurt them; and hallucinations which can involve any of the five senses – seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and feeling.  Auditory hallucinations are the most common which include hearing voices and other sounds that no one else can hear. 

The big question most people have about a person who is diagnosed with Schizophrenia is whether they are dangerous and may hurt someone?  Although the delusional thoughts and hallucinations of schizophrenia sometimes lead to violent behavior, most people with schizophrenia are neither violent nor a danger to others.


There is also a lot of confusion with regards to Bipolar Disorder.  Because confusion and misunderstanding often lead to creating stigma, it’s important to understand some basic facts about this illness.  Bipolar Disorder includes a wide-range of mood disturbances that go from mania to hypomania to depression.  Mania is a state of significantly elevated mood that often results in a disruption of daily life, and can at times include psychotic symptoms.  Hypomania is similar but not as intense or as disruptive as mania; while depression is a state of ongoing low mood, decreased activity, and decreased energy.

It is often thought that people with Bipolar are just moody or depressed and can easily get over it if they want to; and the symptoms of mania are fun and productive.  The reality however is that these symptoms are extreme, can last for several days or even weeks, and can be very debilitating to the point of hospitalization.  And while being able to stay awake for days might sound like a way to get a lot done; it can be very uncomfortable causing irritability, restlessness, and at times can cause the individual to take big risks or do things they might not normally do which may impact their finances, reputation or career.

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