Mental Illnesses


Disclaimer: I’m not a psychiatric resident or specialist, and Shafa is a psychology STUDENT. The information below only aims to give a brief introduction to these various types of mental disorders and their associated characteristics. We strongly advice you to refrain from using materials on the internet as a tool to self-diagnose. Should you become concerned about your mental wellness after reading this, please do seek out professional help from a licenced professional.

In my previous post about the stigma of mental health (, a few of my friends were actually a little more curious about the various types of mental disorders I mentioned. I decided to team up with my brother (thanx a lot for taking the time to compile this with me Shafa). He is a second-year psychology major student to give a brief introduction to some of the commonly encountered mood and anxiety disorders. Hopefully, this will shed better understanding of most of my future posts going forth as most of my readers would have a better understanding of what I’m talking about.


Photo by Bestbe models

1. Depression

A persistent feeling of sadness, despair, or lack of interest from previous pleasurable events for at least 2 weeks.

We all experience moments of sadness, grief and lack of interest in our tasks throughout our lives. However, depression will have individuals in a prolonged and persistent sadness usually sometimes described as “being in a dark hole”. This can manifest with extreme mood changes with outbursts of anger and crying. Some habits that can be seen include a change in a diet where some people turn to food for comfort and gain a lot of weight, or lose of appetite were they lose a lot of weight. People who are depressed may easily be irritable and would almost always avoid social gatherings. If help is not sought, the feeling of hopelessness becomes extreme where the person may feel as though their existence doesn’t matter, and life would be better without them that can lead to suicide.

Depression manifests differently in a lot of people. Some people may not be able to get out of bed for weeks. But, others can mask their emotions and show up every day for work, be around family and friends and have no one notice that they are depressed.

2. Bipolar Disorder/Manic depression

A state of being in an elevated mood, also known as manic episodes followed by a series of extreme depression.  

These manic episodes include:

  • Being highly sociable
  • Overly confident
  • Impulsive behaviour such as buying expensive, unnecessary items or gambling
  • Impatience
  • Increased sex drive/arousal
  • Fluctuating eating patterns

Depression episodes may include:

  • Socially withdrawing
  • Slow cognitive response
  • Gloomy and lonely appearance
  • Negative self-esteem and self-image
  • Decreased sex drive/arousal
  • Having thoughts about death

In life, we all experience the “ups-and-downs”. One moment you feel on top of the world that you can accomplish anything and the next you’re starring at yourself in the mirror with the negative self-talk of  “you’re not built for this”. However, people who stay in a constant state of EXTREME emotional instability between these two states for months may likely be developing bipolar disorder.

The cause of mood disorders is not yet well understood. While a lot of people have come to understand and accept that it’s due to specific chemical imbalances in the brain, it is not understood how those imbalances occur. However, genetics, environmental conditions, as well as social situations such as trauma, stress and medications are well understood to be predisposing factors. For instance, people who experience unstable environments in which they can’t maintain an emotional state of being may unconsciously start to align their behaviour with their environments. This can predispose them to develop bipolar disorder.


Photo by Mobola Odukoya

I think it’s safe to say and generalize that we all experience anxiety in our lives. We get anxious before taking that big exam or going on that very important job interview, or even getting ready to go on that first date (because first impressions matter!). However, categorizing anxiety disorders is a different class. These are classified as overwhelming feelings of irrational fear and worry that interferes with daily life activities such as school, work and relationships and is often accompanied by muscle tension.

1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Excessive and uncontrolled worry about everyday life that can consume a person for an entire day which interferes with their daily activities.

Often the individual is aware of how irrational/”unreal” their fear is, but cannot control it. This can present with symptoms including fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, difficulty with sleep and increased irritability. It is also most commonly associated with depression in most individuals.

2. Panic Disorder

A person who experiences recurrent, and unexpected panic attacks that last for at least 1 month may be suffering from panic disorder. Panic attacks are moments of extreme anxiety manifesting with physical symptoms.

A panic attack can often be mistaken for a heart attack because they have similar presentations. This include:

  • Pounding heart
  • Chest pain and difficulty breathing
  • Numbness, tingling, sweaty palms and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain and nausea
  • Feelings of detachment and fear of dying.

Panic attacks can also often occur with individuals who suffer from GAD and depression.

Here, we would also like to highlight the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack. While they show similar manifestations including heart pounding, chest tightness, tingling, difficulty breathing, dizziness etc. The difference is often in their onset. An anxiety attack usually gradually builds up and gets triggered by a stressor. In contrast, a panic attack occurs abruptly and often without cause.  People with panic disorders can usually never anticipate when their next attack may occur and often avoid social settings in fear of an attack occurring.

3. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Severe anxiety that usually occurs after a life-threatening event such as war, natural disaster, serious accident, rape, or violent abuse.

This can generally happen immediately after the traumatic event, months, or even years after.  This is exhibited by:

  • Re-experiencing the event with recurring nightmares and flashbacks
  • Avoidance from specific places, people or activities that remind them of the event
  • Cognitive effects were they have trouble remembering the event
  • Irrational guilt about the event
  • Easily aroused by stimuli that resemble the trauma and may exhibit outbursts of anger.

PTSD can occur in all age groups. Children who may not be able to express themselves may possess behavioural patterns such as being extremely clingy to the parent.

4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This anxiety disorder is comprised of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. These are seen as persistent, uncontrollable moments of unwanted thoughts that urges a person to engage in senseless rituals to put the thoughts at ease.

To better understand this, let us try to help you understand how this occurs. These obsessive intrusive thoughts can arise unconsciously from a variety of things, including order, symmetry, religion, sexuality, relationships, violence etc. These can be thoughts of:

  • Fear of a car hitting you,
  • the need for approval in a relationship,
  • fear of living in an unclean environment and so forth.

The compulsions are the peculiar behaviours that the individual will do to reduce the anxiety. This can often be:

  • washing of hands several times for a specific period
  • inability to share food or space with people
  • extreme habits to organize a space
  • repeating prayers and religious rituals
  • unable to leave the house before performing a ritual
  • tendencies to always check things.

When an individual is unable to break their routine or experiences extreme anxiety when things are not in a particular order, they may likely be suffering from OCD.

5. Phobia

This is an irrational fear and avoidance of specific objects or situations.

This can either be specific phobias to animals, injections, darkness, height, etc. This can also manifest as social anxiety.  The individual has an extreme fear of humiliation or embarrassment in social settings that often leads them to social avoidance and fear of public speaking.

Can people recover from mental illnesses?

YES, YES, YES, and yeeeeeeeeeessssssssssss!! Nothing gives me more comfort to any difficult situation then to hear that there is an end to it. And no, we are not only saying this just to give you “false hope”. There have been various studies that have documented on the various methods that have helped heal a lot of mental illnesses. We will not get into that today as we are sure we have given you all a lot to chew on already.

However, depending on the severity of the condition, sometimes medication is often recommended to help relieve some of these symptoms.

I want to acknowledge that I understand the stigma behind taking medication. Even though I’m in the medical profession, I did not at first embrace taking medication when it was recommended for me. A few comments I received were “you’re a doctor, why won’t you take something that you would recommend to your own patient?” I’m sure there was a silent “hypocrite” at the end of most of those conversations. But they were right, it sounded absolutely hypocritical of me. However, my reservations were not because of the side effects of the drugs that I was very much aware of. My major scepticism came from the negative social stigma that surrounds medication.

Acknowledging to mental illness is already a compound element, and now to add on top of it medication?? Did someone scream “Nut House”?! If ever you were recommended medication, IT IS OK! You are absolutely still awesome, those drugs will not take away your awesomeness, and they will not define who you are or what will become of you. Sometimes, some people just need that extra external chemical serotonin boost to get you back on your momentum. And when you put in the work, you will no longer need to rely on the drug. I’m a living proof of not ending up depended on drugs even after my doctor recommended long-term therapy. But here I am surviving, and low-key thriving if I can say, on my natural serotonin hormones. THIS TOO SHALL PASS!

I know this isn’t my usual “story-time” type of post, but I hope we were able to highlight more on what these conditions are and give you all a little bit more insight. Until next time, leaving you all that good-good mental health vibes:)

Photo by Lisa Fotios



  1. Hi Magda and Shafa!
    Thank you for this piece, it is very informative.

    I think I’ve noticed and perhaps can be looked into as a blog for another day is “mood and anxiety disorder caused/ due to loss off a loved one e.g a parent”

    I’ve noticed some of the people close to me that I’ve noticed suffer from this, I’m linking it to that kind of loss, perhaps you can write us something on how they can heal and how family and friends can help them heal.

    As always thanks for what you doing xoxoxo


    1. Thank you for this. You actually beat me to this, but yes, this is definitely a topic that I have scheduled for some upcoming posts. I will definitely try and provide more insight on grief and mental health. Do keep a lookout for that one


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