As a social worker, you often work with vulnerable and struggling clients. One such group, you may work with are individuals diagnosed with a mental illness. Mental Illness does not discriminate. Any population you work with, will likely have some people living their life with mental illness. Sometimes because of media portrayals and other misconceptions, working with people diagnosed with mental illness can be scary or daunting.
There are many types of mental illness. The DSM-V (where the criteria for different mental health diagnoses is listed) has about 991 pages.
Below are some basic definitions of common diagnosis you might come across.
One definition of Mental Illness I like is from the Mayo Clinic
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions —disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.
I like this definition because it normalizes mental health issues. Mental health conditions run on a continuum. Just like people, mental illness is complicated and some people struggle with more difficult issues than others.
Specific Diagnosis Definitions (Also using the definitions from the Mayo Clinic.)
- Major depressive disorder — prolonged and persistent periods of extreme sadness
- Bipolar disorder —also called manic depression or bipolar affective disorder, depression that includes alternating times of extreme sadness (depression) and extreme happiness (mania) (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mood-disorders/basics/definition/con-20035907)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder. (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/basics/definition/con-20024562)
- “Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia isn’t a split personality or multiple personality. The word “schizophrenia” does mean “split mind,” but it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking. (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/basics/definition/con-20021077)
Those are just some of the diagnoses you may come across in your work. Let me share some tips for a social worker to remember when working with this population.