Mental Health and Psychiatric Conditions

Research estimates that one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental health condition. You might suffer with one yourself or know someone who does. There are hundreds of recognized mental health and psychiatric conditions, and it’s also possible to have periodic mental health concerns without having a condition. Here’s an overview of some of the basics.

Mental Health Concerns Vs. Mental Health Conditions

Most people experience periodic mental health concerns. These are usually isolated, limited occurrences (like feeling incredibly down after a breakup) that resolve on their own. Many people also have psychiatric conditions which cause serious and ongoing symptoms.

To understand the difference between the two, it might help to look at a physical example. Imagine that you’ve pulled a muscle in your leg, and your friend has muscular dystrophy.

Like a periodic mental health concern, your pulled muscle is painful and requires attention, but it resolves relatively quickly. But much like a psychiatric condition, your friend’s muscular dystrophy doesn’t resolve — it causes ongoing issues.

Examples of Common Mental Health Conditions and Psychiatric Disorders

It’s impossible to detail every possible mental health condition here, but these are some of the common categories of psychiatric disorders.

Anxiety Disorders

Everyone gets anxious from time to time, but if you have anxiety so severe it gets in the way of everyday functioning, you might have an anxiety disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition where persistent anxiety isn’t tied to a single situation or trigger. However, there are other diagnoses (like separation anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder) for anxiety that happen only in certain circumstances.

Depressive Disorders

Depressive disorders cause a low mood that goes far beyond everyday sadness. During a depressive disorder, you might feel continuously depressed and exhausted, and even basic daily activities can seem overwhelming. You might have no interest in things that used to bring you joy, and in some cases, you might even have thoughts of suicide.

Major depressive disorder is what most people think of when they imagine depressive disorders. However, it’s also possible to be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder (previously called dysthymia), a depressive disorder caused by a medication or substance, or even an unspecified depressive disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of both depression and an elevated mood. The changes are more extreme than ordinary mood changes.

The elevated mood — either mania or hypomania — often involves increased activity and racing thoughts. For some people, it causes euphoria, but for others, it causes anger and agitation. It’s also possible to experience “mixed episodes” with qualities of both mania/hypomania and depression.

Bipolar disorder is generally considered to have three categories:

  • Bipolar I: Episodes of both depression and mania (extremely elevated mood)
  • Bipolar II: Episodes of both depression and hypomania (slightly less elevated mood)
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: Episodes of milder depression and hypomania

However, as with unspecified depressive disorder, it’s also possible to receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder without further specification.

Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder

Bipolar disorders are known as “mood disorders” because they involve extreme changes in mood. Schizophrenia and related disorders are sometimes called “thought disorders” because they involve disturbances in thoughts and the perception of reality.

Many people with schizophrenia suffer from delusions and/or hallucinations. A delusion is a persistent belief that is not true (like your favorite TV character is communicating directly to you in every episode). A hallucination is hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, or feeling something that isn’t there.

It’s important to note that experiencing psychosis does not automatically mean you have schizophrenia. Psychosis sometimes happens as a result of bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and even head injuries and other life circumstances.

Some people also suffer from schizoaffective disorder, a rare condition that happens when a person has both a mood disorder and schizophrenia. It happens in about 0.3% of people.

Do I Have a Psychiatric Condition?

The only way to know if you have a psychiatric condition is to consult with a qualified mental health professional. Many mental health conditions have overlapping symptoms, and without extensive training, it’s often impossible for a provider to make an accurate diagnosis.

However, it’s a good idea to reach out to a mental health professional if you notice any of these symptoms (and especially if you have more than one):

  • A deep and persistent sadness
  • A reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive worry, guilt, or fear
  • Extreme changes in mood, especially changes that happen very quickly
  • Delusions (in many cases, if you’re experiencing a delusion, you won’t recognize it as one)
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme, ongoing fatigue
  • Problems with sleep (like insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Suicidal thinking
  • Excessive anger or hostility
  • Violence
  • Dramatic changes in eating habits
  • Overusing alcohol or illicit drugs
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Uncharacteristically confused thinking
  • Inability to handle ordinary stresses

Unfortunately, mental health conditions are still stigmatized in some circles. But if you are diagnosed with a mental health condition, the good news is that you can often manage your symptoms with a combination of medication and therapy.

Mental health conditions can’t solely be treated with lifestyle changes, but your healthcare professional might suggest improving your diet, exercise routine, and sleep routine alongside psychotherapy and medication.

The world of mental health treatment is evolving, and you may find that you’re a good candidate for transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), ketamine therapy, and other newer therapies. Managing a mental health condition takes effort, but it’s entirely possible to live a fulfilling life with a psychiatric diagnosis.

Our Aviation Lawyers Are Here for You In Turbulent Times

If you’re frustrated with how the FAA handles mental health concerns, you’re not alone. Often, even symptom-free pilots or trainees are denied FAA medical certificates if they have any history of mental health treatment. Pilots who have concerns about their mental well-being often avoid treatment because they’re afraid of losing their jobs.

In recent years, there have been pushes for the FAA to reform its approach to mental health. But bureaucratic reform is slow, and if you’re running into roadblocks because of a mental health or psychiatric condition, you need help now.

At The Ison Law Firm Aviation Lawyers, we’re uniquely equipped to help you weather the challenges of the aviation world. When you work with us, your lawyer is also a pilot! Contact us today at 855-322-1215 for a confidential case review.