A mental illness is any diagnosable condition that causes mental suffering, distress and/or a reduced ability to function in ordinary life. A mental illness may disrupt a person’s ability to work, carry out daily activities and engage in satisfying personal relationships. Some people have one episode of mental illness in their lifetime, while others have multiple episodes and periods of wellness in between. Only a small minority have ongoing mental problems. It can be any condition that seriously impairs, either temporarily or permanently, the mental functioning related to a person’s thoughts and thought patterns; feelings; emotional state; moods; volitions (i.e. Intention); perception; orientation; memory; mental patterns; somatic function; perception; will power; intellect; behaviour; soul or personality. 

Mental disorders are often related to:

  • Stress

  • Psychological trauma

  • Addiction

  • Eating disorders

  • Sleep dysfunction

  • Abnormal sexual function

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Psychosis

  • Relationship problems

  • Grief & Bereavement 

  • Learning disabilities

  • Mood disorders or

  • Other psychological concerns.

mental illness


DSM-IV Definition of Mental Disorder

"A mental illness is a psychological syndrome or pattern that causes distress, painful symptoms and/or  disability. This may include a: 

  • Serious disorder of thought-form

  • Severe disturbance of mood or thought

  • Sustained or repeated irrational behaviour

  • Self harm or mutilation

  • Antisocial behaviour

  • Distressed by voices

  • Potential for suicide

  • A mental dysfunction that impairs judgement or behaviour

  • A disturbance or defect, that substantially disables perceptual interpretation, comprehension, reasoning, learning, judgement, memory, motivation or emotions

  • Distortion of perception or thought

  • Serious impairment or disturbance of the capacity for rational thought

  • Involuntary behaviour

  • Serious impairment of the capacity to control behaviour..."

DSM-V Definition of Mental Disorder

"A mental disorder is

a clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual. A mental disorder is associated with present distress, disability or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom​. A mental illness is a manifestation of a behavioral, psychological, or biological dysfunction in the individual​. The DSM-V defines a number of disorders including:

  • Adjustment Disorders

  • Anxiety Disorders

  • Dissociative Disorders

  • Eating Disorders

  • Impulse-Control Disorders

  • Mood Disorders

  • Sexual Disorders

  • Sleep Disorders

  • Psychotic Disorders

  • Sexual Dysfunctions

  • Somatoform Disorders

  • Substance Disorders

  • Personality Disorders

The Epitome of Mental Health

Mental Health is a continuum from good mental health to mental illness. The epitome of mental health is to:

  • Have high levels of emotional well-being

  • Be happy and satisfied

  • See one's life as having a purpose

  • Feel some degree of mastery

  • Have acceptance of all parts of themselves

  • Have a sense that they are always growing, evolving, and changing

  • Have a sense of autonomy and control

  • Being able to choose one's fate instead of being victims. 

  • Realize one's abilities

  • Demonstrate resilience 

  • Work productively and fruitfully to make a contribution in one's community.

Burden of Disease

The global burden of disease (GBD) is a global measure of disability-adjusted life years (DALY's) assigned to a certain disease/disorder, the years lived with disability and years of life lost due to this disease within the total population.  While 14% of the global burden of disease is attributed to mental and neurological disorders, 75% of the people affected are in low-income countries and do not have access to the treatment they need. The most important causes of disability due to health-related conditions worldwide include  depression, alcoholism, schizophrenia, bipolar depression and dementia. In low-and middle-income countries, these condition represent a total of 19.1% of all disability related to health conditions. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has concluded that in 2003 mental illness ranked as the 3rd biggest source of disease burden in Australia after cancers and cardiovascular disease. Disease burden is the combined effect of premature death and years lived with disability caused by an illness.

The classification of mental disorders (psychiatric nosology or psychiatric taxonomy) lists categories of disorders thought to be distinct types, and have deliberately converged their codes so that the manuals are broadly comparable. 

Mental health is often diagnosed in accordance with criteria listed in diagnostic manuals such as:


  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

  • The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 

  • The Chinese Classification of Mental Disordrs (CCMD-3)

  • The Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual

  • The Chinese Society of Psychiatry's Chinese Classification of Mental Disorders (currently CCMD-3)

  • The Latin American Guide for Psychiatric Diagnosis (GLDP)

  • The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC)

  •  The Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (DC:0-3)

  • The Research Diagnostic criteria-Preschool Age (RDC-PA)

  • The French Classification of Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders (CFTMEA),

Categorisation of mental health


The scientific study of mental illness is called psychopathology. It includes efforts to understand the genetic, biological, psychological and social causes of mental illness. Psychopathology aims to create effective classification systems (nosology) across all stages of development, manifestation and treatment.

Disability & Mental Health

While mental illnesses are not major causes of premature death, they are the major cause of disability. Disability refers to the amount of disruption a health problem causes to a person’s ability to work, look after themself and carry on relationships with family and friends.


A psychiatric disability occurs then there are clinically recognisable symptoms and behavioural patterns frequently associated with distress and which may impair functioning in normal social activity. A primary psychiatric disability occurs when an individual express the experience of disability by a person, and causes the most difficulty for the person in their daily life, whereas other disabilities occur when an individual clearly expresses the experience of disability by a person.  

Psychosocial Disability

A Psychosocial Disability is a disability experience of people with impairments and participation restrictions related to mental health conditions, a lack of capacity to use working memory or organisational skills, mental Illness, intellectual disability or acquired brain Injury. A psychosocial disability is someone with a severe or profound core activity limitation. A person with a psychosocial disability may have limited abilities to:


  • Negotiate housing needs

  • Establish income

  • Make and socialise with friends

  • Sshop, cook, organise their household

  • Keep appointments

  • Be motivated to get up in the morning

  • Maintain personal care or prepare food


A variety of terms, both common and slang. may be used to describe a mental illness including


·         Mental health problems

·         Psychiatric illness

·         Psychological disturbance 

·         Nervous exhaustion

·         Mental breakdown

·         Nervous breakdown

·         Burn out

·         Crazy

·         Psycho

·         Madness (Mad)

·         Lunatic (Luny)

·         Nutter 

·         Wacko

Chinese MEdicine Perspective Of Mental Illness

In Chinese medicine the emotions are believed to have an effect on one's mind. Maciocia (2009) explores three pathogenic factors that contribute to mental illness. 


  • Mind obstructed: obstruction of the mind by phlegm, blood stasis or other severe stagnation of qi. This leads to confused thinking, irrational behaviour, clouding of the mind, and in severe cases the complete loss of insight as seen in bipolar disorder or schizophrenia in severe cases.

  • Mind Unsettled: unsettled mind by deficiency o blood, qi stagnation, blood stasis, fire, empty heat, phlegm fire and internal wind causing insomnia, agitation, mental restlessness and anxiety

  • Mind Weakened: physical and mental tiredness, depression, dispirited behaviour and a lack of initiative and motivation leading to depression, melancholy, mental exhaustion and physical tiredness 

Alzheimer's & Dementia

Dementia is a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. It is not one specific disease that affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life.


Abnormal or inappropriate anxiety occurs when the fight-or-flight response occurs without any recognisable stimulus or when the stimulus does not warrant such a reaction. Anxiety disorders includes:
  • Acute Stress Disorder

  • Agoraphobia (with or without a history of Panic Disorder)

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder [GAD]

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder [OCD]

  • Panic Disorder (with or without Agoraphobia)

  • Phobias (including Social Phobia)

  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]

Bipolar disorder (manic-depression) is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. These moods range from periods of extremely elated, and energized manic episodes to very sad and hopeless depressive episodes). 

  • Bipolar I Disorder

  • Bipolar II Disorder

  • Cyclothymic Disorder cyclothymia)

  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders.

Bipolar disorder


A depressive illness is a change in mood consisting of a feeling of sadness which may vary from mild despondency to the most abject despair. The change in mood is relatively fixed and persists over a period of days, weeks, months or ears. Associated with the change in mod are characteristics changes in behaviour, attitude, thinking, efficiency and physiological functioning. 


  • Major depressio

  • Dysthymia

  • Adjustment disorder

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (DAS)

Substance Disorders (Drug & alcohol)

Substance disorders are the abuse of, or dependence on, a substance. A substance can be anything that is ingested in order to produce a high, alter one's senses, or otherwise affect functioning.


  • Alcoholism

  • Drug abuse, s Category

  • Substance Abuse

  • Substance Dependence

Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is characterised by a disturbance in eating behaviour in which one eats too much, not eating enough, or eating in an extremely unhealthy manner (such as binging or stuffing yourself over and over). 

  • Anorexia Nervosa

  • Bulimia Nervosa

  • Obesity

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain characterized by recurrent seizures. Seizures are brief episodes of involuntary movement that may involve a part of the body (partial) or the entire body (generalized) that are a result of excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. Different parts of the brain can be the site of such discharges. 

Epilepsy & Other Neurological Conditions

schizophrenia & other Psychotic Disorders

Psychotic disorders are associated with psychosis, delusions and/or hallucinations, false beliefs that significantly hinder a person's ability to function. Delusions can be visual (seeing things that aren't there), auditory (hearing), olfactory (smell), tactile (feeling sensations on your skin that aren't really there) or taste. Psychotic disorders include:

  • Brief Psychotic Disorder

  • Delusional Disorder

  • Schizoaffective Disorder

  • Schizophrenia

  • Schizophreniform

  • Shared Psychotic Disorder

Personality Disorders

Personality Disorders are mental illnesses that contain symptoms that are enduring and play a major role in most, if not all, aspects of the person's life.  The history of symptoms can be traced back to adolescence or at least early adult in association to thoughts (ways of looking at the world, thinking about self or others, and interacting), emotions (appropriateness, intensity, and range of emotional functioning) and interpersonal functioning (relationships and interpersonal skills) and impulse control

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder

  • Borderline Personality Disorder

  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Adjustment Disorders

An adjustment disorder is when one finds it significantly more difficult to adjust to a life situation than would normally be expected considering the circumstances. This may include an adjustment that is unspecific or with depression, disturbance of conduct, anxiety or with a disturbance of emotions.

A dissociative disorders is an extreme disruption in consciousness, memory, identity, or perception that causes significant distress within the individual.

  • Dissociative Amnesia

  • Dissociative Fugue

  • Dissociative Identity (Multiple Personality) Disorder

  • Depersonalization Disorder

Disociative Disorder

Impulse Control Disorders

An impulse control disorder occurs when one fails to or has extreme difficulty in controlling impulses despite the negative consequences. This includes a lack impulse to engage in violent behaviour (e.g., road rage), sexual behaviour, fire starting, stealing, self-abusive behaviours and gambling


  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder

  • Kleptomania

  • Pathological Gambling

  • Pyromania

  • Trichotillomania

Sexual dysfunction & Disorders

Sexual disorders are impairment in normal sexual functioning related to an inability to perform or reach an orgasm, painful sexual intercourse, a strong repulsion of sexual activity, or an exaggerated sexual response cycle, sexual interest or an issue related to gender identity. 

  • Dyspareunia

  • Female Orgasmic Disorder

  • Female Sexual Arousal Disorder

  • Gender Identity Disorder

  • Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder

  • Male Erectile Disorder

  • Male Orgasmic Disorder

  • Premature Ejaculation

  • Sexual Aversion Disorder

  • Vaginismus

Sleep Disorders

Primary sleep disorders are related to the amount, quality, and timing of sleep as well as abnormal behaviour or physiological events that occur during the process of sleep or sleep-wake transitions. 

  • Dyssomnias

  • Primary Insomnia

  • Primary Hypersomnia

  • Narcolepsy

  • Parasomnias

  • Nightmare Disorder

  • Sleep Terror Disorder

  • Sleepwalking Disorder

Somatoform disorders include those where the symptoms suggest a medical condition but where no medical condition can be found by a physician such as experiences of significant pain without a medical or biological cause or the constantly experience minor aches and pains without any reason for these pains to exist.

  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder

  • Conversion Disorder

  • Hypochondriasis Disorder

  • Pain Disorder

  • Somatisation Disorder


Perinatal Mental Health

Perinatal Mental Health refers to anxiety, depression or psychosis  following the birth of a child.

  • Antenatal depression is when you experience

  • Postnatal depression

  • Postnatal Psychosis

  • Postnatal Anxiety

Organic MentaL Disorders

An organic mental disorder (OMD) is a form of decreased mental function due to a medical or physical disease through an organic cause to brain dysfunction

  • Delirium

  • Dementia

  • Amnesia

  • Encephalopathy

  • Aquired Brain Injury

Behavioural Disorders

A behavioural disorder is mental illnes in which one displays excessive defiance, anger, yelling and screaming and general 'abnormal' behaviour. IT may lead to physical illness or disability.

  • Oppositional defiant Disorder (ODD)

  • Conduct disorder (CD)

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder(ADHD).

Paraphilias are common distressing and repetitive sexual fantasies, urges, or behaviours that occur for a significant period of time and must interfere with either satisfactory sexual relations or everyday functioning.

  • Exhibitionism

  • Fetishism

  • Frotteurism

  • Paedophilia

  • Sexual Masochism

  • Sexual Sadism

  • Transvestic Fetishism

  • Voyeurism


Mood Disorders

A mood disorder is an disorder in which one has inappropriate, exaggerated, or a limited range of feelings such as crying, feeling depressed or suicidal frequently or having excessive energy where sleep is not needed for days at a time, and decision making processes are significantly hindered.

·         Bipolar Disorder

·         Cyclothymic Disorder

·         Dysthymic Disorder

·         Major Depressive Disorder

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