What are mental disorders?

Not every mental discomfort should be interpreted as mental disorder. Distress, anxiety, sadness, discouragement, insomnia or the lack of appetite are all natural reactions to difficult life events, conflicts, suffered losses and experienced disillusionments.

Do you know that...

It is estimated that approximately 25% of Poles suffer from mental disorders! It is estimated that about 75% of persons suffering from mental disorders do not receive any care! A total of 1 400 000 persons were covered by psychiatric care in 2011, including 184 551 schizophrenia cases, the treatment of which was financed by the National Health Fund! In 2014, the number of patients with schizophrenia, covered by medical care services, financed by the National Health Fund, rose up to 187 021 cases.


Not every mental discomfort should be interpreted as mental disorder. Distress, anxiety, sadness, discouragement, insomnia or the lack of appetite are all natural reactions to difficult life events, conflicts, suffered losses and experienced disillusionments. We respond with sadness, anxiety, sometimes with fear or irritation and even with anger to our failures and disappointments which threaten our good self-evaluation, mental integrity and our sense of safety.

Anxiety and sadness, which occur in a difficult situation, are not disorders. However, they may really lead to disorders until we tackle the issues head-on, solving unfavourable circumstances and the emotions which they raise. Chronic situational stress, an untackled conflict-raising situation or effects of severe traumatic stress may underlie disorders, associate with stress and neurotic disorders, including disturbed sleep, mood, emotions and behaviours, affected nutrition, anxiety and depressive disorders.

It is worth knowing that...

Just as physical pain warns against compromised biological integrity (based on our experience, we instinctively withdraw our hand away from a hot or sharp object), then fear and anxiety are signals, alarming about threats or dangers for our psyche.

Did you know that...

In some persons, the consequences of severe stress may lead to permanent personality changes.  In persons, susceptible to life crisis episodes and chance events, they may support triggering of the first episode or recurrence of psychotic disorders from the group of schizophrenia and delusional, affective (depressive and manic) disorders.

In order to stay organized, safe and comfortable in difficult situations, which are brought by life, we need support of others, sometimes, also from professional specialists. For there is a rather vaguely separated area between the fullness of mental health and mental condition with growing symptoms of mental discomfort and difficulties in dealing with everyday events.


In case of persistent, strongly enhanced symptoms of mental discomfort (such as anxiety or depressive mood, sleep and appetite disorders, irritability and impulsiveness), when the symptoms distort our functioning and affect relations with other people - we may start talking about mental disorders which require professional care.

Mental disorders include:

  • adaptive disorders,
  • anxiety disorders,
  • depressive disorders,
  • problems with eating,
  • behavioural disorders,
  • emotional.

High risk situations

In a situation of considerable, long-term stress, experienced by a person with congenital, enhanced susceptibility to mental functional disturbances, e.g. in family history (genetically inherited) and with lower mental health resources (weak social skills, limited capacity of coping with emotions and a small number of available and inefficient network of mental care professionals), such persons may be at risk of a mental (psychotic) condition episode which can be manifested by schizophrenia, depression or mania with psychotic symptoms, as well as by delusional disorders).

The occurrence of a psychotic episode may also be supported by alcohol overuse or substance addiction.

How to cope with a crisis?

Life and family crisis episodes, as well as random traumatic events are situations which, after being successfully tackled, may increase the natural resources of experiences and stress management skills of affected person, while also contributing to the development of personality and enhanced adaptive capacity. However, certain situations can be beyond the coping capabilities of a given subject, thus becoming a source of potential risks for its mental and somatic health.

The persons, who are experiencing life problems and/or traumatic events, are exposed to overuse of alcohol, tranquillising agents and other substances, especially drugs, as the simplest methods of coping with emotions. It may lead to substance addiction. General support and professional assistance, provided to persons, experiencing difficult life situations or dramatic chance events, not only help effectively cope with negative emotions, rethink the circumstances and plan strategies of overcoming crisis situations, but it may also be fairly significant for prevention of mental disorders.

The support of family and friends is often fairly sufficient but, it happens that professional help is indispensable.  This help is provided by the state to the citizens within the framework of social and medical care services provided by appropriate professionals and institutional organisations.

When should professional help be sought for?

It is important to bear in mind that the human nature is complex in its bio-psychosocial character.  In good health, the human body is able to adapt to changing environmental circumstances, to cope with external threats and internal, mental conflicts.

However, excessive burdens, exceeding the adaptive capacity of an individual, may induce homeostatic disturbance, i.e., violate the systemic balance. This, in turn, may lead to decreased bio-mental resistance, favouring higher incidence rates of various medical conditions - both somatic and mental.


It is important to keep in mind that mental disorders may not only be manifested in the mental sphere but also in the physical (somatic) realm of human functioning.

Similarly, somatic diseases may be revealed via both somatic (pains, weakness) and mental (irritability, anxiety, worse mood) symptoms. Therefore, primary care doctors (GP, internal doctor, family doctor) diagnose and identify somatic and mental conditions. In a similar way, a psychiatrist, while diagnosing mental disorders, examines the somatic status of a patient in order to either exclude or identify somatic disease.
show more