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What is Mental Illness? 

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is characterized by chemical imbalances in the brain that usually respond well to a combination of medication and talk therapy. Mental disorders have a biological basis, contrary to longstanding perception that they result from poor upbringing or character weakness. Persons of any age, race, ability level, or socioeconomic status can be affected.

According to the World Health Organization, one in four persons will experience a serious mental disorder at some point in their lives. Among the leading causes of lost productivity and absenteeism in the workplace, mental illness is also expected to be the number one cause of disability worldwide by the year 2010.


Historically, there has been a shroud of stigma surrounding mental illness. This stems from a very early distinction in philosophy and treatment of illnesses of the mind from illnesses of the body. Only in recent times have there been widespread efforts to educate the public about the biological basis and effective treatments for mental illness. Still, since stigma remains, mental health treatment is delivered with the highest possible regard for confidentiality.

Spring Harbor and Maine Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry are helping reduce stigma by reintegrating the treatment of mind and body illnesses within the primary-care setting. The model places mental health professionals within select physician offices across southern, central, coastal, and western Maine. There, patients with mental health concerns are referred by their doctor to an onsite mental health specialist. This evidence-based model helps ensure timely screening, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric issues. 

Learn more about mental illness

The following sites provide the most current and reliable information about mental health issues:

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

American Psychiatric Association

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Address Discrimination & Stigma (ADS) Center

National Institute of Mental Health

Screening for Mental Health


Learn about psychotropic medications
Understanding anxiety disorders
Health Information

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