What is Mental Disability | Types of Mental Disability


Mental Disabilities are very common and widespread in America with millions of adults and children showing mild, moderate or severe symptoms of one mental illness or the other. Mental disabilities impair the normal mental, physical and emotional functioning of the affected person which is why people with mental disabilities are more likely to commit suicide than those with other forms of disability.

This is why it is important to treat mental illness at its early stages and seek for medical care as soon as possible to help control the situation and increase the chances of your returning to your normal life.

What is a Mental Disability

Mental disabilities are usually mental disorders that affect the behavior and emotionnal state of the individual. Some mental disorders have severe symptoms while others are mild or moderate.

Mental disorders can be caused by physical factors like child abuse, neglect, loss of an important person at an early stage and lack of social skills. Environmental factors like death, change of location, substance abuse, low self-esteem, and anxiety can contribute to mental disorders. Other causes include genetics, brain injury, and infections.

Types of Mental Disabilities

Neurodevelopmental disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders are usually noticeable during infancy, childhood or adolescence. Individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders have a limited intellectual function and adaptive behaviors, speech delay, and cognition delay.

Neurodevelopmental disorders like intellectual disability affect the person’s ability to reason and acquire skills necessary to perform daily tasks.  Intellectual disability can be identified through the use of IQ tests. Generally, people with IQ tests between 70 and 75 are said to have this disability.

Communication disorders would also be a sign of intellectual disability. Types of communication disorders include language disorder, stuttering, speech sound disorder, and social communication disorder.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a form of neurodevelopmental disorders that affects normal function. The disorder is characterized by issues with hyperactivity, attention and impulse control.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of mood swings ranging from feelings of mania to depression. The mood swings could last for days, weeks or months and in some cases, it would be so extreme causing the individual to experience suicidal thoughts and show signs of psychosis.

There are two types of Bipolar disorder, however, both have similar symptoms. Bipolar I disorder is associated with a severe form of mania and often depression while Bipolar II disorder involves hypomania – a less severe form of mania.

During manic episodes, the individual may experience feelings of euphoria, increased sexual desire, increase in energy, delusions and less need for sleep.

Depressed episodes are quite the opposite and individuals could experience different feelings depending on the severity of the episode. Common symptoms include severe fatigue, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed by the individual, unexplainable feeling of sadness, and insomnia

The actual cause of bipolar disorders is unknown, however, it is believed that genetics, environmental factors, abnormalities in the brain circuit and irregularities in neurotransmitters contribute to the condition.

People with this disorder can manage the symptoms through the use of the right medication.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are common mental disorders characterized by intense and persistent fear and worry. People with anxiety disorders are usually excessively worried about everyday events or have panic attacks for no reasons at all.

There are several types of anxiety disorders including

  • Agoraphobia
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Panic disorder
  • Separation anxiety disorder

The symptoms of an anxiety disorder will depend on the type of disorder.

  • Symptoms of separation anxiety disorder (which is characterized by excessive fear about being separated from a caregiver or attachment figures) include excessive crying, headaches, stomach distress, and refusal to engage with other children.
  • Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include uncontrollable and excessive worry, restlessness, fatigue, irritability, and difficulty sleeping
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Anxiety disorders are be triggered by trauma, stressful situations, substance abuse, and several environmental factors.


Depression is a very common mental disorder that is characterized by the loss of interest in activities or a persistent depressed mood. Feelings of sadness, loss of interest in daily activities and bad moods are only considered to be signs of depression if they persist. Depression affects people of all ages and gender, however, it is more common in women than in men.

Symptoms of depression include insomnia, weight loss due to loss of appetite, fatigue, guilt, impaired ability to think, suicidal thoughts and a reduced interest in previously enjoyed activities.

Depression affects more than 350 million people in the world today and is considered to be a serious mental illness.

Depression is caused by several factors that could be environmental, biological or psychological. Genetics is also associated with depression. Triggers of depression include childhood trauma, head injury, chronic pain syndrome, life events, and personality problems.

Trauma and Stress Related Disorders

Trauma and Stress or Related Disorders are disorders related to stressful and/or traumatic events. Disorders within category include

  • Acute stress disorder
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Reactive attachment disorder

Symptoms will depend on the type of disorder, however, the most common symptoms include anxiety, depressive moods, worry, hopelessness, flashbacks, anger, difficulty concentrating, and reduced emotional responsiveness.

The causes of these disorders are unknown, however, the racial background of an individual can influence the development of disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder. Just like most mental disorders, environmental and psychological factors contribute to the development of these disorders. Genetics could also contribute to these disorders, however, its role remains unknown.

Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative Disorders are characterized by disruptions in memory, awareness, perception or identity. People with dissociative disorders usually experience a lack of continuity between thoughts, surroundings, and memory, thus, escape reality involuntarily. These disorders affect the normal functioning of the individual and their ability to grasp reality.

Types of dissociative disorders include

  • Dissociative amnesia: This is characterized by a temporary memory loss which could last for a brief period or for many years,
  • Dissociative identity disorder: People with this disorder have multiple personalities or identities. Changes in behavior, consciousness, perception, memory, and response are usually experienced.
  • Depersonalization/derealization disorder: This is characterized by the disconnection from reality, memories, feelings, and consciousness.

Symptoms of dissociative disorders include a blurred sense of identity, stress, emotional problems, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Dissociative disorders could lead to complications like eating disorders, sleep disorders, personality disorders, post-traumatic disorder, self-harm, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. 

Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders

Somatic symptom and related disorders are quite different from other mental disorders in the sense that they are not characterized by mental symptoms but by physical symptoms. People with these disorders usually have intense reactions to their symptoms making it difficult for them to live normal lives.

Disorders under this category include

  • Somatic symptom disorder: A person with this disorder is usually preoccupied with the physical symptoms leading to emotional distress and inability to function in daily life
  • Illness anxiety disorder: A person with this disorder is actively worried about being sick. They are usually worried about getting a serious disease and continuously watch out for signs of illnesses, and check body functions and sensations.
  • Conversion disorder: This disorder is characterized by neurological symptoms that do not have any medical cause.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder: This disorder is characterized by an obsession of a flaw in the physical appearance in the individual. People with this disorder consider minor or non-existent flaws to be actually serious which leads to distress and could impact their ability to function properly
  • Factitious disorder: People with factitious disorder intentional fake, create and exaggerate symptoms of illness for no reason or to attract attention.
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Causes of Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders include genetic and biological factors, learned behavior, and environmental factors. 

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders should not be confused with dieting for weight loss or fitness as they are serious mental disorders that affect the physical, psychological and social life of the individual. Depending on the severity of the disorder, it would lead to life-threatening health issues.

Individuals with eating disorders are usually obsessed with their weight and eating patterns which could lead to deadly consequences if not treated.

Types of eating disorders include

  • Anorexia nervosa: It is characterized by restricted food consumption as the affected individuals consider themselves overweight. They begin to monitor their weight and eat as little as possible to reduce their perceived weight.
  • Bulimia Nervosa: People with this disorder eat large amounts of food in relatively short periods of time and stop only when they become painfully full. The affected individuals would then engage in activities like excessive exercise, forced vomiting and fasting to compensate for overeating,
  • Rumination disorder: Rumination disorder is believed to affect individuals that have an intellectual disability or delay in development. People with this disorder regurgitate previously chewed or swallowed food, re-chew it and then swallow or spit it out.
  • Binge eating disorder: This disorder is almost the same as Bulimia nervosa, however, individuals with this disorder do not compensate for overeating by forced purging or excessive exercises.
  • Pica: Individuals with this disorder consume non-food substances like dirt, ice, soap, cloth, wool or laundry. It is common in children with developmental disabilities.

The causes of eating disorders are unknown, however, various genetics and biological factors have been associated with the disorders.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are disorders that affect a person’s ability to sleep well on a regular basis. Sleep disorders are usually caused by stress and environmental factors, however, health problems could play a role in the development of sleep disorder.

Sleep disorders could also be a symptom of another medical or mental problem, in this case, treatment of the underlying cause solves the problem.

Types of sleep disorders include

  • Narcolepsy: People with this disorder experience an uncontrollable need for sleep and could result in sleep paralysis and muscle loss.
  • Insomnia disorder: People with this disorder are unable to stay asleep or fall asleep. It could be chronic, intermittent, or transient
  • Hypersomnolence: This disorder is similar to narcolepsy, however people with this disorder can experience other problems like slow thinking, anxiety and memory issues
  • Breathing-related sleep disorders: This includes sleep apnea and chronic snoring and could lead to lack of sleep and other sleeping disorders
  • Parasomnias: Sleepwalking, sleep eating, sleep talking, and sleep terrors are forms of parasomnias.
  • Restless legs syndrome: This involves an irresistible urge to move the legs which interfere with sleep.

Mood disorders like anxiety and depression and other sleep disorders can cause sleep disorders. Environmental and medical issues would also lead to mild forms of sleep disorders.

Impulse-Control and Conduct Disorders

Disruptive, impulse-control and conduct disorders are quite different from normal reactions in the sense that they last longer and are more severe. They are evident in the behavior of the individuals and could lead to actions that cause harm to the affected individuals.

Types of impulse-control disorders include

  • Kleptomania: This is characterized by an overwhelming impulse to steal. People with this disorder usually steal irrelevant things or things with no monetary value
  • Pyromania: This disorder involves an impulse to start fires. People with this disorder usually feel tension before setting a fire and experience gratification when setting the fire or watching the effects.
  • Intermittent explosive disorder: People with the disorder usually respond violently to common annoyances or disappointments. The outbursts are brief and intense.
  • Conduct disorder: This disorder is diagnosed at an early age and is characterized by violent behavior and violating of social norms.
  • Oppositional defiant disorder: This disorder would be mistaken with normal defiant behavior in adolescents, however, adolescents with this disorder refuse to comply all the time and could intentionally engage in behaviors that annoy others. 
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Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders

Substance-related disorders are one of the most common disorders in the US. Individuals with these disorders are involved in the abuse of substances like cocaine, alcohol, and methamphetamine.

Types of substance-related disorders include

  • Alcohol-related disorders: This disorder is characterized by the use and consumption of alcohol.
  • Cannabis-related disorders: People with this disorder usually take more of the drug than originally intended and wouldn’t be able to stop using the drug. They will also continue to use the drug despite its adverse effects on their health and lifestyle.
  • Stimulant use disorder: This is characterized by the use of stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines.
  • Tobacco use disorder: People with this disorder are addicted to the use of tobacco, find it difficult to stop and usually take more tobacco than intended.

Neurocognitive Disorders

Neurocognitive Disorders refers to acquired deficits in cognitive function and do not include cognitive issues present at birth.

Types of neurocognitive disorder include Delirium or acute state confusional state.

There are other neurocongitive disorders which are either major or mild and affect several areas like language, learning, attention, memory, and perception. Neurocognitive Disorders can be due to medical conditions and genetic and biological factors.

Personality Disorders

Personality Disorders are characterized by unhealthy thinking pattern that affects the individual’s ability to function normally and associate with others.

There are 10 types of personality disorders and most of them are evident during childhood.

These types include

  • Antisocial personality disorder: People with this disorder are constantly again the law and disregard the rights of others. Signs usually begin displaying during childhood and get worse as they age.
  • Avoidant personality disorder: This disorder is characterized by feelings of insecurity that leads to severe social inhibition. People with this disorder are also extremely sensitive to rejection.
  • Borderline personality disorder: Symptoms of this disorder include impulsive behaviors, unstable interpersonal relationship, and emotional instability.
  • Dependent personality disorder: This disorder is characterized by an extreme fear of separation and a need for care.
  • Histrionic personality disorder: People with this disorder are in constant need of attention and could engage in inappropriate behaviors to attract attention from others.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder: People with this disorder consider themselves above all others, they are usually self-centered and have low empathy.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: People with this disorder are obsessed with perfection and orderliness. They are inflexible and stick to one way to doing things
  • Paranoid personality disorder: This disorder is characterized by a distrust of others. People with this disorder also believe the actions of others to be malicious even if they have no evidence to prove so.
  • Schizoid personality disorder: People with this disorder do no show regard for social relationships and keep to themselves.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder: People with this disorder have difficulty forming relationships due to their beliefs that are considered odd.  


Statistics have shown that there is an increase in the prevalence of mental illnesses in the U.S with one in five U.S adults living with one mental illness or the other (NIMH 2017). Depression remains the most common mental illness in the U.S affecting 40 out of the 49 million U.S adults living with one mental illness or the other in the U.S. Depression is more likely to end in suicide which is the tenth leading reported cause of death in the U.S. This is why it is considered to be a potentially life-threatening mood disorder.

Although anxiety disorders are easily treatable, less than 50% of the affected persons receive the right treatment for the disorder. It is important that you seek medical help immediately you notice signs of any mental illness including depression.

That wraps up this piece on mental disability and the types of mental disability.

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