What Happens If You Don’t Treat Mental Health Disorders?

About 1 in 5 American adults experience a mental illness each year.1, para 4 Without treatment, mental illness may continue to be significantly debilitating, and can potentially give rise to a number of adverse consequences and an overall diminishing the quality of someone’s life.2

In this article, we will discuss the different types of mental health disorders, their various symptoms, the impact of untreated mental illness, and how professional treatment can help.

What Is a Mental Health Disorder?

Doctor treating patientMental health disorders are medical conditions that can have a profoundly negative impact on a person’s thoughts, moods, interpersonal relationships, and other aspects of daily functioning .2 Common risk factors for mental illness may include:3

  • Lifestyle factors (such as living in a high stress environment).
  • Genetics .
  • Brain structure and biochemistry.
  • Exposure to traumatic events.

Such risk factors do not necessarily guarantee that someone will develop a mental health condition, but in some individuals, they may contribute to their development. Fortunately, for those who experience mental illness, these conditions are treatable.3

Between 70 and 90% of patients experience an improvement in quality of life and a significant reduction in symptoms when they undergo evidence-based treatment for mental illness, which often involves a combination of various pharmacological and psychosocial interventions.2

What Are the Different Types of Mental Health Disorders?

There are many different types of mental illness. Some examples of these conditions include:1

  • Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Major depression commonly involves persistently depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure. These and other symptoms of depression can impact someone’s ability to think, feel, and function in daily life.4,10  Bipolar disorder is characterized by unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, as well as a person’s ability to concentrate and carry out daily tasks.5
  • Anxiety disorders, which are characterized by excessive worry that does not go away and may worsen over time.6 They are among the most widely diagnosed mental health disorders, affecting roughly 48 million people each year.1 There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias.6
  • Personality disorders, which include conditions such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). Personality disorders are characterized by lifelong problematic thought, behavioral, and emotional patterns that make it difficult to develop healthy relationships and adapt in various situations.7
  • Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, often involve pervasively debilitating changes in thinking, perceptions, and emotional control.7
  • Trauma-related disorders, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), involve the development of characteristic symptoms (e.g., re-experiencing the event in ways that make it difficult to live their daily life) following a traumatic event that someone experienced or witnessed.8,10
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is characterized by persistent inability to focus, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior that causes problems in daily functioning.9
  • Eating disorders, like bulimia, anorexia nervosa (AN), and binge-eating disorder, which causes someone to exhibit an unhealthy relationship with food (i.e., refusing to eat, losing the ability to control their eating, forcing themselves to vomit after eating).7
  • Substance use disorders (SUD)—also known as addictions—which involve a person compulsively seeking and misusing drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences to their health, social situation, and interpersonal relationships. People with a SUD frequently suffer from other types of mental illness, which is called having a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.7,10

How Can I Tell if I Have a Mental Health Disorder or Not?

Mental illness must be diagnosed by a medical professional.10 If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder, seeing a medical professional and getting a diagnosis can help you to access supports like psychotherapy and medication, which are integral to the adequate treatment of mental health conditions.2

As diagnostic features, the symptoms of mental illness can be both subtle and diverse, and might not always be easily detected or recognized. However, there are some warning signs you can look out for, which will be outlined in the section below.11

What Are the Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders?

Symptoms of mental illness may present in different ways, depending on the particular disorder and its severity. Some characteristic symptoms of various mental disorders include the following:11

  • Anxiety disorders: People with anxiety disorders may exhibit excessive worry or fear in social situations, before entering places where escape would be difficult, or for no reason at all. Some suffer frequent panic attacks or an irrational fear of certain objects and situations.6 More on the symptoms on the various types of anxiety disorders can be found on our page detailing the 6 Major Types of Anxiety Disorders.
  • Mood disorders: Someone that suffers from a form of clinical depression may feel excessively sad or fatigued, lose interest in activities that they enjoy, or suffer from suicidal thoughts or actions. Certain forms of bipolar disorder may involve someone fluctuating between symptoms of depression and symptoms like elation, irritation, and high energized behavior.12,13
  • Personality disorders: Someone with a personality disorder may exhibit negative behavior toward others, the inability to accept other perspectives, and blame others for their problems.7
  • Trauma-related disorders. Someone that suffers from PTSD may re-experience their trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories. They may also exhibit symptoms like hypervigilance, insomnia, and emotional outbursts.8
  • Psychotic disorders: Patients suffering from a psychotic disorder may suffer agitation, hallucinations, delusions, or exhibit apathy and lack of emotion.7
  • Eating disorders. People with an eating disorder may experience extreme weight changes, feel guilty about the food they eat, or obsess over their weight.7,14
  • Someone with ADHD may find it difficult to manage their time effectively, have difficulty completing tasks, get frustrated easily, or fidget constantly.9
  • People with a substance use disorder may often skip activities they enjoy to use drugs or alcohol, exhibit declining performance in work or school due to the use of substances, and spend considerable time and money searching for substances, misusing them, or recovering from their use.10

Some people may also experience anosognosia, a clinical term used to describe a situation wherein someone has difficulty accurately perceiving their own symptoms or is otherwise unaware of their own mental health issues. For example, someone that begins to drink heavily to mitigate the symptoms of a mental health disorder may be unable to objectively examine why they are doing so, or to know when such behavior has become itself problematic.15

A mental health professional can help patients better understand and respond to their conditions.

Do I Need Mental Health Treatment or Therapy?

blue stethoscope on desk with medical notes in backgroundDepending on your individual needs and preferences, a mental health professional may prescribe you medication, therapy, or other treatment interventions. After you meet with a mental health professional, they will be able to perform a thorough assessment and give you a diagnosis based on your symptoms and other factors in your life and, from there, create a treatment plan.11

Remember that there is no “one size fits all” treatment for mental health conditions.11 Two people with the same diagnosis may have very different treatment needs.

If you are suffering from SUD and a co-occurring disorder, it may be beneficial to get treated at a facility experienced in treating patients with a dual diagnosis. What’s known as an integrated treatment approach—one that addresses both the substance use disorder and mental health conditions simultaneously—may be more effective than treating one or the other separately.16

What Happens If I Don’t Treat My Mental Health Disorder?

Untreated mental health conditions can result in many potential risks. Conditions are unpredictable and can vary in their severity and progression over time.

Some possible risks of an untreated serious mental illness include:2,17,18

  • Preventable disability.
  • Unemployment or financial problems.
  • Development or worsening of a substance use problem.
  • Insecure housing or homelessness.
  • Poorer quality of life.
  • Increased risk of developing or worsening course of disease for cardiovascular illness or other long-term health issues such as coronary arterial disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic pain.
  • Increased risk of suicide.

Fortunately, evidence-based treatment can help people effectively manage the symptoms of mental illness and promote recovery.2

What Does Mental Health Treatment Involve: Treating Your Mental Health Disorder

A comprehensive treatment plan for mental health disorders often consists of a variety of therapeutic interventions and supportive measures, including psychiatric medications, psychosocial treatment, behavioral therapies, mutual support groups and community services.2

Traditional “talk therapy” often consists of several structured sessions with a licensed mental health therapist in which you can expect to talk about past or current problems, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Therapy has been demonstrated to be highly effective in treating mental health conditions and can be adapted through the use of multiple formats, such as couples therapy, family therapy, individual therapy, or group therapy.19

There are many different evidence-based therapeutic methods used in treating mental illness and addiction. Common types of therapy used to treat addiction and other mental health disorders include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps patients to recognize and change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors as well as to formulate more effective coping strategies. CBT is effective in treating SUD, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders.7,19,20
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT is a form of CBT that utilizes opposing strategies of acceptance and change as methods of coping and is effective in treating personality disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders, PTSD, and SUD.21
  • Motivational interviewing (MI). MI helps patients suffering from addiction and a variety of co-occurring disorders recognize the ways their coping strategies have prevented them from achieving their goals and empowers them to make positive changes.7
  • Family therapy. Family therapy works by recognizing that an individual’s behavioral health problems are influenced by familial and social relationships. This approach seeks to repair the dysfunctions that strain the family unit and contribute to mental illness. Family therapy is effective in treating SUD, eating disorders, depression, and borderline personality disorder.22

Several psychiatric medications can aid in managing mental health symptoms as well. Some types of psychiatric medications can be used to treat several conditions.

The following types of medication are effective in treating psychological disorders:24

  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants are used for depression and other mood disorders, pain management, anxiety, trauma-related disorders, and insomnia. Common antidepressants include Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, and Prozac.
  • Anti-anxiety medications. These drugs are used to manage anxiety and panic symptoms. SSRIs and other antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety on a daily basis, while other drugs—namely benzodiazepines—are taken as needed, though ideally for short-term use. Benzodiazepines include Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin.
  • Antipsychotics: Antipsychotic medications cannot cure conditions like schizophrenia, but they can help to manage symptoms. Common first-generation antipsychotics include Haldol and Thorazine. Relatively newer, second-generation medications include Seroquel, Abilify, and Risperdal.
  • Stimulants are often prescribed to treat ADHD. Stimulants increase alertness and focus, but also have physiological effects such as increased heartrate, respiration, and blood pressure. Common stimulants used to treat ADHD include Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse.

How Can I Pay for My Treatment?

Since 2014, most health insurance plans have been required to provide coverage for mental health treatment services under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).24 This may include preventative treatment like counseling or therapy, inpatient treatment during a mental health crisis, or substance use disorder treatment.25

Desert Hope offers additional payment options, such as financing, when treatment is not fully covered by insurance.

If you are seeking mental health treatment, you can start the admissions process by contacting one of our admissions navigators today at for a free, private phone consultation. You can check your insurance coverage at Desert Hope by filling out the confidential . Our team will help you to explore the various types of addiction treatment offered and find the right plan for you.

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