Serious Mental Illness

Serious mental illness is one or more mental, behavioral or emotional conditions that significantly impairs a person’s ability to function in daily life. It often includes the following conditions:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Mood disorders, such as bipolar and major depressive
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Symptoms can vary widely among people who are diagnosed with serious mental illness, so treatment and care options may depend on each person’s experiences.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of serious mental illness often first appear in early adulthood, but they can be difficult to identify.

Common signs of serious mental illness include:

  • Psychosis (difficulty separating reality from fantasy)
  • Isolation
  • Distrust of people who are seen as hostile
  • Poor performance at work or school, possibly due to distraction from paranoia or internal voices
  • Inability to maintain personal hygiene or take care of their living space

These symptoms can cause people with severe mental illness to have problems in many areas of their life, including their relationships, housing, education and employment.

Care Options

If you or someone you know is seeking care for a serious mental illness, consider one of the options below. For help connecting to care, talk to your health care provider or contact 988.

There are a wide variety of services available to support people with serious mental illness. Care options include:

  • Outpatient treatment: Includes therapy and medication provided by a licensed professional.
  • Inpatient treatment: Accessed through emergency departments where a psychiatric evaluation may lead to admission.
  • Psychosocial Rehabilitation: Improves a person's ability to function in daily life through counseling, skill building and psychoeducational interventions.
  • Peer Support: Get help from people with personal experience using mental health services, with a focus on coping with symptoms and finding community resources.
  • Housing Services: There are various programs to help people with serious mental illness stay in their community. Supportive housing services can provide affordable, permanent and independent housing that promotes health through case management.
  • Care Coordination: A coordinated care approach can connect patients with outpatient treatment, rehabilitation and housing. It can also help them find ways. Ask your provider about a referral to the Health Department's Single Point of Access program.
  • Crisis Services: For urgent situations that are not life-threatening, 988 can connect you to rapid response services that can help deescalate and resolve a crisis.
  • Emergency Services: For life-threatening situations, call 911.

Additional Resources

More Information