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Living Well with Serious Mental Illness

Living Well with Serious Mental Illness

What are Serious Mental Illnesses?

What are Serious Mental Illnesses?

With early and consistent treatment, people with serious mental illnesses can manage their conditions, overcome challenges, and lead meaningful, productive lives.

Mental illnesses are disorders that affect a person’s thinking, mood, and/or behavior —and they can range from mild to severe. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, nearly one-in-five adults live with a mental illness.

A mental illness that interferes with a person’s life and ability to function is called a serious mental illness (SMI). With the right treatment, people with SMI can live productive and enjoyable lives.

There are many kinds of serious mental illnesses. Common ones include

  • Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes intense shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. People have manic episodes in which they feel extremely happy or euphoric, and energized. Usually , they also have depressive episodes in which they feel deeply sad and have low energy.
  • Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most common mental disorders. Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, pessimism, irritability, worthlessness, and fatigue. These symptoms interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy their life.
  • Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder that causes people to interpret reality abnormally. People may experience hallucinations, delusions, extremely disordered thinking and a reduced ability to function in their daily life.

Despite common misperceptions, having an SMI is not a choice, a weakness, or a character flaw. It is not something that just “passes” or can be “snapped out of” with willpower. The specific causes are unknown, but various factors can increase someone’s risk for mental illness including, family history, brain chemistry, and significant life events such as experiencing a trauma or death of a loved one.

Support for Serious Mental Illness

Learn how support systems and connection help people manage serious mental illness.

Treatment for Serious Mental Illness

Learn how treatment helps people living with serious mental illness live healthy and rewarding lives.

Treatment works. SAMHSA can help you find it.

Effective treatments for serious mental illnesses are available in your area. The earlier that you begin treatment, the greater likelihood of a better outcome. For confidential and anonymous help finding a specialty program near you, visit SAMHSA’s Early Serious Mental Illness Treatment Locator.

If you have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment for a serious mental illness, but moved to a new location, help is available. Use SAMHSA’s to locate a new program.



You can offer your support for people living with a serious mental illness by sharing these resources.

Fact Sheets

Personal Profiles

Phil Y.

Phil’s symptoms for bipolar disorder started during high school, but he wasn’t diagnosed until his early 30s. After working to find the right medication and therapist, Phil’s life is on a more even keel. Learn more about Phil’s story.

Mike V.

Mike V. has battled major depression since he was a young child. But during his ongoing recovery, he has created a “toolbox” of strategies for coping. Today, Mike provides hope to people struggling with mental health challenges. Learn more about Mike’s story.

Victoria A.

Victoria A. lives with schizophrenia. After being diagnosed, she set out to learn about her condition and move forward with treatment. Today, with a combination of medication, therapy, and support, Victoria enjoys a fulfilling life. Learn more about Victoria’s story.

Dan L.

Dan experienced his first major depressive episode at age 40, and it has affected every aspect of his life—from family relationships to his career. Through a combination of peer support, therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyle habits, Dan is living successfully. Learn more about Dan’s story.

Information for Use

Information for Use

The videos are freely available for public use without permission from, or charge by, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and SAMHSA. Therefore, their use by anyone should not be construed as an endorsement of the views, opinions, programs, or activities of the use, nor as a reflection of the views of HHS or SAMHSA.

Having problems accessing the videos? Try right clicking a link and saving to your preferred location on your device.

Last Updated
Last Updated: 04/24/2023
Last Updated