Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors

"What constitutes severe mental illnses?"

ZocdocAnswersWhat constitutes severe mental illnses?


On a form I'm filling out, I have to say whether anyone in my family has 'severe mental illness'. Someone in my family is depressed, but I don't know if that counts. What constitutes 'severe mental illness'?


Severe mental illness is an emotional or psychiatric disorder which is life-threatening or causes significant impairment in a person's ability to work, form social relationships, or care for his or herself. Obvious examples include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and drug abuse, which are extremely debilitating disease that often persist throughout a person's life. Depression is less straightforward because it often has a variable course. Patients may have periods of severe symptoms alternating with periods where they feel almost normal. It certainly constitutes a severe mental illness if the person has a history of suicide attempts. Many physicians would also call it severe if the patient has required multiple hospitalizations and has been unable to form successful relationships or maintain employment due to his or her depression. The patient and his or her physicians are the best people to determine severity, but based on the principles above you likely know how to classify your family member's condition for the purpose of this form. If you have symptoms of depression such as lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy, poor appetite, or sleep disturbance, it is important to see your doctor for further evaluation. Suicidal thoughts should be evaluated as an emergency by a psychiatrist, primary care doctor, or emergency room physician.

Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.