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What are the Long-Term Effects of Mental Illness, When Left Untreated?

untreated mental illness effects

Mental health disorders are extremely common, though they are not always apparent. More than likely, you have neighbors, friends, family members, or colleagues struggling with symptoms of a mental health condition. Each year in the United States, an estimated 1 in 6 youth experience a mental illness. Even more adults – about 20% in the U.S. – are affected. However, these “invisible illnesses” often go undetected and, therefore, untreated. This can lead to exacerbated symptoms, carried through to adulthood, and lead to long-term effects.

Mental Health America reports that over half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment. While this statistic is not available for youth, it is reported that over 60 percent of youth battling depression do not receive treatment, either. These untreated conditions, again, can lead to detrimental and long-term effects on each person’s health.

You may be asking, “What are the long-term effects of mental illness?” Perhaps you are concerned about a loved one. Maybe you are afraid of seeking help for a mental health struggle of your own, and wonder what the long-term effects of it might be. You are not alone. Many people are afraid to get help for mental health out of fear of what others will think, fear of costs, or simply fear of the unknown. However, taking the steps now—intervening early—can be vital to your or your loved one’s health. Here is why.

The Long-Term Effects of Untreated Mental Illness

Every mental health disorder is unique. Between depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and bipolar disorder, the spectrum of symptoms and severity can vary greatly. Similarly, the long-term effects of these mental illnesses can vary, and tend to vary by person. However, there are some commonalities. When mental illness is left untreated, it can lead to long-term issues with emotional stability, behavior regulation, relationship difficulties, substance abuse, and even physical illness.

Long-term Effects of Mental Illness on the Mind

  • Exacerbated mental health problems. As noted above, untreated mental illness can lead to long-term and worsening symptoms of mental illness. It can cause a steady and sometimes rapid decline in a person’s mental health. For example, someone with depression may show a handful of symptoms at first, but without treatment, can develop worsened symptoms like suicidal ideation and self-harm.
  • Unhappiness. Mental health disorders disrupt the brain’s functioning, and often one’s ability to experience pleasure and happiness. Over time, these feelings can grow to a point where one can no longer explain them. They may disrupt one’s ability to function in their day to day life.
  • Victimization and trauma. As cited in an article by Joel L. Young, M.D., untreated mental illness can make a person more vulnerable to victimization. Mental illness can prevent a person from feeling happy or thinking clearly, and can set off a cyclical reaction of victimization and, further, post-traumatic stress caused by it.

Long-term Effects of Mental Illness on the Body

  • Weakened immune system. Mental illness can take a toll on the mind and, in turn, take a physical toll on the body. It can weaken your immune system and make it harder for your body to prevent infections.
  • Chronic physical conditions. Untreated mental health disorders have been linked to physical ailments. This is not a surprise, as the brain and body are so closely related. Mental illness can create chronic stress and distress in individuals, increasing their risk for medical conditions. For example, the CDC cites that depression increases the risk for long-lasting health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. 
  • Unhealthy habits. Mental illness can prevent a person from properly taking care of themselves. Sometimes that manifests in their eating habits, while other times it reflects in their sleeping patterns or personal hygiene and care. Poor eating habits can lead to obesity or malnutrition. Poor sleeping habits can have a spiraling effect on your body, including chronic fatigue, irritability, and decreased libido.
  • Self-harm and suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with an average of 130 suicides per day. The vast majority of suicides (more than 90 percent) stem from unaddressed mental illness. Over time, mental illness can diminish one’s desire to live—or, it can cloud one’s judgement so much that they see no other way.

Long-term Effects of Mental Illness in Life

It’s no secret that mental illness, especially when left unaddressed, can affect other aspects of a person’s life. Mental health disorders can be debilitating. When one cannot get out of bed, or cannot connect with others, or has trouble perceiving reality, as examples, it can lead to long-term issues like:

  • Relationship problems
  • Conflicts with family members
  • Social isolation
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Withdrawal from obligations like work and school
  • Unemployment
  • Legal troubles or incarceration
  • Financial problems
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Substance abuse

These long-term effects are supported by harrowing statistics. In the U.S., 73 percent of women and 55 percent of men in state prisons have at least one mental health disorder. Over 60 percent of adolescents in community-based drug treatment programs meet the criteria for another mental illness. About half of those who experience a mental illness during their lifetime will also develop a substance use disorder. Between 30 and 70 percent of suicide victims suffer from major depression or bipolar disorder.

The Importance of Mental Health Treatment

Knowing the signs of mental illness, and seeking help as those signs surface, can be life-saving for a person in need. Too often, mental illness goes undetected and leads to long-term feelings of pain, sadness, discomfort, loneliness, and weakness. And why should it? Mental illnesses are very treatable and manageable disorders, with the right steps taken. With early intervention and professional help, those with mental health disorders can live positive, fulfilling lives.

Most mental health disorders begin by the age of 24. If you have an adolescent or young adult, and are concerned about their mental health, know that it is never too early to ask questions and ask for help. Amid a global pandemic, more and more youth are showing signs of mental health. They deserve the proper attention and healthcare.  

Mental health treatment can be highly effective. The National Alliance on Mental Illness California reports that between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have a significant reduction of symptoms, and an improved quality of life, with professional treatment and support. For youth and young adults in particular, a dedicated, age-specific mental health treatment program is recommended for those in need.

Turnbridge is a preeminent mental health treatment program for teens and young adults struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, and eating disorders. If you or a loved one is seeking help, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for guidance. Call 877-581-1793 today.