Mental illnesses

What are they?

Mental health is defined by the Mental Health Organisation (WHO) as a state of well-being in which a person may fulfil himself/herself, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to community life. Any state which renders a person unable to enjoy these possibilities can be called a mental disorder.

Mental illnesses can be recognized through psychological or behavioural disturbances. According to the degree of seriousness of the disorder, symptoms may include changes in thought capacities, mood and behavioural changes, leading to distress, suffering and serious malfunctioning.

The most common disorders are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression), obsessive-compulsive disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders. There are many variations in symptoms and this sometimes makes accurate diagnosis difficult.

By way of simplification, while bearing in mind that the same person may display a variety of symptoms, here are the major symptoms of the main illnesses:


  • hallucinations (unreal sense perceptions)
  • disorganized speech
  • paranoia (feeling that others wish to harm oneself)
  • inappropriate emotions
  • incoherent thought, inability to organize one’s thoughts
  • anxiety concerning social interaction
  • strange appearance, eccentric behaviour
  • withdrawal into oneself, apathy, neglect of personal hygiene
  • sleep problems
  • occasional suicidal tendencies


Bipolar disorder

  • episodes of deep despair alternating with periods of euphoria and elation
  • prolonged and recurring insomnia
  • megalomania
  • delusions
  • mood disorders (in comparison with the thought disorders prevalent in schizophrenia)
  • suicidal tendencies

This list of symptoms is only given as an indication. Symptoms may vary greatly in number and intensity from one person to another. Each patient must therefore be considered as a unique individual.

Medical follow-up

It must be emphasized that regular intake of appropriate medication greatly reduces these symptoms. It is therefore most important to have medical follow-up and to provide patients and their families with the right information about the need to take the medication strictly as prescribed and not to stop taking it without medical advice.

Who are the people affected by these illnesses?

Mental illness may affect anybody, whatever the social status, level of education, national or ethnic origin.

How many people are affected?

According to the WHO, over 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental disorders. This figure is likely to increase considerably on account of the pressures and stresses of modern life with their stream of potential mental disorder triggers. For example, depression alone, will by 2020 be the second largest cause of illness and disability worldwide after cardio-vascular diseases.

If we go by world statistics, we can estimate that there must be around 24 000 persons in Mauritius affected by the more serious mental illnesses. Mental illness in the family affects other members as well as the sufferer. If one takes close family members into account, we may venture to put at least 100 000 the number of persons whose lives are considerably disturbed by these illnesses.