Mental disorders: some of the most common

The most common mental disorders are depression and eating disorders. Depression is an affective disorder characterized by severe and prolonged mood swings. Affective means that it concerns the emotional life. Eating disorders include wastiness (anorexia nervosa), gluttony (bulimia nervosa) and obesity (obesity), the latter is not considered a mental illness, but can be a cause of it.


Our moods can be quite changeable. Sometimes we are cheerful and nothing can spoil our day. Other days we don’t even feel like getting out of bed. Everyone has days of depression like this. It is annoying when we have such a mood, but we know in advance that this mood will pass. When the depressed moods last for a long time and they become so bad that they hinder a person’s normal functioning, we call it depression. About 700,000 people in the Netherlands are depressed. If the depression persists for a long time or becomes worse, it is time to seek help in the form of psychotherapy, medication or even admission.

Recognizing depression

Depression comes in all forms and at all ages. Symptoms of depression can be divided into four groups:

  1. Affective symptoms: phenomena relating to emotional life.
  2. Somatic symptoms: symptoms relating to the body.
  3. Behavioral symptoms: symptoms related to behavior and appearance.
  4. Cognitive symptoms: phenomena that relate to the world of thought.


Affective symptoms

When a person doesn’t feel like doing anything, only feels down, can’t let anyone cheer him up and can only cry, he is experiencing depression. This person cannot understand why he feels this way. They often have a great life with nothing wrong with it and yet they just feel sad.

Somatic symptoms

Depressed people often sleep poorly and often lie awake. Even when they have slept well, they feel tired. They have headaches, stomach aches and no appetite. They don’t feel like doing anything, even when they know a walk will do them good, they still can’t bring themselves to move.

Behavioral symptoms

People who are depressed show less and less activity and when they do get moving, they move slowly. They are never satisfied with their bodies. One person thinks they are too fat, the other too thin, even though there is nothing wrong with their appearance, they think so. Nothing anyone else says about their appearance can change their mind.

Cognitive symptoms

Because a depressed person is unable to see anything positively, they often blame themselves for everything that goes wrong in their lives. They also don’t like the environment, the future and themselves. A good sense of self-esteem is hard to find at that moment and as a result they ultimately suffer from enormous guilt.

What can you do if you are depressed?

Self-knowledge: When the first signs of depression appear, a person who knows themselves well can notice it right away. Then it is important to take a closer look at your life and ask yourself a number of questions. Why do I feel so bad? Am I doing something wrong or is something in my environment bothering me? Can I change that myself? What can I do to feel as comfortable as possible? By asking yourself these questions and analyzing the answers, you can figure out what’s going on. There are things that you shouldn’t pretend don’t exist in the hope that it will go away on its own. When you are in a depressed mood, it can often help to visit other people, even if you don’t feel like it at that moment. That is often enough to turn the tide of depression.
If you cannot cope yourself or have already fallen into serious depression, it is of the utmost importance that you seek help. Sometimes the help of a GP is sufficient. But if the depression is caused by personality traits, it is better to seek the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist. In that case, your GP will refer you. When the therapy is completely completed and you return to your normal activities, it will take at least another six months before you are completely back to your old self.

Eating disorders

Our body is designed to survive, it tells us when we need to eat or drink. When eating behavior is disturbed, obesity, leanness and gluttony occur.


This is not considered a mental disorder. Obesity is a physical problem. Obese people eat more than they burn and therefore become fat. Being overweight does not always have to lead to psychological complaints. Psychological complaints only occur when the overweight person does not consider themselves beautiful and when the environment tries to impose an ideal image on them. There are camps for children with this problem. An attempt is made to get the children to a healthy weight through a strict discipline of exercise and diet. They also receive good advice and nutrition and their eating behavior is scrutinized.

Meagerness and gluttony

These are two eating disorders that fall under mental illnesses. The disorder results from incorrect perception of the body. Anorexia and bulimia are fifteen times more common in girls than in boys and mainly affect young women from the middle and upper classes in Western countries.


It is still not completely known what actually causes these eating disorders. There are still quite a few theories about it. The ideas we describe here assume that people move in a vicious circle. This vicious circle originated in one’s own person or in the family situation.


The fear of becoming fat causes people to stop eating. The desire to eat has been taken away by fear. When one does not eat, the fear of becoming fat is removed. Research has shown that these eating disorders are related to the image that is considered ideal in the Western world. All the advertisements and images we see want us to believe that women must be slim. As a result, the patient becomes afraid of becoming fat and stops eating.


Most people who have these types of eating disorders also have low self-esteem. They think that as long as they are beautiful and thin that they will be liked. As a result, they set extremely high standards for how they look. This usually goes well for a while, but after a while they start to doubt again, which increases their feeling of insecurity again. They think that if they lose a few more kilos, they will be satisfied again. The panic and tension have an adverse effect on the appetite. As soon as something is eaten, the tension is so great that people feel nauseous and throw the food out again.


If a child wants his parents’ attention and cannot get it in a normal way, he can go on a hunger strike. Hunger strike is a great tool of power. When a child receives attention because the parents react with dismay to the hunger strike, there is a good chance that he or she will remain on hunger strike. In this way the child commands all the attention it did not receive before. It feels powerful because the parents are desperate. As a result, it refuses all food. People with eating disorders are constantly dominated by the thoughts of food and body weight.


Anorexia nervosa literally means loss of appetite. It is estimated that five in a thousand women suffer from this. People with anorexia have cravings for food , but they do not dare to eat for fear of becoming fat. Anorexia is therefore characterized by the fear of becoming fat. Even when these people are skinny, they still consider themselves too fat. Anorexia can be life-threatening and affects the patient’s physical well-being. This even lowers the heart rate and body temperatures. In women, the menstrual cycle stops and occasionally this disorder results in death.


Sometimes we suddenly have a terrible craving for chocolate or chips. Then we indulge ourselves by suddenly eating the entire bar or nibbling the bag of chips. But when one does these kinds of things often and has a distorted image of the body, it is called bulimia . About twenty out of every thousand people have this disorder. These people binge on a lot of food that they consume at a rapid pace, after which they feel guilty and quickly take an emetic to spit the food out again. Bulimia patients, like anorexia patients, are obsessed with food. Besides binge eating, there is another problem. No one should know that they eat like that, they are ashamed of it. They maintain their body weight by taking emetics and/or laxatives. Bulimia patients often have a normal figure and it can take years for someone to discover that a person has this disorder.

What now?

The sooner action is taken, the greater the chance of recovery. The biggest problem here, however, is that the anorexia patient denies the problem and the bulimic patient can hide it for years. This makes it very difficult for the people around them to do something about it. Every treatment always starts with the recovery of the body. When the patient recognizes the problem himself, something can be done about the eating pattern. A common method to help these patients get back on their feet is behavioral therapy. We investigate where the problems come from and then goals are set. Self-help groups formed by experienced experts can also help the patient’s recovery.

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  • Mental disorders: cause, diagnosis and treatment
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