Guidelines for Mental Illness and Treatment

Mental illness is widespread in our society and is every bit as real as physical illness — in fact, both mental and physical illness arise from the same underlying causes.
Every day of human life is precious. No one should suffer unnecessarily. Therefore:

  • Reach out for qualified medical help when you feel you need it — and we all need help at some point or another in our lives.
  • If you know someone who seems to need help, encourage them to get it — or reach out for professional help on their behalf.
  • Do not hesitate to take advantage of modern approaches to alleviating mental illness if they are professionally recommended to you.

Common Questions About Mental Health

What is mental illness?

Mental illness refers to a wide range of medical disorders that may affect your mood, thinking, behavior, ability to relate to other people, and ability to function day by day — for example, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and addictive behaviors. The most common mental illnesses among adults are anxiety and mood disorders.

How widespread is it?

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income, and people in any country. Research shows that about 25% of all U.S. adults have a mental illness and that nearly 50% of US adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime.

This holds true for US colleges and university students: one in four have a diagnosable mental illness — and 40% of these unfortunately say nothing about it.

Although people of all ages are susceptible, mental illness usually strikes individuals during adolescence and young adulthood. The elderly are also especially vulnerable.

According to the World Health Organization, mental illness results in more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of mental illness symptoms can affect one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The symptoms can vary, according to the disorder, one’s susceptibility and circumstances, and other factors. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility, or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Mental health disorders can also sometimes give rise to physical problems — stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains.

What are the causes of mental illness?

Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness or lack of character. Although modern science has not determined the exact causes of most mental illnesses, research shows that much mental illness is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. For example:


  • Brain chemistry — Imbalances in brain biochemistry may affect one’s mood and mental health, as can abnormal functioning of nerve cell pathways connecting different regions of the brain or hormonal imbalances.
  • Inherited traits — Mental illness is more common in those whose blood relatives also have a mental illness. Specific genes may increase one’s risk of developing a mental illness, and one’s life circumstances may trigger it.
  • Environmental exposures before birth — These can include viruses, toxins, alcohol, or drugs while in the womb.
  • Infections
  • Brain injury or defects
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor nutrition
  • Exposure to toxins (such as lead)


  • Acute psychological trauma in childhood — for example, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • The loss of a parent or other close loved one in childhood
  • Neglect
  • Divorce
  • Low sense self-worth, inadequacy, anxiety, loneliness, anger


  • Substance use by one’s parents
  • Abuse by one’s parents
  • Dysfunctional family life
  • Cultural expectations (for instance, eating disorders can be exacerbated in a culture that equates being thin with being beautiful)
  • Changing schools or jobs

How does Maharishi AyurVeda understand mental illness?

The 3000-year old texts of AyurVeda, including Charaka Samhita, clearly define mental illness. They describe specific causes (etiologies) and recommended treatments for all of the mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, intellectual disabilities, dementia, post traumatic stress, and substance abuse disorders. There is also a chapter on preventing mental illness.

Over the centuries since its inception, key elements of Ayurveda became lost or misunderstood. Maharishi AyurVeda represents the rediscovery of AyurVeda in its totality

Like modern medicine, Maharishi Ayurveda understands mental illness to stem from a variety of causes, including heredity, perinatal, behavioral, psychological, physiological, and environmental factors.  The Maharishi AyurVedic approach takes this understanding to the deepest level, explaining that these material imbalances stem from imbalances at the level of consciousness where it manifests as matter.

Is mental illness treatable?

Yes. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can find relief from their symptoms by participating actively in an individual treatment plan.

If left untreated, mental illness can lead to staggering consequences for individuals and society: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide, and wasted lives.

What modern treatments for psychological health problems have been proven effective?

A number of treatments have proven useful in alleviating the symptoms of mental illness. These include medication treatment (pharmaceuticals), psychosocial treatment (for example, cognitive behavioral therapy), interpersonal therapy, peer support groups, and other community services.

Eating a good diet, getting enough sleep and exercise, enjoying time with friends, and participating in meaningful activity also support recovery from mental illness.

The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective. Pharmacological and psychosocial treatments lead to a significant reduction of symptoms and enhanced quality of life for 70–90% of people who take advantage of them.

The earlier the illness is diagnosed and treatment is begun, the faster the recovery and the less harm the illness will do.

Mental illnesses are serious medical conditions. They cannot be overcome through “will power,” any more than physical illness can.

What is the effect of Transcendental Meditation on psychological health?

Scientific research provides compelling evidence that the Transcendental Meditation® program (TM) and its related techniques and bodies of knowledge (including Maharishi AyurVeda) bring a collection of benefits unprecedented in the science of modern psychology.

These benefits include reduced stress and anxiety, improved well-being, improved social adjustment, balanced personality development and self-actualization, increased happiness, accompanied by positive changes in brain functioning and neurochemistry and overall better physical health.

What is the relation between conventional approaches and TM practice?

While such evidence shows that the Transcendental Meditation technique is beneficial for mental health, the TM technique is not a substitute for conventional and allopathic treatment of mental illness.

What is the University’s recommendation on pharmaceuticals?

Pharmaceuticals, when prescribed by a licensed physician, should be used as prescribed to prolong life and alleviate suffering.

Natural medicine aims to treat underlying causes and reduce the need for modern drugs. But modern drugs, although they may have side-effects, should be used where deemed necessary.

If we have to choose between the temporary negative side-effects of such drugs and the debilitating or even potentially fatal effects of psychiatric illness, we should choose to follow a professionally-prescribed regimen of modern medicine.

Medication and treatment should be taken in the manner prescribed. People taking prescribed medication should do so under the direction and advice of a health professional licensed by the state to prescribe modern medication.

Without this supervision one should never reduce or discontinue any prescribed medication, particularly not psychiatric medication.

What do Maharishi AyurVedic treatments involve?

Maharishi AyurVeda takes a holistic approach to treating mental conditions, including balancing the three doshas (vata, pitta, and kapha) and the three gunas (sattwa, rajas, and tamas) through proper diet, daily routine, purification therapies (panchakarma), herbal formulas, exercise, rasayana (medicinal and behavioral ways to strengthen the immune system), and daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi programs. Maharishi AyurVeda can complement other alternative and allopathic approaches.

Maharishi AyurVeda treatments should be guided by licensed physicians who expertise in AyurVeda as well as allopathic medicine.

What about the stigma around mental illness and the fact that many people don’t even want to talk about it?

Unfortunately this is pervasive in our society and has been throughout history. We want to change that in our community. There is nothing shameful about mental illness. Mental illness arises from the same ultimate cause as physical disease — in fact, everything mental is also physical.

We want people to feel safe and free to share their feelings and experiences, free to talk about themselves as they really are, not just the ideals they aspire to. And people in our community must feel empowered to ask for help when they need it.

Therefore families and sufferers should promptly seek qualified medical help, even if pursuing alternative healing modalities. Obtaining mental health services is a wise, enlightened, scientifically-supported choice that we embrace.

What about suicide?

Most if not all suicide results from a mental illness, such as bi-polar disorder, panic disorder, or depression. The symptom is “suicidal intention,” but the treatment targets the overall illness — and treatment must be followed in its full course, even if thoughts of suicide seem to have abated.

What does it mean when someone practicing the TM technique develops a mental illness or commits suicide?

It does not mean the technique does not work. The TM program is neither an instant nor a stand-alone cure for all the illnesses people may suffer, nor is it represented as such.

People may be born with certain conditions, stresses, and susceptibilities that emerge at various stages in their lives. As published research has indicated, the TM technique triggers a global repair mechanism in the physiology and psychology of everyone — but it cannot be predicted how, when, or to what degree the benefits of the TM program will unfold for a particular individual.

What is the role of diet, exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle choices?

A healthy lifestyle is essential for good mental health. This lifestyle includes proper practice of the TM technique, exercise, proper nutrition, a good sleep routine, and continuous support and interaction with friends and family.

See the notes on exercise, diet, and sleep below.

SUMMARY — What does the University recommend?

To repeat what we said at the start:

Every day of human life is precious. Staying alive and preventing suicide is of highest priority for ourselves and our loved ones. Suicide is a tragedy to be prevented.

  • Reach out for qualified medical help when you feel you need it — and we all need help at some point or another in our lives.
  • If you know someone who seems to need help, encourage them to get it — or reach out for professional help on their behalf.
  • Do not hesitate to take advantage of modern approaches to alleviating mental illness if they are professionally recommended to you.

We at the University are dedicated to helping provide education and professional help to all who may benefit from it, with the express intention of preserving life by all available means, while enhancing mental health and well-being.

Dispelling Myths About Mental Illness

MYTH — People with mental health issues are violent and unpredictable

FACT — The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.

MYTH — You can identify people with mental illness by the way they act

FACT — You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.

MYTH — People with mental illness cannot keep a job

FACT — People with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees and display levels of motivation, good work, and job tenure equal to or greater than other employees.

MYTH — Mental health problems are caused by personality weaknesses or character flaws, and people with these issues could snap out of it if they just tried hard enough

FACT — Mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak. Many people need help to get better.

MYTH — Mental illness is incurable. Once people develop mental health problems, they will not recover

FACT — Studies show that people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and they work.

MYTH — Therapy and self-help are a waste of time

FACT — Treatment for mental health problems varies depending on the individual and could include medication, therapy, or both.

MYTH — There’s nothing I can do for person with a mental health problem

FACT — Friends and loved ones can make a big difference. Less than 40% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive needed treatment, and less than 20% of children and adolescents. Friends and family can be important influences to help someone get the treatment and services they need by:

  • Reaching out and letting them know you are available to help
  • Helping them access mental health services
  • Learning and sharing the facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that isn’t true
  • Treating them with respect, just as you would anyone else
  • Refusing to define them by their diagnosis or using labels such as “crazy”

The Value of Exercise, Sleep, and Diet

What does modern science say about exercise

Recent research has also shown that exercise can be very helpful with reducing mental illness. Physical illness and mental illness go hand in hand. People with mental illness are often at higher risk for medical illnesses (heart disease and diabetes, for example) — and people with physical illnesses have higher risk for developing mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Active people are less depressed than inactive people.

  • By improving people’s general physical health, exercise reduces the risk of developing mental illness.
  • Research has shown that regular aerobic exercise can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve one’s mood. In fact, exercise is comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorders.
  • Exercise helps increase energy and improve concentration and sleep — all valuable for people living with mental illness.
  • Regular exercise also boosts self-confidence, moves the mind away from worries and negative thoughts that fuel anxiety and depression, opens opportunities for meeting other people, and helps people cope in a healthy way.

Formal exercises is great, of course — running, weight lifting, sports such as tennis and basketball. But any physical activity can be helpful — walking, biking, gardening, washing your car, cleaning your house, taking stairs instead of using elevators, and so on.

How much is enough? Doing 30 minutes of exercise a day (or more) for 3–5 days each week can significantly improve symptoms of depression. But even shorter periods can make a difference. It’s important to stick with it.

What about diet?

Modern research on the food-mood connection emphasizes the value of a healthy diet for supporting mental health as well as physical health.

A healthy diet consists of whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Is a vegetarian diet better for mental health? Recent research published in Nutrition Journal that people who regularly eat meat or chicken daily reported better moods and less stress after only two weeks of eliminating meat, fish, and poultry from their diets. How can meat adversely affect our mood? Meat diets are high in arachidonic acid (omega-6), which promotes changes in the brain that can negatively disturb one’s mood.

Research also indicates that diets containing high amounts of refined sugar are associated with worsening symptoms of schizophrenia and a higher rate of depression.

NOTE – Changing your diet is no substitute for professional treatment of such mental health problems like depression.

And Sleep?

People today often think of sleep as a luxury they can do without.
Most people who don’t get enough sleep don’t realize what they are doing to their physical, mental, and emotional health.
Here’s what happens when you get less sleep than you should:
  • You reduce your alertness and ability to concentrate, you slow your thought processes, you have a harder time performing tasks requiring logical reasoning or complex thought, and you impair your judgment.
  • You impair your memory.
  • You impair your ability to learn.
  • You reduce your reaction time — which makes you dangerous when you’re driving or doing work that requires a fast response. Driving when drowsy is the same as driving drunk.
  • You become more irritable, easily angered, and less able to cope with stress.
  • You become less likely to exercise, eat healthfully, and engage in leisure activities.
  • You place yourself at greater risk for depression. Depression and not getting enough sleep go hand in hand.

How do you know whether you’re getting enough sleep? You don’t feel sleepy when you wake up, you feel energetic throughout the day, and you gradually wind down as you come to your usual bedtime.

To take maximum advantage of the body’s natural cycles, Maharishi AyurVeda recommends getting to sleep by 10:00 pm.

Sources and Further Information

Information sources for this document include:

The National Institute of Mental Health
The National Alliance on Mental Illness
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention