Mental disabilities and mental health illnesses are often two things that are commonly mistaken as the same, not because people want to confuse them but because they are not educated about them. Yvonne Uwamahoro a psychologist at Mental Health Hub Rwanda, says that the reason people tend to confuse mental health illnesses and mental disabilities is that sometimes the treatments might be similar. “The irregular nature of mental illness may create problems in establishing or maintaining consistent work or school patterns. Some individuals may need time off for medical appointments or to recuperate. The irregular nature of mental illness might also impair an individual’s performance. People may interpret this as a person who is disabled mentally. On the other hand also having mental disability increases the chance of having anxiety, depression,” she explains. As written in a previous article in The New Times, for instance, the 2018 Rwanda Mental Health Survey found that depression among the general population is 11.9 per cent, and at least one of five Rwandans have a mental health condition. Mental disorders among youth aged 14-18 years old stand at 10.2 per cent. Mental disability known also as an intellectual disability means a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information and to learn and apply new skills. And Mental Health illness also known as Mental Health Disorder often affects mood, thoughts processes, or behavior and can manifest in anyone at any time. Dr. Janvier Yubahwe, a psychiatrist at Huye Isange Rehabilitation Centre/ Kigali Psycho-Medical Centre explains more about the difference. “A mental disorder is considered as a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behavior, and relationships with others, while mental disability is a condition that limits a person’s intellectual capacity resulting directly or indirectly from injury to the brain or from abnormal neurological development such as the mental retardation,” he explains. Dr. Yubahwe says trying to understand the difference between mental illnesses and disability without first clearly understanding what mental health is will be difficult for everyone. What causes mental disabilities? “Biological factors such genetics, psychological factors (different trauma that an individual went through) and environmental factors such as daily stressors were found to contribute to mental ill-health,” says Dr. Yubahwe. “Most mental illnesses don’t have a single cause. Instead, they have a variety of causes, called risk factors. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop a mental illness. Sometimes, mental illness develops gradually. Other times, it doesn’t appear until a stressful event triggers it,” adds Uwamahoro. There are many risk factors and triggers, but here are a few examples: •Genetics. Mental illness often runs in the family. •Environment. Living in a stressful environment can make you more likely to develop a mental illness. •Childhood trauma. Even if you’re no longer in a stressful environment, things that happened to you as a child can have an impact later in life. •Stressful events: like losing a loved one, or being in a car accident. •Negative thoughts. Constantly putting yourself down or expecting the worst can get you stuck in a cycle of depression or anxiety. •Unhealthy habits: like not getting enough sleep, or not eating. •Drugs and alcohol: Abusing drugs and alcohol can trigger a mental illness. It can also make it harder to recover from mental illness. •Brain chemistry. Mental illness involves an imbalance of natural chemicals in your brain and your body. What causes mental disabilities? •Genetic conditions. These include things like Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome. •Problems during pregnancy. Things that can interfere with fetal brain development include alcohol or drug use, malnutrition, certain infections, or preeclampsia. • Problems during childbirth. Intellectual disability may result if a baby is deprived of oxygen during childbirth or is born extremely premature. • Illness or injury. Infections like meningitis, whooping cough, or measles can lead to intellectual disability. Severe head injury, near-drowning, extreme malnutrition, infections in the brain, exposure to toxic substances such as lead, and severe neglect or abuse can also cause it. • None of the above. In two-thirds of all children who have intellectual disabilities, the cause is unknown. “You can help someone with a disability by learning everything you can about intellectual disabilities, encouraging independence, encouraging group activities, staying involved and knowing people with mental disabilities,” Uwamahoro advises. A person with an intellectual disability has a life-long condition of slow intellectual development, where medication has little or no effect. A person with mental illness has a disorder that can be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or other forms of support. While mental disorders can be managed with medications and psychotherapy with a good prognosis, this is difficult with mental disabilities as these ones do not have medications, but require instead assistance to the affected individuals especially in the domains where their capacity is limited. Note that diagnosis and treatment on time may also give good results.