Most people believe that mental health conditions are rare and “happen to someone else.” In fact, mental health conditions are common and widespread. An estimated 44 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year.
There’s no simple test to tell you whether you or someone you know has a mental illness. Often, you or people around you will notice small changes in how you act long before the symptoms seriously affect you.
If you recognize when something seems amiss, don’t ignore that feeling. When you don’t feel like yourself for an extended period of time–say three weeks–that’s a warning sign that you should reprioritize your mental health. While it may be hard to pinpoint what exactly that feels like, it could manifest itself in the following signs of a mental health concern:
1. Feeling anxious or worried
We all get worried or stressed from time to time. But anxiety could be a sign of a mental health disorder if the worry is constant and interferes all the time. Other symptoms of anxiety may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, sweating, trembling, feeling dizzy, restlessness, diarrhea or a racing mind.
2. Feeling depressed or unhappy
It’s normal to have a bad day every now and then, and life is bound to bring you some sadness at some point. But, if you routinely find less happiness and enjoyment in activities that you used to love, it could be a sign that something’s not quite right. For example, if you used to enjoy golfing or playing guitar but feel uninterested in participating in either of those activities right now, that could be an indicator that your mental health is out of balance.
3. Irritability or being more emotional than usual
Experiencing irritation, anger, feeling snappy and easily frustrated, or mood swings that fly from one extreme to the other could be a sign that your mental health is out of whack. Depression and anxiety can make it harder to self-regulate your thoughts and feelings, which is why you may be more reactive or sensitive than usual.
4. Disrupted sleep
Poor sleep could be a red flag that you’re experiencing depression or anxiety. Whether you have trouble falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep — also known as “early morning awakening”, when you wake up and cannot fall back asleep — it could be a signal of a mental health concern. Frequent oversleeping could be a sign as well, demonstrating that your body is fatigued to the point of burn-out.
5. Feeling guilty or worthless
Thoughts like ‘I’m a failure’, ‘It’s my fault’ or ‘I’m worthless’ are all possible signs of a mental health disorder, such as depression. Your friend or loved one may need help if they’re frequently criticizing or blaming themselves. When severe, a person may express a feeling to hurt or kill themselves. This feeling could mean the person is suicidal and urgent help is needed.
6. Weight or appetite changes
There are a variety of ways depression and anxiety can affect how much you eat. For some, stress and anxiety may result in a loss of appetite, as they may not feel hungry or have the energy to eat. For others, binge eating comfort food can provide temporary relief from depressing thoughts and feelings. If you notice that you are overeating or undereating to the point where you observe dramatic changes in your weight over a short period of time, it could be time to seek help for your mental health.
7. Worsening physical symptoms
Depression and anxiety can bring on physical side effects, including sweating, rapid heart rate, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, and headache. If physical symptoms come on suddenly with no other medical cause, it could be a sign that your mental health is declining.
8. Low energy
Feelings of fatigue and lethargy are also common in people who are struggling with their mental health. Feeling mentally or physically sluggish can make it harder to concentrate, follow conversations, or think quickly. If you have low energy to the point where it’s hard to find the motivation to get out of bed, consider talking to your doctor. If a friend or loved one is regularly isolating themselves, they may have depression, bipolar disorder, a psychotic disorder, or another mental health disorder. Refusing to join in social activities may be a sign they need help.
9. Substance abuse
Using substances to cope, such as alcohol or drugs, can be a sign of mental health conditions. Using substances can also contribute to mental illness.
10. Changes in behavior or feelings
A mental health disorder may start out as subtle changes to a person’s feelings, thinking and behavior. Ongoing and significant changes could be a sign that they have or are developing a mental health disorder. If something doesn’t seem ‘quite right’, it’s important to start the conversation about getting help.
When to see a doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness, see your primary care provider or mental health professional. Most mental illnesses don’t improve on their own, and if untreated, a mental illness may get worse over time and cause serious problems.
If your loved one shows signs of mental illness, have an open and honest discussion with him or her about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to get professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified mental health professional and make an appointment. You may even be able to go along to the appointment.
If your loved one has done self-harm or is considering doing so, take the person to the hospital or call for emergency help.