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How To Recognize and Watch Out for Symptoms of Mental Illness

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In the U.S., more than 1 in 5 adults live with a mental health concern. They could be your loved ones, coworkers, or even yourself. This is why it’s important to be vigilant of the symptoms of mental illness to remedy the condition.

Mental illness refers to a wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. These conditions can create significant distress and impair a person’s ability to function in daily life. Recognizing the symptoms of mental illness is crucial. Just like with any health issue, the sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can get the help you need.

Early intervention is key. Whether it’s you or someone you know, it’s important to watch out for symptoms and take action to combat mental health problems. 

Treatment for mental illness is highly effective, and addressing symptoms early can prevent them from worsening and causing more problems in your life. It can also help you learn healthy coping mechanisms and improve your overall well-being.

General Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Recognizing the warning signs of mental illness is essential for early intervention and treatment, which are crucial factors in making the person’s recovery easier. These signs often manifest in various aspects of an individual’s life, including mood, behavior, thinking patterns, and social interactions. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

Changes in mood and behavior.

Sleep or Appetite Changes: Insomnia or excessive sleeping can indicate a mental health issue. A person may struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or feel the need to sleep much more than usual. Significant changes in sleep patterns, like difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping excessively, can be a red flag. Similarly, changes in appetite, like drastic increases or decreases in hunger, can be a sign of underlying issues. A sudden increase or decrease in appetite can be a sign. This can lead to noticeable weight gain or loss.

Prolonged Sadness: Feeling down or low for extended periods (weeks or longer) is a significant indicator of depression. These feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness may be accompanied by a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.

Irritability: Increased irritability, frustration, or anger over minor issues, often without a clear reason, can point to a mental health concern, especially if this is a new development or significantly impacts daily life. At times, the person may feel down or easily annoyed for extended periods, even over minor things.

Mood Swings: Experiencing dramatic and rapid shifts in mood, from feeling happy to extremely sad or angry, could indicate a mental health condition. The person may feel extremely happy or euphoric one moment and deeply sad or angry the next. These swings can be a sign of mood disorders.

Altered thinking patterns.

Excessive Fears or Worries: Constant and overwhelming anxiety about everyday situations or the future can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. Persistent and excessive worry about various aspects of life, often without a specific cause. This includes irrational fears or panic attacks.

Extreme Guilt: Overwhelming feelings of guilt or worthlessness that are disproportionate to the situation and often not based on reality. Feeling guilty about things you haven’t done or situations beyond your control can be a sign of depression or other mental illnesses.

Difficulty Concentrating: Trouble focusing on tasks, making decisions, or remembering things. The person may lack concentration, often with a feeling of brain fog or anxiousness. This can impact work or daily activities.

Withdrawal from social activities and isolation.

Avoiding Friends and Family:  A noticeable withdrawal from social interactions, where the person avoids spending time with friends and family. Pulling away from loved ones and social interactions you used to enjoy can be a significant indicator of a mental health issue. This could be due to feelings of shame, fear of judgment, or simply a lack of energy or interest.

Loss of Interest in Hobbies: Losing motivation or enjoyment in activities you once found pleasurable can be a sign of depression or other conditions. This is a common symptom of depression and can include hobbies, sports, or social events.

These are just general warning signs, and not everyone experiencing these will have a mental illness. However, if you notice several of these signs in yourself or someone you care about, it’s important to seek professional help for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

When to Seek Help

Seeking mental health help is just as important as seeking help for physical health issues. Don’t wait until you or the person you care about is struggling.

If the symptoms you’re experiencing are severe, such as intense anxiety or debilitating sadness, and they persist for more than a few weeks, it’s time to seek help. At times, if the symptoms significantly interfere with your ability to function in daily life, like going to work, maintaining relationships, or taking care of yourself, it’s a clear sign to reach out. Lastly, do you have thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life? Get help immediately. This can be a life-threatening situation, and professional intervention is needed.

There’s no shame in seeking help. It’s a sign of strength and self-care.

Several reputable organizations offer online mental health screenings. While mental health screening tools are not a definitive diagnosis, they can be a valuable starting point. These assessments can provide initial insights into potential areas of concern. Here are a few screening tools you may consider:

Mental Health America Screening Tools: 

American Mental Wellness Association Screening Tools:

If a screening tool suggests you might benefit from professional help, reach out to a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Talk to your doctor for a referral or search online directories for mental health professionals in your area. You can also call a mental health hotline for support and guidance.

Resources for Mental Health

If you are experiencing mental distress, please reach out for immediate help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988 – A free, confidential 24/7 service that can connect you with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 – The service provides confidential crisis intervention via text messages from trained counselors.
  • In Case of Emergency: Call 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency room.

For Support and Information:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) – Free, confidential, 24/7 service, in English and Spanish, can provide information and treatment referral for mental and/or substance use disorders.
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, Press 1 – This service provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to veterans and their families.

Online Resources and Communities:

Local Support Groups:

  • Consider searching online or contacting local mental health organizations (e.g., NAMI chapters) in your area for support groups. Connecting with others who understand your struggles can be incredibly helpful.

Minneapolis Chapter NECA understands that the more we talk about and recognize mental illness, the less stigma there will be, and the more people will feel comfortable seeking help.

Mental illness is treatable, but it starts with recognizing the signs and reaching out for support. Don’t wait – your well-being matters.

Author: mplsneca