Mental Illness: Knowing the Warning Signs and Symptoms

Mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes, and every iteration comes with its own laundry list of symptoms. Still, there are some red flags that stand out across the board as being signs of mental illness more generally. If you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one experiencing symptoms of mental illness, a therapist or other healthcare provider can help in diagnosis and treatment.

Erratic or Excessive Changes in Mood

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Some of the most common symptoms of mental illness manifest through emotions, such as feeling sad or generally “low,” or worrying about a situation to a greater degree than it typically warrants. Even a natural optimist might find themself feeling down more often than not. Conversely, this can also include “high” feelings, such as euphoria or bursts of productivity and enthusiasm without an apparent cause. Suddenly swinging between various emotions, too, can be a sign of potential mental illnesses.

Altered Interests

You might notice that you or your loved one no longer seem to enjoy the hobbies or other activities they once loved. There’s no doubt that life sometimes just gets in the way, but if you find yourself with no desire to pick up your guitar or work on your painting, there might be a mental health condition or similar issue at play. In turn, a lack of interest in things you typically enjoy can worsen symptoms of mental illnesses like depression by giving you fewer creative outlets or distractions.

Changes in Habits

Two of the most common habits that are often impacted by mental illness are sleeping and eating (which may go hand-in-hand with some of the physical symptoms described below). These could fall on either end of each spectrum, from overeating and oversleeping to a lack of hunger and difficulty sleeping. New habits might also appear due to mental illness, including substance abuse, picking at skin or hair, or other forms of self-harm, to name a few.

Trouble Concentrating

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You might also find that your ability to concentrate and think clearly is being negatively affected. You may find yourself struggling with comprehension or focus while at work or in school. Tasks that should be simple might seem to be more difficult than you’d expect. Consciously, you might be too focused on worries or other triggers to concentrate on the task at hand or, subconsciously, your brain might be desperate for a break.

Physical Impacts

Despite the name, mental illness isn’t “all in your head;” actually, there are many physical symptoms! For example, you might experience fatigue or tiredness, changes in appetite, headaches, the tension in the neck and shoulders, more generalized pain, or stomachaches. Often, these signs will appear without an obvious physical cause (such as an injury or physical illness).

Social Withdrawal

Wanting to skip out on a party in favor of Netflix in bed once in a while is one thing, but if you find yourself consistently avoiding friends and social engagements, mental illness might be a factor.

Suicidal Ideation or Attempts

One of the most alarming signs of mental illness, considering or attempting suicide is probably one of those signs that come to mind most quickly, too. You might even have brushed off other symptoms as not being bad enough to warrant seeking help if you aren’t experiencing this. If you are dealing with suicidal thoughts, reach out to a friend, doctor, or even a suicide hotline or online chat.

If you’re recognizing some of these warning signs in yourself, consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional about your concerns. If its a loved one showing these symptoms, it’s important to be supportive—you can’t force them to see a doctor or otherwise seek professional help, but you can let them know about some of the options that are available. Most importantly, you can show them that you care.

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