Common Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Mental illness is rather common despite the misconceptions that mental illness is rare.

In fact, there is an estimated 54 million Americans that suffer from a form of mental illness each year and one in five Americans will experience a mental illness within their lifetime. Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of the common signs and symptoms of mental health issues. By recognizing symptoms when they first begin, you can take charge of your mental health or provide aid to a loved one before mental health symptoms worsen.

While some mental illnesses are a result of excessive stressors in your life, there are often gradual symptoms that you should keep an eye out for. If you do experience a sudden change in the thoughts and behaviors of yourself or in the behaviors of a loved one, then these sudden changes may indicate that a professional should assess the behavior for mental illness. To learn more about the common signs and symptoms of mental health issues, review the information that has been provided below.

Mental Health Symptoms in Adults, Young Adults and Adolescents

Three-quarters of mental health illnesses will first show symptoms before 24 years of age. However, that does not mean that older adults will never experience a mental health problem. It is important to be aware of mental health symptoms in order to maintain your mental health. You should know when to seek help and know when a loved one may be experiencing a mental illness. Common signs of mental illness that appear in adults, young adults and adolescents include the following:

  • Prolonged depression, which can be displayed in either sadness or irritability
  • Feelings of extreme emotional highs and lows
  • Excessive anxiety, worries, stress or fear
  • Social isolation
  • Dramatic changes in eating habits
  • Dramatic changes in sleeping habits
  • Strange thoughts, confused thinking and delusions
  • Seeing or hearing something that is not there
  • Finding yourself unable to cope with daily problems or activities both large and small
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Substance use

Mental Health Symptoms in Pre-Adolescent Children

It is estimated that half of all mental health illnesses will first show symptoms prior to turning 14 years of age. Early-onset mental illness can be difficult for parents to cope with if they are not aware of what to look for. Therefore, it is especially important to monitor children for changes in behavior including:

  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints about physical ailments
  • Changes in the ability to manage responsibilities at school or at home
  • Defiance of authority
  • Criminal activities such as theft, vandalism and substance use
  • Truancy
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • A prolonged negative mood, including thoughts of death or accompanied by a poor appetite
  • Frequent displays of anger

Mental Health Symptoms in Younger Children

Contrary to common belief, young children can be afflicted by mental illness, especially after trauma, abuse or neglect. Watch out for the following signs:

  • Negative changes in school performance, including poor grades despite effort
  • Changes in sleep and eating habits
  • Refusing to go to bed or to school
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Displays of aggression and ongoing disobedience
  • Frequent outbursts or temper tantrums

When to Talk to a Doctor

If you feel that you are displaying symptoms of a mental illness, then it is important to speak with your primary care physician or a mental health specialist, such as a therapist or psychiatrist. If untreated, then mental illnesses can often worsen over time, as most mental health issues will not improve on their own.

Reach out to someone and learn all that you can about mental health in order to proactively maintain your mental health. If you are unsure where you can get help, then you can contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline.

The Causes and Risk Factors of Mental Health Issues

Mental illnesses are generally caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Research shows that mental illness is more common in individuals with close, blood relatives that also have a mental illness. This may be due to similar brain chemistry or a shared history of abuse, neglect and traumatic experiences. However, other risk factors can include environmental exposure, such as stressors, toxins, alcohol or drugs. Chronic medical conditions, as well as brain damage from a serious injury, can also lead to mental health issues.

Mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability and, left untreated, mental illness can become severe, causing emotional, behavioral and physical health problems to arise. Those experiencing an untreated mental illness may experience less enjoyment in life, miss work or school on a regular basis, experience poverty or homelessness, have a weakened immune system or develop physical illnesses such as heart disease or other medical conditions. Individuals experience mental health issues can also experience difficulties in maintaining relationships and limit social engagement with family and friends to becoming socially withdrawal.

By paying attention to warning signs, you can work with your doctor or mental health professional to learn what might be triggering your symptoms and create a plan for treatment. In some cases, counseling or medication may be ways to treat budding mental health concerns before they escalate.

What to Do If You Are Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts

There are many mental illnesses that may be associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. If you think that you may attempt to hurt yourself in any way, or worse, you are considering suicide, then it is important to seek help immediately. You can do this by contacting someone trained to handle these situations. In addition to a mental health specialist or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a spiritual leader or someone within your faith community can help you during this period. However, you should contact your local emergency number or 911 if you need immediate attention.

Suicidal thinking is a symptom that will not get better on its own. While hospitalization may not feel like the best avenue, mental health facilities can help those experiencing mental health issues recover through counseling, diagnosis and other treatment options.

How to Help a Loved one That Displays Mental Health Symptoms

If you have witnessed mental health symptoms in a loved one, then it is important to attempt to have an honest discussion with him or her about your concerns. Studies show that a support system of friends and family can provide a tremendous amount of aid in recovering from a mental illness. You may not be able to force someone to seek the help that they need, but you can still offer support and encouragement. If your loved one is willing to seek help, then volunteering to help them find a qualified mental health provider can help.

If you believe that your loved one may be considered suicide or self-harm or you have witnessed an attempt, then take your loved one to the nearest hospital or call 911.

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