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Group 401

Recognizing the Signs of Mental Illness

DepressionIf you are feeling isolated or insecure because you believe you may be suffering from a mental illness, know that you are not alone. Mental illness is defined, broadly, as a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that in any given year, approximately one in five U.S. adults, or 18.5 percent of the population, experiences mental illness. The number of people who suffer from a mental illness is in part so vast because there are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders.

With an understanding that mental illness affects millions of individuals, it should not be a phrase whispered guiltily, or held inside. Instead, all Americans should be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental illness so that they can proactively help themselves, or a loved one, obtain support and help for these treatable conditions. What follows is a list of general signs and symptoms that may indicate that you or a loved one have a mental illness. While its own set of specific symptoms accompanies each diagnosis, what follows are general signs that often indicate the presence of an underlying condition. If reading this list reinforces your belief that your feelings may be caused by a mental health disorder, speak with a mental health expert and ask for help.

Signs of Mental Illness in Young Children

  • Sudden changes in academic performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (e.g., refusing to go to bed or school)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Signs of Mental Illness in Children and Pre-Adolescents

  • Substance use
  • An inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Long periods of extremely negative moods, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
  • Unexpected outbursts of anger
  • Hyperactivity
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Withdrawing from school, activities, or sports
  • Extreme, debilitating fear
  • The presence of several physical ailments (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing general aches and pains)
  • Defiance of authority
  • Vandalism, theft, or truancy
  • Prolonged negative moods, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death

Signs of Mental Illness in Adults, Young Adults, and Adolescents

  • Confused thoughts
  • Depression that lasts for an extended period
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • General apathy
  • Extreme emotional highs and lows
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Intense feelings of anger
  • Substance abuse
  • Feeling disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings
  • Feelings of nervousness, fear, or suspicion
  • Experiencing a sense of unreality
  • Excessive fears, worries, and anxieties that impact behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Illogical thinking or unusual or exaggerated beliefs
  • An inability to think logically or explain thoughts and feelings
  • An increasing inability to cope with the expectations of daily responsibilities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Extreme changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to others
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anosognosia, or an inability to perceive changes in one’s feelings, behavior, or personality
  • The presence of unexplained physical ailments
  • Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch, often accompanied by avoidance of over-stimulating situations

If you or a loved one are experiencing several of the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor or a mental health professional. He or she can diagnose the presence of mental illness and can help you begin the process of effective treatment. If you live in the Western New York area, you may call Horizon’s patient support specialists at (716) 831-1800 whom can connect you with the correct resources.