Howdy, Psych2Goers! Before we begin this article, I just wanted to put out a disclaimer that the following article is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure anyone. It is for educational purposes only, and should not be used in lieu of receiving professional help. If you or someone you know may be struggling, please seek advice from a professional, such as a therapist or psychiatrist.
Have you ever felt like you don’t quite feel the way you think you should? You can’t quite put your finger on it, but something about your mood or mentality may just feel off. Have you ever wondered if there may be something deeper at play? Is someone you love exhibiting behaviors that seem uncharacteristic? Have you been sad or withdrawn for seemingly no reason? Have you noticed you, or someone else, has simply been different? If you answered yes to any of this, you may want to consider the possibility of having a mental illness. Mental illnesses are very common, and affect a lot of people daily. If you’re not sure where to start on figuring out if you or someone you love may be struggling with a mental illness, here are 8 mental health warning signs that you should be on the lookout for.
- Feeling Sad or Withdrawn For An Extended Amount of Time
One warning sign for mental health is feeling sad or withdrawn for an extended amount of time. Typically, this would last for at least two weeks or more. This sadness can seemingly come out of nowhere, and it can feel overwhelming. This can also cause an intense feeling of separating, or feeling isolated from the people around you. This warning sign is common with different types of depression, and is something to pay attention to and keep an eye on. If the sadness and withdrawal continues to get worse, or does not get better, it’s a good idea to speak with a trusted professional, such as a therapist.
- Risky Behaviors
Have you noticed you or someone else taking part in risky behaviors, or behaviors they normally wouldn’t get involved with? Risky behavior is a warning sign of multiple mental illnesses, such as depression or bipolar disorder. This type of risky behavior is not simply “teenage rebellion”; mild behaviors like drastic haircuts or safe piercings are common in teenagers and adolescents striving for independence. More concerning behaviors that should be addressed include doing drugs, smoking, risky sexual endeavors, and spending time with toxic or unhealthy people and peers.
- Overwhelming Fear for No Reason
Another common warning sign for mental health is an overwhelming sense of fear, for no apparent reason. This fear can show up in multiple different ways, both physically and mentally. This can include racing thoughts, feeling unsafe, fast heartbeat, difficulty breathing, intrusive thoughts, concern of dying, and excessive sweating. This fear can be a sign of anxiety. If it often leads to panic attacks, that can be a sign of an anxiety or panic disorder. Anxiety also tends to go hand-in-hand with other mental illnesses, such as depression. If you or someone you know is experiencing extreme fear and anxiety, it’s definitely worth taking a look at.
- Making Plans to Kill or Harm Yourself
One of the biggest warning signs that someone may be struggling with a mental illness is thoughts of self-harm or suicide. While it can often be common to think about death, suicidal ideation is very different. Suicidal ideation and thoughts of self-harm include knowing how or when you would hurt yourself, making a plan, figuring out logistics and details of a plan to hurt yourself, or having the urge to hurt yourself or make a suicide attempt. Suicidal ideation is a serious warning sign that should not be ignored. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideations, please reach out to a trusted professional, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Difficulties with Eating
Do you have trouble eating? Do you refuse to eat, or intentionally throw up after you’ve eaten something? This may be a warning sign of some kind of eating disorder. Eating disorders are disorders that affect the relationship we have with food. Being a picky eater is typically not a cause for concern. Eating problems that should be given your attention are refusal to eat for a day or more, purging (making yourself throw up after eating), restricting yourself to very small portions or a drastically small amount of food, or obsessing over calorie intake and weight. Disordered eating can lead to severe health problems over time, and should be treated by a professional.
- Severe Mood Swings
Everyone can be moody sometimes; it happens. However, extreme mood swings that happen on a regular basis are something that should definitely receive consideration. Severe mood swings are intense and overwhelming waves of emotion that can be nearly impossible to control. Mood swings such as extreme sadness or excessive happiness could be signs of a few different disorders, the most common being bipolar disorder. These mood swings often pair with an inability to stabilize emotions, a lack of self-regulation, and exhaustion. If you’re experiencing severe mood swings, talk to a doctor or psychiatrist about what the problem may be.
- Lack of Motivation
Have you noticed that you don’t get any pleasure anymore out of things you used to enjoy? Have you stopped wanting to do things you used to do all the time? This is called anhedonia. Anhedonia is a lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, or a lack of motivation to do anything. Anhedonia can cause an inability to do normal tasks or activities, not feeling up to doing anything, or being overwhelmed by doing typical tasks. If you used to play soccer, but suddenly have no interest in going outside and kicking the ball around, and this feeling lasts for more than a week, this can be a warning sign of a few different mental illnesses. However, lack of motivation is most commonly related to depression.
- Extreme Difficulty Concentrating
A common sign of a few different mental illnesses is a difficulty concentrating or paying attention. Though not as commonly thought of as a mental illness, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is common in children and adolescents. However, it can often go undiagnosed well into adulthood. Problems related to ADHD can show up as zoning out, being excessively distracted, and an inability to focus on one thing for an extended amount of time. A difficulty concentrating can cause problems with work and school, and is something to take notice of.
Bottom line is, if you feel like something may be off about your mental health, or you’re noticing any of these warning signs, it may be worth going to speak to a doctor or trusted professional. If you’re feeling too intimidated or nervous about talking to a professional, a good course of action would be to find an ally that may be willing to be with you on the journey to feeling better. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can go to www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml for resources to get started.