Common Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Approximately 54 million people in the U.S. experience some type of mental disorder in any given year.

There are over 200 different classifications of mental health issues a person may have, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Regardless of the specific diagnosable disorder or disorders you may have, many warning signs and symptoms of mental health issues are the same. According to the American Psychiatric Association, half of all cases of mental illness begin by 14 years of age and three-fourths begin by 24 years of age. Knowing the warning signs to look for and recognizing them as soon as they appear can help you to seek therapeutic interventions as early as possible.

While just one or two signs or symptoms of mental health issues does not necessarily signal a cause for concern, encountering several at once might indicate a mental health issue is present. Moreover, when these experiences interfere with the ability to function at work and in life, then the help of a mental health professional may be in order. Early intervention can help slow the progression of an illness and decrease its symptoms. It may even help prevent the onset of a major mental health issue entirely. Therefore, if you notice any of the signs or symptoms of mental health issues in yourself or another person, then make sure you seek professional support as soon as possible. Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or intentions should seek professional attention right away.

Mental and Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Common mental health issues can affect the way you think and feel about people and things in your life. Familiar thought patterns can suddenly seem alien, replaced by altogether new ones marked by the following:

  • Lowered functioning – A reduction in ability to function at work, school or social activities, like having trouble performing routine tasks, failing classes or quitting teams
  • Irrational thinking – Strange or overblown beliefs regarding powers you possess to comprehend hidden meanings or influence events
  • Trouble thinking – Inexplicable difficulty concentrating, memory problems and challenges with speech and logical thinking
  • Emotional numbness – Apathy and diminished interest or drive for engaging in any activity
  • Mood swings – Dramatic and rapid changes in feelings and emotional responses

Social and Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues can also impact your social interactions and your reactions and behaviors regarding everyday tasks, events and activities in ways like the following:

  • Withdrawal – Lack of interest in other people and social withdrawal
  • Disconnection – A sense of dissociation or distance from reality, of being disconnected from yourself or your environment and of unreality as well as avoiding overstimulating circumstances and events
  • Nervous behavior – Suspicion and fear of other people. Powerful nervous energy
  • Uncharacteristic behavior – Any sudden atypical, uncommon or unusual behavior. Acting out
  • Appetite or sleep changes – Dramatic changes in your eating or sleeping patterns and a reduction in your level of personal care

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Sometimes, mental health issues can cause physical signs and symptoms. Back pain and stomach pains, headaches and other inexplicable aches and pains can all be the result of mental health issues. Mental health issues can also alter your sex drive. Many times, people mistake physical signs of mental health issues as symptoms of physical illness like a cold or flu, which is one of the reasons why mental health maintenance is important.

Age-Specific Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Adolescents, young adults and adults experience the symptoms so far described more than any other age group. However, other age groups exhibit other signs and symptoms of mental health issues more commonly.

In young children, mental health issues may appear as alterations in academic performance, possibly including low grades in spite of good effort. Young children with mental health issues may also exhibit hyperactivity or temper tantrums or display consistent aggression or disobedience. Younger children with mental health issues may have nightmares regularly. In addition, they may project intense anxiety and worry onto common activities like getting out of bed or going to school.

Older and pre-adolescent children may be prone to experiment with substance use as a means of coping with mental health issues and avoiding their problems and daily activities. They may complain about physical distresses excessively. They may engage in vandalism, theft and truancy, as well as defy authority and exhibit frequent angry outbursts, yet they may also exhibit extreme terror. Pre-adolescents and older children may undergo sustained bad moods, often with morose or morbid thinking and a lack of appetite or ability to sleep.

Crises and Complications: Severe Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Untreated mental health issues can lead to self-harm, including suicide, and harm to others, including homicide. Getting mental health treatment during periods of extreme crisis is just as important as seeking professional help beforehand. When mental health issues are left unaddressed, they can grow and spread, eventually leading to significant life crises and complications like the following:

  • Social isolation
  • Familial conflict
  • Substance abuse
  • Missed or quitting school or work, or other related problems
  • Financial problems
  • Legal troubles
  • Homelessness, poverty and hunger
  • Lowered immune system and increased susceptibility to illness, injury and infection
  • Heart disease and other serious health conditions

Risk Factors for Mental Health Issues

You cannot examine signs and symptoms of mental health issues without taking risk factors into account. Risk factors are almost a type of sign or symptom, in that they indicate the propensity for something to exist. If you notice some of the aforementioned signs of mental illness and are aware of the risk factors, then you can more confidently deduce that the signs are indeed of mental illness.

Some of these risk factors that let you know a person’s thinking and behavior may be indications of mental health issues include the following:

  • Blood relatives with mental illness
  • Stressful or traumatic life events
  • Brain damage caused by a severe injury
  • Substance use
  • Neglect or abuse as a child
  • A prior mental illness diagnosis

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