The organization Mental Health America estimates that 54 million Americans have some form of mental health issue in any given year. For some people, the emergence of the illness is caused by something that can be spotted and addressed, such as an addiction. For others, the illness is caused by something deep-set, such as genetics. For still others, the issue emerges due to some sort of crisis or circumstance.

Clearly, the causes of mental health disorders can be deeply variable, and that makes identifying triggers very difficult. But when an illness is in play, there are often clear-cut and understandable symptoms people can look for.

mental health disorders signs
  1. Depression

This mental health issue is typically described as a “blue” mood that lasts and lasts without ceasing. People who have depression may work hard to hide the issue, but the National Institute of Mental Health says breakthrough symptoms that families might notice include:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that once brought pleasure
  • Apathy
  • Inability to express any emotion
  • Low energy
  • Slow reaction times
  • Frequent mentions of physical pain, or multiple visits to the doctor for pain
  • Increased need for sleep during the day
  • Late-night insomnia
  • Changes in appetite
  • Use of words like worthless, hopeless, or helpless
  • Suicidal thoughts or mentions
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This mental illness is typically sparked by an event in which the person was the victim of, or witness to, trauma – often, this trauma involves fear of death. War experiences, terrorist attacks, physical violence, rape, transportation accidents, or natural disasters could all start the PTSD process in motion. Symptoms of PTSD can include:

  • Vivid nightmares
  • Flashbacks, or hallucinations in which the person believes the event is still happening
  • Agitation
  • Avoidance of things that remind the person of the attack
  • Increased use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Insomnia
  • Flashes of unprovoked anger
  • Suicidal thoughts (The National Center for PTSD says this risk is highest among war veterans with multiple wounds and/or hospitalization due to war wounds.)
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Boost in impulsivity
  • Social isolation

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  1. Specific Phobias

People with this mental health condition have an irrational fear of something that others find completely harmless. Insects, travel, specific people, or specific places might all be targets of this phobia. When the person encounters the thing that is the focus of the phobia, the person may:

  • Tremble
  • Sweat
  • Seem unable to look away
  • Freeze in place
  • Grow nauseated
  • Look away
  • Stammer
  • Grow rigid
  • Have a very fast pulse
  • Grow pale and clammy
  • Pass out

People with specific phobias may work hard to avoid their trigger items by:

  • Rearranging daily routines
  • Developing elaborate rules about online searches
  • Sticking close to home
  • Making excuses
  • Breaking plans
  1. Bipolar Disorder

According to Mayo Clinic, there are several different types of bipolar disorder. In addition, each type can work a little differently in different people. As a result, it is difficult to outline what symptoms look like in all people. There are too many variables to account for. In general, bipolar symptoms include:

  • Mania, or feelings of increased grandeur and importance, demonstrated by increased energy, reduced need for sleep, rapid speech, and expressions of self-praise
  • Depression, or feelings of sadness or loss, demonstrated by increased need for sleep, increased expressions of worthlessness or hopelessness, and reduced energy
  • Cycling between mania and depression
  • Staying depressed for long periods with no mania at all
  1. Schizophrenia

For people with this mental illness, the line between what is real and what is unreal can dim. That means people with schizophrenia may:

  • Hear sounds others cannot hear
  • See things that are invisible to others
  • Talk to people others cannot see
  • Grow compelled to do things that seem unusual to others
  • Experience deep mood shifts
  • Speak unintelligibly
  1. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

This is an illness often associated with very young children, but it can also strike adults. According to the magazine ADDitude, symptoms in adults can include:

  • Difficulties with organization
  • Persistent procrastination in the face of real deadlines
  • Inability to complete projects
  • Impulsivity
  • Persistent boredom
  • Inability to follow directions or track a complicated discussion
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Alcoholism
  • Overworking
  • Overeating
  • Impatience
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fidgeting
  • Carelessness

Many of these symptoms come into sharp focus at work, which means adults with ADHD often have difficulty keeping jobs or performing well in the jobs they can keep.

  1. Anorexia

A deep dip in weight that the person refuses to amend is a key sign of anorexia; however, with the right clothing and lighting, someone with this mental illness may keep the issue a secret. Losing weight is no easy feat, and people with anorexia must work hard to make it happen. They can do that by:

  • Limiting the number of times they eat in front of others
  • Cooking for others and then serving meals, leaving no time for eating
  • Pushing food around on the plate to give the appearance of eating
  • Eating specific, low-cal foods like cucumbers and celery
  • Using exercise to burn off calories ingested

As anorexia progresses, people develop serious physical problems, which can manifest as:

  • Unusual hair growth
  • Trembling
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness
  • Stumbling
  • Fainting
  • Confused thinking
  • Low body temperature
  1. Bulimia

People with this disorder are often concerned with body shape and size, but they sabotage their weight-loss efforts. Common symptoms include:

  • Frequent binges, in which people eat a great deal of food in one sitting
  • Feelings of guilt or disgust after the binge
  • Vomiting after the binge
  • Using laxatives after the binge
  • Exercising regularly in order to burn off calories

Physical symptoms associated with bulimia include:

  • Swollen cheeks due to inflamed salivary glands
  • Finger injuries
  • Tooth decay
  • Persistent constipation
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weight gain
  1. Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder in the United States, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Like bulimia, it involves eating a great deal of food in one sitting. Unlike bulimia, there is no purging involved with this disorder. Instead, people binge and live with the consequences of the binge. As a result, weight gain is the most common symptom associated with this disorder.

People with BED may not binge out in the open, in front of people who can see them. Signs of a binge include:

  • Secret stashes of food
  • Large amounts of food wrappers and packaging
  • Hidden receipts for food
  • Large amounts of food missing
  • Inability to awaken in the morning, due to late-night binging
  • Large amounts of dishes washed at night
  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is a common part of life for people with this mental health issue. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, common anxiety symptoms include:

  • Inability to relax
  • Frequent startling
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Tense, tight muscles
  • Inability to swallow
  • Trembling
  • Fidgeting
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Hot flashes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting

For some people, these symptoms come and go. They may have days in which they feel perfectly healthy and in control, followed by days in which they struggle to do any sort of task at all. For others, these symptoms persist day in and day out, making a healthy and fulfilling life very difficult to attain.

  1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

This mental health disorder comes in two phases, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Both must be present in order for the OCD label to apply.

The first phase involves obsessions. People with OCD may be preoccupied or overly concerned with:

  • Cleanliness
  • Order or symmetry
  • Safety of loved ones
  • Specific objects that seem worthless to others

These obsessions are overwhelming and difficult to ignore for someone with OCD. Worries and concerns may intrude on everyday life to such a degree that the person finds it hard to accomplish vital tasks. The thoughts are repellent to the person with OCD.

In a push to remove or resolve those obsessions, people with OCD may:

  • Wash up or clean aggressively and repetitively.
  • Check and recheck household items for safety, such as light switches, door locks, or oven handles.
  • Repeat behaviors, such as saying a phrase or walking through a door.
  • Create rituals, such as counting items, walking in a specific way, or using a specific phrase.

For a person with OCD, these tasks can take up hours and hours of every day. They do not bring the person any kind of pleasure. They are simply something the person feels must be done, no matter the price.

What to Do Next

When these symptoms appear, families can:

  1. Acknowledge the issue.
  2. Determine how long it has been happening.
  3. Ask a family doctor for advice on how to proceed.
  4. Talk to the person about the doctor’s advice.
  5. Schedule an appointment with the doctor.
  6. Hold an intervention if the person will not go in for care.
  7. Schedule follow-up care or admission into treatment.

These steps may seem harsh, but mental illness can be a deadly foe. By treating the issue seriously, families are doing their part to ensure that the person can get better, not worse.

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