Recognizing the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness

Misbah Akhtar

woman lying down journaling-mental healthWithout healthy living, everything else is irrelevant. That’s why mental illnesses can hamper our state of well-being and healthy living when left unchecked and untreated for longer periods.

Major mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia rarely manifest “out of the blue.” In most cases, close friends and family members start to recognize small changes that something “isn’t quite right” about your thinking, behavior, or feeling before the illness shows itself in its full-blown form.
That is why it is more important to learn about the developing signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and take immediate action. Early intervention of such conditions can help reduce the severity of their damage. In some cases, it can delay or even prevent other major illness conditions from manifesting altogether.

Defining Mental Illness

Mental illnesses are conditions that affect the brain’s normal functioning by altering our thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Mental illness conditions can alter how you feel, think, or act. For some, this could mean experiencing extreme mood changes. This could mean feeling more sad, anxious, or worried than normal. In other cases, it could mean not being able to think or communicate clearly with other people. It could also mean having bizarre thoughts to explain the weird feelings.

As of writing this, there are over 200 classified forms of mental illnesses. And in most cases, their symptoms are somewhat similar and may include changes in mood, personal habits, personality, and social withdrawal.
Several studies point to excessive stress as being the leading cause of mental health problems. This could be a result of a particularly stressful situation or series of events. Like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, mental illnesses can manifest physically, emotionally, as well as psychologically.

However, with proper care and treatment, you can cope with and recover from a mental health disorder.

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The signs and symptoms of mental illnesses can vary greatly, depending on the disorder, circumstances, and other underlying factors, which we will discuss in this post. Most symptoms of mental illnesses affect emotions, behaviors, and thoughts.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of mental illnesses include:

  • Extreme mood changes
  • Excessive fears and worries
  • Confused thinking and reduced concentration ability
  • Withdrawal from friends and normal activities
  • Problems with drug and alcohol abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Significant tiredness, problems sleeping, and low energy
  • Inability to cope with daily stresses and problems
  • Trouble understanding and relating to people and situations
  • Detachment from reality, paranoia, or hallucinations
  • Excessive anger, violence, or hostility

At other times, the symptoms may appear as physical problems, such as headaches, stomach pains, back pains, or other unexplained pains and aches.

When to See a Primary Care Provider

One or two of the symptoms above cannot always predict mental illness. However, it is always best to seek further evaluation from a professional primary care provider just to be sure. If you’re experiencing several signs and symptoms at a time and they are hampering your ability to perform your daily routines, seek medical attention immediately.
People with suicidal thoughts of harming themselves or others need immediate attention.

What Causes Mental Illness?

There’s no single cause of mental illness. Several studies show that mental illness can stem from several different factors (sometimes in combination). Below are the most common factors that may influence your chances of developing mental illness:

  • Genetics – experts have long studied and identified mental illness as a condition that tends to run in families. This suggests a genetic component. That’s why people with relatives with mental illnesses like autism, major depression, and bipolar disorder have a higher risk of developing the conditions.
  • Environmental exposures – infants exposed to certain environments and substances in utero have a higher risk of developing mental disorders. If the mother drank alcohol or used drugs while pregnant, then the infant might be at increased risk.
  • Biology –brain chemistry also plays a major role in developing mental illness. This may result in changes and imbalance in the brain’s neurotransmitters (chemical messengers within the brain), which result in mental disorders.
  • Life experiences – life stresses have also been known to contribute to mental illness development. For example, experiencing a series of traumatic events may cause a condition like PTSD or attachment disorder in children.


Diagnosing Mental Illness

Diagnosing a mental disorder is a multi-step process that includes more than one healthcare provider.

  • Physical Exam
    You will need to take a physical exam that rules out any physical condition. Some mental illnesses like anxiety and depression may result from physical causes. Other physical diseases may also be misdiagnosed as mental health illnesses because of their overlapping symptoms. That’s why it is vital to undergo a thorough physical exam.
    If your doctor doesn’t find any physical cause for your condition, you will most probably be referred to a primary care professional to evaluate you for mental illness. This leads us to our next diagnosis process.
  • Psychological Evaluation
    A psychologist or psychiatrist will ask you some questions related to your symptoms. They may even ask your family members to participate in helping them get a clear overview of the underlying symptoms.
    At other times, the mental health professional may administer tests and psychological evaluation tools to find a more accurate diagnosis and determine the severity of the mental illness.


NOTE: it is not uncommon for your diagnosis to determine that you have more than one mental illness. Some conditions may increase the risks of other disorders. That’s why you find anxiety disorders may develop depressive disorders when not diagnosed and treated soon.

RELATED: Improving your mental state of health without prescription drugs

Treating Mental Illness

Most mental health disorders aren’t considered “curable.” However, most are treatable. The treatments for mental illnesses vary significantly depending on each individual’s diagnosis and the severity of the symptoms.
Some mental health disorders respond well to medications, while others respond best to talk therapy. Other studies also show that complementary and alternative therapies are great for certain mental conditions.

In most situations, treatment plans include the use of multiple treatment options and may require some trial and error before determining the best treatment options that work best for you.

Can You Recover from Mental Illness?

While recovery can mean different things, you can improve your mental illness symptoms with support and the right treatment options. Every condition must be assessed carefully for individualized treatment.
Learning about mental health can help you and your family understand the significance of the signs and symptoms of each condition, how the illness can develop, and how to treat or cure it.

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