As the medical community makes advances into the study of human life and health, the connections between physical and mental health become apparent. There was a time—not so long ago—when mental health conditions were a taboo subject and getting qualified help was difficult.
Not only has the science of mental health made dramatic progress since this time, but the stigma associated with poor mental health has gradually begun to disappear. Today, researchers quickly and extensively explore the biological basis of mental illness and the connections between mental health and the capacity to live an optimal life.1
Mental health today is a major concern, with the international suicide rate climbing by 60% over the last 50 years.2 Modern lifestyles and social demands have now filtered down to younger members of society. Children, teenagers, and young adults operate with premature thought processing because the brain is not even fully formed until the age of 25—according to other sources, not until the late 30s and 40s.3,4,5,6
Increased awareness of the need to care and cultivate the mind and its health leads to greater mental freedom for these suffering conditions to step forward and seek help. Early treatment is crucial in catching mental health conditions before their pervasive effects begin to interrupt social relations, professional positions, and even good physical health.
Mental health is a lot like physical health in many ways. For example, the common cold affects everyone and is not a sign of poor health. However, over five devastatingly bad colds in a year can be a sign that physical health is low.
Much in the same way, people have thousands of different ways of acting and reacting to the ups and downs that life brings. But, when do thought processes and behaviors become signs of mental illness? In all honesty, there is no simple answer for this, and psychologists and psychiatrists have invested years and small fortunes into gaining a better perspective on this question alone and continue to do so.
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Nevertheless, there are some medically agreed-upon signs that someone is struggling with a mental illness—nine of which will be explored below.
Remember that mental conditions are highly individual, and none of these signs should be used to diagnose yourself or your friends and loved ones. Actually, some of these symptoms may just be benign personality traits.
However, if you notice dramatic behavioral changes or more than one of the following symptoms, it may be a good time to seek mental health assistance.
Persistent Feelings of Worry and Anxiety
It is natural to be worried and concerned in this tumultuous modern age, but stress and anxiety are things to keep close tabs on. In a perfect natural world, stress would be rare and quickly reversed.
Today, too much stress can begin to cause physical symptoms of anxieties, like tapping fingers, shortness of breath, headaches, heart palpitations, and bowel conditions.
Sadness is another condition common to all, but when the individual feels powerless to escape this condition, it could be a sign that their case is more than just occasional sadness.
Depression can cause appetite loss, irritability, boredom, emotional outbursts, and lack of interest in activities that one normally finds entertaining. If symptoms like this persist for more than a few weeks, they could be a sign of depression.
People will be happy, sad, angry, passionate, and emphatic all the time. However, manifestation of these emotions in moments of anger, excitement, sorrow, fear, or distress could be a sign of poor emotional health and the need for clinical guidance.
Irregular Sleep Habits
One of the primary places where poor mental health will manifest itself is in sleep habits. It takes a quiet peaceful mind to enjoy a high-quality restful sleep. Factors like stress, depression, and anxiety often make themselves apparent in the wee hours of the night when one is left with nothing but their mind. Sudden changes in sleeping habits—either sleeping too much, too little or with an erratic schedule, can be indicative of mental illness.
Another place where conditions of the mind have full sway is in the regularity of the appetite. Stress is the fight-or-flight energy-mode that prepares the body for action and inhibits appetite. This counters the rest-and-digest energy-mode that allows for optimal appetite and digestive functions. When eating habits begin to change as a result of a mental health condition, weight gain or loss can result.
Sudden Social Withdrawal
Some people are naturally introverted and prefer a life of solitude to the high-excitement of social scenes. However, even the lone wolf requires some special connections. When a person suddenly begins to withdraw from their social life, it could be due to some emotional or mental struggles. Refusing to join in regular social activities, accompanied by anxious or depressive behavior could be a sign that something is amiss.
Addictive disorders are one of the most common types of mental illness. It is common to think of drugs, alcohol, and painkillers to be the primary addictive substances, but the threat is much larger. Even things like shopping, sugary-foods, caffeine, pornography, and online gambling can begin to affect the mind and affect regular life. There is a point where a balance must be found for good mental health to be cultivated.
Feelings of Guilt and Self-Loathing
When plagued with self-deprecating notions, some might think self-criticism is common to all. The truth is, using negative tones and sharp words when faced with failures and human error is a sign that self-esteem is low and emotional states are highly vulnerable. In conditions like this, the mind can become more susceptible to depression and self-damaging thoughts.
Subtle Changes in Behavior, Performance, or Personality
Sometimes, mental health conditions are well-hidden behind professional exteriors, positive attitudes, and disciplined commitment. Nevertheless, their effects appear in more subtle changes in thinking, performance in various areas of life, (professional, academic, athletic) or even just thought processes and perspectives. Again, mental health is not always about “fixing” a “problem.” Sometimes it can help to fine-tune thought processes and re-examine health levels by consulting with a professional for optimal well-being.7,8
The mind is the central processing unit for the way individuals view and perceive the world and react accordingly. When it is confronted with mental illness, behavior and psychological patterns can be altered to any degree. Some of these mental illnesses are fairly common and even predominant in western society, while others are not quite as common.
The medical community generally refrains from making any distinctions between which are the “common” or “uncommon” mental illnesses. But they do tell say that the risk of Stendhal Syndrome, which can cause anxiety in the presence of fine art and picturesque natural surroundings, is so rare that most mental health physicians will never see such a case.9
Emotions, experiences, and attitudes all impact eating habits and weight levels. A large number of factors contribute to the formation of the two major eating disorders, bulimia and anorexia nervosa. This includes genetic predisposition, psychological conditions, as well as physical and social factors.12
Personality disorders are a term given to a variety of non-standard personality traits that can cause issues with close relations and begin to affect performance in academic and professional surroundings. These disorders are characterized by thought and behavioral patterns that can interfere with day-to-day well-being. Personality disorders include paranoias, antisocial disorder, dependence, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more.13
Cluster A Personality Disorders
Cluster B Personality Disorders
Cluster C Personality Disorders
Anxiety disorders can cause an individual to think and behave in ways that are not appropriate for the situation, and this can greatly affect day-to-day life. The symptoms of anxiety disorders typically include a racing heart, sweaty palms, erratic breathing, and lightheadedness.
- Panic Disorder
- General Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
Addiction and Impulse Control Disorders
Ten percent of Americans suffering from mental illness have addictions and impulse control disorders. Sometimes, these activities are only harmful to the self, as in alcohol and substance abuse. However, at other times, they can include violent outbursts, theft, and arson.
- Intermittent Explosive Disorder — road rage, domestic violence, tantrums, etc.
Psychotic disorders are characterized by distorted awareness and thought processes. Individuals with these disorders often believe they are seeing, hearing, feeling, or otherwise experiencing things despite all evidence to the contrary. These delusions and hallucinations can be caused by more serious health conditions or could be a result of the following: 20, 21, 22
- Post-Partum Psychosis
Mood disorders directly impact the way a person feels and experiences elements of their life, such as places, people, and situations. This can often lead to great fluctuations between emotional extremes. Ten percent of the population experiences a mood disorder during the year. Those suffering from mood disorders may also be irritable, lethargic, restless, or isolated: 23
Increasing Awareness of Mental Health Conditions
The most important take-away from this overview is that awareness and increased mental health are the goals. By taking a healthier approach to the topic, more people can step out of the confines of mental illness and seek clinical assistance.
One in five Americans is suffering from mental illness, and 50% of all conditions begin in the teenage years. Mental health is not limited to isolated cases that can simply be brushed aside. Rather, it’s important that science and society progress when it comes to addressing mental health conditions. This can help ensure that all individuals have the chance to live relatively happy and healthy lives.24
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