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Detecting Mental Illness: Do You Know the Signs?

By Dr. Larry Wu | October 25, 2017 | Health Conditions

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At the beginning of October, we recognized World Mental Health Day, a day where people from around the world raise awareness and spread support for mental health. While it is great that we have a period of time dedicated to this cause, mental health needs more than just one day, one week or one month. Why? Because the number of people struggling with mental illness is increasing and people still do not always know how to detect when someone is suffering from mental illness.

Mental illness can present itself in various ways that differ based on age. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has compiled a list of common signs of mental illness in adults and children.

Signs of Mental Illness in Adults

According to NAMI, approximately 18.5 percent of adults experience mental illness each year. The following signs can help determine if you or someone you know may have a mental illness.

  • Feeling anxious, worried or fearful: While worrying from time to time is common, being constantly worried, anxious or fearful may be signs of a mental health condition.
  • Behavior changes: Behavioral changes include sudden or drastic changes in sleeping, eating, sex drive or social habits. Inability to fall or stay asleep, being withdrawn are common signs.
  • Disturbing mood changes or prolonged feelings: While everyone experiences mood changes, extreme outbursts or prolonged feelings of anger or irritability can indicate a mental illness.
  • Inability to perceive reality or relate to others: Individuals suffering from a mental illness sometimes build fantasy worlds or have delusions. This can make it difficult to separate what is real from what is not.
  • Confused thinking or problems carrying out daily activities: Changes in not being able to concentrate, think logically or remember tasks or activities can accompany many mental health conditions.
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs: Alcohol or recreational drugs can be used to cope with a mental illness. Be on the lookout for an increased use of these substances.
  • Thoughts or attempts of suicide or self-harm: A mental illness may be the reason for thoughts or attempts of suicide. Such thoughts include thoughts of worthlessness and death. These warning signs should always be taken seriously. In the event of an emergency always call 911. 

Signs of Mental Illness in Children

According to NAMI, approximately 13 percent of children age eight to fifteen experience a severe mental illness at some point in their lives. These signs can help you determine if a child you know may have a mental illness.

  • Changes in school performance: Common examples include a drop in grades, acting out in class, being withdrawn or an increase in disciplinary action.
  • Excessive worry or anxiety: Like adults, some worry is normal, but excessive worry or anxiety about school, friends, sports or other activities can indicate a mental illness.
  • Hyperactive behavior: These behaviors include fidgeting, constantly moving, impulsivity or being easily distracted. They’re only concerning if they occur noticeably more than in other children.
  • Frequent nightmares: While all kids have nightmares, frequent night terrors or trouble sleeping can indicate a mental illness.    
  • Frequent disobedience or aggression: Children can be disobedient or aggressive at times, but if these behaviors become excessive and more frequent, a mental illness may be the underlying cause.
  • Frequent temper tantrums: Daily temper tantrums can be indicators of bipolar disorder, depression, or other mood disorders.  

How to Get Help

The good news is that mental health conditions are treatable!  If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the signs listed above, seek treatment as soon as possible. To get in contact with your provider, reference the phone number on the back of your member ID card or use the Find a Doctor tool on our website.

The best way to help those with a mental illness is to take action. Do not wait to seek help