Do You Know the Warning Signs of Mental Illness?

01/09/2018 11:43 am ET

While the conversation surrounding mental illness has certainly been amplified in recent years, it’s still sort of taboo to discuss in mixed company. This is unfortunate since it’s a rampant problem that requires careful and calculated decision making.

Squashing the Mental Illness Stigma

Mental illnesses often get avoided because people don’t understand them. Unlike a physical illness that’s relatively easy to grasp – such as cancer or disease – mental illnesses are hard to grasp. Thus, instead of taking the time to study and understand them, most people choose to look the other way. Sadly, we can’t afford to do this any longer.

According to research gathered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 43.8 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year. That means approximately 1 in 5 adults are exposed to some type of mental illness annually. Nearly 10 million adults experience a “serious” mental illness that substantially interferes with or limits major life activities in a given year. The most common mental illnesses are anxiety disorders, depressive episodes, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

According to the NAMI, serious mental illness costs the U.S. $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year, while individuals facing these issues have an increased risk of developing chronic medical conditions. And when you study suicide, mental illnesses are often the culprit.

When you look at mental illness through the lens of these statistics, it becomes clear that these issues are actually relatively common in our society. Thus, instead of avoiding them, we should be having open conversations about how we can improve.

7 Warning Signs of Mental Illness

As you can see, mental illnesses aren’t as rare as you may have thought. Whether you suspect you might be having some issues, or you feel like a friend or loved one is going through something, it’s always helpful to understand the warning signs. Take a look:

1. Withdrawal

One of the most common byproducts of mental illness is disengagement. When the brain ceases normal functioning, people tend to become withdrawn and start focusing their energy inwardly, as opposed to outwardly. While everyone reacts differently, most people have issues being in social settings and do whatever they can to spend time alone.

2. Substance Abuse and Addictive Behaviors

Believe it or not, substance abuse is often a sign of some sort of mental illness. This isn’t always the case, but you’ll find it to be true more often than not.

“In most cases, people who suffer from substance addiction are also suffering from an underlying mental health disorder. Medical experts believe that people who do not know they have a mental health disorder will often self-medicate rather than seek help,” Drug Treatment Finders explains. “When people self-medicate, they become addicted and have the potential to destroy every aspect of their lives.”

3. Problems Thinking and Concentrating

Mental illnesses cause breakdowns in the brain and prevent normal cognitive processing. As a result, people with mental illnesses often exhibit issues with concentration, memory, logical thought, and even speech. While it’s normal to have brief bouts with thinking and concentration, prolonged problems indicate a more serious issue.

4. Unusual Behaviors

People are creatures of habit. If you notice someone close to you doing something strange or unusual for their personality, don’t just write it off. This behavior could be a sign that something is going on inside the brain.

5. Sudden Mood Changes

While bipolar disorder is often characterized by sudden mood swings, it’s not the only disease that causes these shifts. In fact, because of the altered cognitive functioning at the brain level, almost any mental illness can create sudden mood changes. If these mood swings happen over and over again, you might need to consider what’s really going on behind the scenes.

6. Seeing or Hearing Things That Aren’t Real

If someone claims to see or hear things that aren’t real, this is one of the more obvious signs that something isn’t right. Some mental illnesses are so strong that they can actually alter the reality people find themselves in. While everyone around the person knows the voice or image isn’t real, it’s nearly impossible to convince the individual otherwise.

7. Suicidal Thoughts

Finally, suicidal thoughts are a clear sign that something is wrong inside the brain. If you or a loved one have suicidal thoughts, you should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately and/or speak to a mental health specialist.

Putting it All Together

Whether it’s something you deal with or not, it’s no longer fair to stigmatize mental illness in this country. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anything in between, we all have a civic duty to be aware of these illnesses and work together to identify solutions and provide support for those in need. Are you ready to do your part?

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