If you’re like many people, you have a sticky relationship to mental illness, a stigma that isn’t helped by the media.
But the truth is, mental health issues are more common than you might think–nearly one in five Americans live with mental illness. In fact, over one’s entire lifetime, the average American has a 47.4% chance of having any kind of mental health disorder.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Mental health treatment can help you live a happier, healthier life. Here are ten signs that you may want to consider seeking treatment.
1. You’re Having Difficulty Coping with Life
The first sign seems pretty obvious: you’re having difficulty coping with life.
This might seem like a minor complaint–doesn’t everyone have trouble coping with life? And yes, most people struggle with life at some point or another.
It’s an issue when you notice that you haven’t been able to function as well as you once did, or you cannot function in a way appropriate to your circumstances. For example, if your trouble functioning is disproportionate to the problem at hand, then it might be cause for concern.
Another sign that it might be a mental health concern and not the typical struggles of life is if there doesn’t appear to be any reasonable explanation for your diminished coping skills, like a medical condition, the unexpected loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other significant life events.
What’s important to consider is whether this is a concern for you, not whether someone else would struggle under similar circumstances. If it’s enough of a problem that you want to change it, then it’s enough to warrant seeking help.
2. Excessive Anxiety
You run into traffic. You’re late for a meeting. You forget to answer an email. You bungle a date. You say something embarrassing.
Anxiety and stress happen all the time. And anxiety does have a real evolutionary purpose–it lends urgency to your deadline and keeps you on your toes if you’re about to be eaten by a lion. Even the stress that comes with new responsibilities from a job promotion is good stress.
But anxiety that’s out of control has a massive detrimental impact on your health, from heart problems to high blood pressure to skin conditions.
When anxiety just won’t go away, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
For example, if you find that you can’t sleep because you can’t stop replaying something you did wrong earlier in the day, or if you deliberately avoid certain places or situations because of the anxiety they cause.
You may not need to treat anxiety with medication if you don’t want to. A trained professional can teach you coping techniques to help keep your anxiety under control. You just have to ask.
3. You’re Depressed, Unhappy, or Apathetic
Everyone gets down from time to time. Sometimes, life deals you a bad hand.
But sometimes, those blues can be a red flag for depression.
When you think of a depressed person, you probably think of Eeyore–someone who’s tired all the time and always sad. In reality, one of the most commonly reported signs of depression isn’t sadness at all–it’s apathy.
Apathy is a feeling of overwhelming indifference to yourself, your life, and those around you, even towards people and things that previously excited you. It’s a lack of motivation to get out of bed in the morning and an inability to figure out why you cared about something.
This is a common feature of depression and manifests in a wide variety of ways, from the stereotypical low energy and hopelessness to difficulty concentrating and sleeping issues. It can show up as poor hygiene habits and peculiar eating because you just can’t bring yourself to care.
It can even show up as substance abuse.
And the truth is, depression isn’t sadness. Someone who’s sad can drag themselves out of it or remove themselves from the situation. Someone who’s depressed can’t drag themselves out of it, no matter how much they might want to.
That’s where a professional can help.
4. Excessive or Inexplicable Anger or Irritability
One of the less-talked-about signs of mental illness (especially depression) is a less than sympathetic symptom: irritability.
Anger and irritability have long languished in the dark, dusty corners of psychiatry. Doctors today are starting to recognize them as hallmarks of chronic depression.
It’s true that everyone gets angry or irritable from time to time. Some days just don’t go your way–your coworkers are being unnecessarily difficult, your kids aren’t listening to a word you say, you hit every red light and spill your coffee.
Anger becomes a problem when it manifests as disproportionate outbursts, significant chronic irritability, or hostility towards people who haven’t actually done anything to anger you.
Repressed anger and open hostility aren’t just a stressor on your relationships–they’re also detrimental to your physical health. It can worsen anxiety, weaken your immune system, and increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
5. Stuck in a Traumatic Event
Trauma is the emotional equivalent of an atom bomb. It’s destructive, wide-reaching, and shakes you to your core.
Some people bounce back from trauma without the need for additional help. But some people need more support than loved ones alone can provide.
Are you stuck reliving traumatic events? Are traumatic images branded in your brain and won’t turn off? Do certain experiences, situations, places, or objects throw you back to a traumatic experience? Are you feeling like you’re trapped in a horrible moment without a means to escape?
If you’re fighting to get through trauma and finding yourself turning towards unhealthy coping mechanisms, it may be time to seek professional help.
6. Weight or Appetite Changes
Our weight changes every day and fluctuates throughout our lives. Even our appetites change depending on the day and situation.
Even traumatic or stressful events can cause our appetite and eating patterns to shift. Eventually, though, we settle back into our normal routine. But when these appetite or weight changes come without warning or explanation, then there’s cause for concern.
Are you finding that you can’t finish a lunch that you used to devour readily? Are you finding yourself more hungry than usual? Are you finding yourself eating at unusual times or seeking out different foods than normal?
If you find that you can’t motivate yourself to prepare food and catch yourself grazing on a random collection of foods that are easy to grab, it could be a sign of depression. If everything tastes bland, it could also be a sign of depression.
Alternately, if you’re finding that you’re starving but have no appetite when you sit down to eat, it could be a symptom of out-of-control anxiety.
The same can be said if you find yourself reaching for sugary foods a lot, especially chocolate. There’s a reason Remus Lupin handed out chocolate after dealing with dementors–chocolate actually boosts serotonin in the brain, giving you a temporary mood boost.
But while chocolate can provide a bit of actual happiness, constantly reaching for Dove isn’t the answer.
7. An Unusual or Unhealthy Relationship to Food
This brings us to our next red flag: an unusual or unhealthy relationship with food.
The stereotype of eating disorders usually goes like this: high-achieving, perfectionist, thin teenage girls who don’t eat to stay skinny. The truth is that eating disorders are more complex than that, and you can have disordered eating patterns without a full-blown eating disorder.
In fact, disordered eating is a cultural epidemic. You’re just so used to it that you don’t notice it: constant dieting, being “good” when you order a salad for lunch and “bad” when you get a cookie, and needing to go to the gym to work off a big meal.
It becomes a problem when it starts to consume your life.
A distorted body image is one of the typical early signs of an eating disorder. This is often described as perceiving yourself as fat even if you aren’t, but it also involves hyperawareness of your own appearance and believing that others are paying more attention to your appearance than they actually are.
Another sign of disordered eating is a rigid set of rules around food that impact your ability to eat with or around others. For example, you’re not allowed to eat outside of certain specific times, or you’re not allowed to eat certain foods, or you have strict rules about how much food you’re allowed to take in.
This doesn’t just apply to restrictive eating, either. Binge eating (eating excessive amounts of food at one time) is a less-discussed but equally serious form of disordered eating. The same is true of binge-purge cycles in bulimia.
Regardless of the specific type, eating disorders have serious long-term health implications, from reduced circulation to heart problems to reproductive health.
8. Significant Changes to Your Sleep Patterns
Another sign of mental health concerns that you may not have considered is disrupted sleep patterns.
Generally, humans need seven to nine hours of sleep each night to function properly. Persistent and inexplicable changes to your sleeping habits or patterns can be a sign of mental health issues.
The link between anxiety and sleeping problems is one you’re probably already familiar with: difficulty falling asleep due to repeated anxious thoughts, difficulty staying asleep, stress dreams, etc.
The link between depression and sleeping disorders isn’t as well-known. Which is surprising, since sleep disturbances are one of the key diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder.
Medical professionals have found strong connections between the two–three-quarters of depressed patients have symptoms of insomnia, while 40% of depressed young adults and 10% of depressed older adults experience hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
Depression even changes the actual structure of your brain patterns during sleep. Sleep continuity and sleep efficiency in depressed patients is reduced, and while the duration of the first REM (rapid-eye-movement) is increased, overall REM latency is decreased.
In plain English, that means you spend less time in deep sleep (when your brain does cell repair) and you spend more of your sleeping hours on the edge of wakefulness, which means you wake up feeling less rested (or as if you didn’t sleep at all).
If you notice significant changes to your sleeping patterns (unable to fall asleep or stay asleep, sleeping at odd hours, etc.) then talk to a doctor.
9. You’re Using Substance Abuse to Cope
When everything else in your head seems to be going haywire or you can’t seem to get a handle on your life, you might notice a few concerning patterns.
Your evening happy hour cocktail becomes three. You start smoking again, or you smoke more than before. You find yourself reaching for the medicine cabinet to quiet your brain down, or seeking something stronger than what’s in your medicine cabinet.
There’s a strong and concerning link between substance abuse and mental health disorders, especially when individuals feel that they can’t talk about mental health issues or when they don’t have ready access to treatment.
Even people with undiagnosed ADD self-medicate as a way to calm their brains enough to be productive.
But substance abuse isn’t the answer, even if it seems to work temporarily. Many addicts argue that they’re in control when they’re not, and for people with mental health problems, abuse can only exacerbate the issue.
10. You are Contemplating Suicide
Finally, there’s the taboo of all mental health taboos: suicide.
Suicidal thoughts and actions are primarily associated with mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder, though they can result from other circumstances, like the sudden loss of a job or a particularly difficult divorce.
Suicidal ideation comes in many shades but can generally be classed in one of two categories: passive and active.
Active suicidal ideation is the type you’ve probably heard about the most. This is when someone has an existing, pressing wish to die and has taken concrete steps toward this, such as forming a plan, giving away possessions, or saying goodbye to loved ones.
Passive suicidal ideation is more insidious. Essentially, it means that an individual thinks about their death on a regular basis, and may even consider the means by which they could end their life, but has not taken any steps to do so or does not have a pressing need to do so.
Think of passive suicidal ideation like a pattern of behavior–sort of like having an out that your brain can fall back on when hard times encroach, a sort of “get out of jail free” card, as it were.
If you are considering suicide, actively or passively, seek help immediately. Find a loved one or a professional who you trust to listen to your whole story and respond in a helpful manner.
If You Need Mental Health Treatment
If you do need mental health treatment, let’s be clear: you have nothing to be ashamed of. You’re taking the steps you need to live a fuller, healthier life, like someone healing a broken arm or taking insulin for diabetes.
We offer a range of mental health rehabilitation services, including residential, outpatient, and aftercare.
If you’d like to speak with us about what we can do to help, don’t hesitate. Use our contact page to get in touch about your options.
Stigma of Mental Illness – https://everydayfeminism.com/2012/12/mental-illness-stigma/
Suicide Ideation – https://healthfully.com/active-vs-passive-suicidal-ideation-5681297.html
AttitudeMag – https://www.additudemag.com/the-truth-about-adhd-and-addiction/
Eating Disorders – https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/chronic-and-long-term-effects-of-eating-disorders-in-adulthood
Binge Eating – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bulimia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353615
Disordered Eating Patterns – https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/disordered-eating-vs-eating-disorders-what-is-the-difference
Anger and Anxiety – https://www.everydayhealth.com/news/ways-anger-ruining-your-health/