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Mental Illness: Know the Warning Signs


Trying to tell the difference between normal behaviors and what might be a sign of a mental illness isn't always easy. There's no definitive test that can let someone know if it’s mental illness or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors or the result of a physical illness.

Each diagnosis has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include:

  • Excessive worrying or fear

  • Feeling excessively sad or low

  • Cutting or self-harm

  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria

  • Overactive sex drive or inappropriate sexual activity

  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

  • Avoiding friends and social activities

  • Inability to get our of bed

  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people

  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

  • No sex drive

  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality)

  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)

  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs

  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)

  • Thoughts about suicide or wishing to no longer exist

  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance


Mental health conditions can also develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about their thoughts and emotions, their most obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms of mental illness in children include:

  • Changes in school performance

  • Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school

  • Hyperactive behavior

  • Frequent nightmares

  • Frequent disobedience or aggression

  • Frequent temper tantrums

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