If you worry that your struggles in life may be related to mental illness, you are not alone. Many people wonder, “Am I mentally ill?”
It can actually enhance your mental well-being to ask questions like this. Early intervention and treatment is the key to achieving a happier life, and self-inquiry can lead to finding the right help.
One thing that prevents people from seeking treatment and support is the stigma associated with mental illness, but you are not alone. In any given year, about one in five adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness. For one in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4% — a serious mental illness substantially interferes with or limits life activities.
The discovery and diagnosis may begin with debilitating symptoms, or a sense of confusion or despair about why you feel or behave a certain way. You may experience a low point or a crisis situation that prompts you to wonder, “Am I mentally ill?” And you may have other questions, such as:
- Why am I so sad?
- Is this what a nervous breakdown feels like?
- Why are bad things happening around me?
- How do I get help?
Becoming Aware of Mental Illness
Mental illness can take many forms, from major to minor and everything in between. It can be as complex and debilitating as any physical illness including cancer or heart disease. It should be taken seriously and treated as soon as it is identified.
You may have family members with mental illness and recognize some of the symptoms in yourself, or perhaps you have heard or read about certain conditions. Family members may express concern over symptoms they’ve noticed. You may relate to characters in books, movies and on TV who have mental illnesses and wonder, “Am I mentally ill, too?” Or ask if you have a specific condition:
- Am I depressed?
- Am I bipolar?
- Do I have schizophrenia?
Symptoms of Mental Illness
Every mental health disorder is unique and requires a different mental health treatment approach. It is crucial you consult a mental health professional who can guide you through proper assessment and psychological testing.
One of the great challenges of mental illness is that people who are severely impacted do not have the ability to clearly see or assess their problem. Here are some of the symptoms of major mental illnesses. These are not meant to diagnose but to guide you in seeking help if you notice any of these symptoms.
Am I Depressed?
Major depressive disorder symptoms include:
- Despair and hopelessness
- Apathy and loss of interest
- Mood swings
- Overeating or under-eating
- Oversleeping or insomnia
- Rumination on negative thoughts
- Suicidal thoughts
Am I Bipolar?
Bipolar disorder symptoms include:
This typically manifests in manic and/or hypomanic episodes and major depression episodes. This condition can include psychosis and severe mood swings and can manifest as bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder and cyclothymic disorder.
- Mania and hypomania symptoms:
- Feeling wired or jumpy
- Significant increases in energy and activity
- Magnified sense of self-confidence
- Talking a lot
- Getting distracted easily
- Taking risks and making poor decisions
- Major depressive episode:
- Depressed mood
- Feeling empty, sad or worthless
- Unable to get out of bed
- Feeling no pleasure in life
- Loss of energy and fatigue
- Difficulty focusing
- Intense guilt
- Suicidal thinking or attempts
Do I have schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia symptoms include:
- Hallucinations and hearing voices
- Chaotic thinking
- Confused speaking
- Abnormal motor behavior and movements
Mental illnesses may impact you at different times and in different ways. For example, depression may last for long periods or come and go; it may even be seasonal such as seasonal affective disorder. But mental illness is typically not something that just shows up one day. The illness often begins earlier in life, in your teens or twenties.
The American Psychiatric Association reports that half of mental illnesses begin by age 14 and three-quarters begin by age 24. Symptoms of mental illness may manifest in a person’s life and behavior earlier but for a number of reasons may not be diagnosed or treated properly.
The best scenario for people suffering with mental illness is to:
- Seek and accept help
- Get an informed diagnosis
- Connect with reputable mental health professionals
- Start and maintain treatment
- Establish a support system
Without treatment, mental health conditions worsen and can spin out of control. Even if you have lived with symptoms for many years, hope and happiness can be renewed with support and professional treatment.
“Warning Signs of Mental Illness” – American Psychiatric Association
“Mental Health By The Numbers” – National Alliance of Mental Illness
“Any Mental Illness Among Adults” – National Institute of Mental Health
“Nearly One in Five Americans Suffer Mental Illness Each Year” – Newsweek
“The Five Most Common Misconceptions About Mental Illness” – Psychology Today
“Bipolar Disorder Causes and Symptoms” – Mayo Clinic
“Symptoms of Schizophrenia” – Mayo Clinic