As human beings, we all have idiosyncrasies and foibles that make us unique. It often seems like there is a fine line between people with quirky personality traits and those who are teetering on the edge of a full-blown mental disorder. If you are suffering from mental issues, you are not alone. About one in five adults in the U.S. or 43.8 million people experience a mental illness every year.1
Perhaps you frequently ask yourself, “Do I need mental help?” or “Do I need a psychiatrist?” If you are worried that something might be wrong (or worried about someone close to you), it may not be possible to know for sure unless a psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional performs a thorough assessment. Here are 10 behaviors that may signal a mental health disorder.
1. You are having a difficult time coping with life in general or cannot function on a day-to-day basis
Perhaps you’ve noticed that you are not able to function as well as you once did, or in a way that is appropriate for your particular circumstances (e.g. age and health). There also appears to be no reasonable explanation for your diminished coping skills (e.g. diagnosed medical condition). While some mental health conditions develop gradually, others can have a relatively fast onset.
2. You have impulsive or obvious mood swings
Some psychiatric disorders involve significant mood fluctuations. The changes may be rapid, as in borderline personality disorder, or occur over several days or weeks, as in bipolar disorder. Drug and alcohol use and certain medications can also contribute to erratic moods.
3. You feel sad, blue, hopeless or down most of the time
This is often a red flag for depression, a mental health disorder affecting an estimated 350 million people of all ages worldwide.2 While occasional feelings of sadness or feeling down are part of being human, it is abnormal when they are long lasting or chronic. If other symptoms are present such as poor concentration, sleep disturbances, low energy or feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, depression is a likely clinical diagnosis.
4. You worry excessively or feel anxious a lot of the time
Anxiety or irrational fear is a common symptom of many disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder and phobias. Anxiety can be paralyzing, and its constant presence can wreak havoc on your health, sleep and other aspects of daily functioning.
5. You cannot shake the impact of past or recent traumatic events
Trauma can turn your life upside down and take a very serious toll on your psyche. Unwanted images and memories are often branded into your brain, leaving you with an awful sensation of being stuck without a way to heal and move on. Seemingly unrelated things can trigger these memories and leave you desperate to get rid of them.
6. You are contemplating suicide
Suicidal thoughts and actions are primarily associated with major depression and other mood disorders. If you are thinking about suicide, it is imperative that you seek help immediately.
7. You use alcohol, street drugs, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, other substances — or damaging activities to numb emotional pain
When you turn to things outside yourself in a desperate attempt to cope, it usually signals the presence of a serious underlying problem. The use of substances or activities as a means of escape can lead to substance abuse and other addictive disorders. Instead of alcohol or drugs, some people rely on gambling, sex or other behaviors that spiral out of control until they become addictive and negatively impact life.
8. You have serious anger management issues that result in a very bad temper
Significant irritability, hostility, rage and frequent outbursts of anger can signal the presence of a mental health problem. Anger not only drains emotional and physical energy, but has a negative impact on health, relationships and work. Unresolved anger can also easily lead to substance abuse, emotional and physical abuse of others, destruction of property and self-destructive behavior.
9. You have irrational fears that interfere with your life
Irrational fears can involve a variety of things, including the fear that people are watching you or following you, an extreme fear of such animals as dogs or spiders, and fear of situations like flying or social situations. Irrational fears can become obsessive in nature, leading to persistent and intrusive thoughts that create significant anxiety and detrimental behaviors.
10. You have an unusual, highly troubled relationship with food and eating
A distorted body image (e.g. you see yourself as fat when your weight is normal or you are underweight) is often a red flag for the beginning stages of an eating disorder. Eating disorders tend to consume a significant amount of time and energy, but more importantly, can lead to long-term health risks and even death.
Although the above list is not comprehensive, it covers a broad range of potential signs of mental illness. If any of these behaviors strike a familiar chord, the sooner you contact a mental health professional, the quicker you will be on the path to recovery. If you think you might be at risk of harming yourself or someone else, talk to someone immediately. Call a crisis line, 911, a local mental health clinic or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
- Mental Health by the Numbers. National Alliance on Mental Illness website. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers Accessed June 11, 2016.
- Depression. World Health Organization website. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/ Updated April 2016, Accessed June 11, 2016.