Recognizing the Warning Signs of Mental Illness

As of the year 2021, there are 47.1 million people in the United States who live with a mental health condition. That is 19% of America.

That is a 1.5 million increase from what was reported in the prior year.

The numbers are real, and each one represents someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, or distant relative. On the other side of the statistics are human beings who have a voice that needs to be heard over the noise of shame, opinions, and perspectives that seek to sway society in one direction over the other.

Coming together as a unified group may not only raise awareness, but may inspire positive action and change.

The 2021 State of Mental Health of America report suggests that mental health in the United States is not only getting worse, but that many states aren’t prepared to deal with the crisis. The experience of the pandemic seems to be responsible for an increase in depression and anxiety. This more than likely is a result of social isolation that has come to be known as part of the responsible signature of those following safety protocols to avoid catching and spreading the health threat known as COVID-19. However, the fact remains that 50% of mental illness starts as early as age 14, and three-quarters by age 24. This is bigger than just the early aftermath of the ongoing global pandemic. Mental illness has been an issue long before the airborne virus made its way to America.

Mental Illness Defined

A mental illness is a health condition characterized by modifications of behavior, emotion, or thinking, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Treatment and support are available. However, if mental illness goes untreated, it may have a significant impact on day-to-day living, such as an individual’s ability to connect with others, maintain a job, or even to take care of their family.

What signs can we look for early on in order to be able to help?

Possible signs and symptoms:

  • Drop in functioning. For example, not functioning on the same level at social activities, work, or at school. This may look like low performance at work or failing classes in school.
  • Appetite or sleep changes. For example, a dramatic change in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Loss of desire to participate in activities.
  • Mood changes. For example, depressed feelings or dramatic/accelerated emotional shifts.
  • Feeling disconnected. For example, an ambiguous feeling of being disconnected from one’s surroundings or oneself.
  • The loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed.
  • Problems thinking. For example, unexplained challenges with memory, speech, or concentration.
  • For example, a strong nervous feeling, fear, or suspiciousness of others.
  • Increased sensitivity. For example, avoidance of over-stimulating situations and/or an increased sensitivity to smells, sounds, touch, or to sight.
  • Unusual behavior. For example, out-of-character or strange behavior.
  • Illogical thinking. For example, exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to influence events or “magical” thinking as an adult that is typical of a child.

Experiencing 1-2 of these symptoms alone doesn’t necessarily predict a mental illness, but may demonstrate the need for further assessment. If an individual is experiencing multiple symptoms simultaneously and it’s impacting their ability to function, they may need to be seen by a mental health professional or a doctor. Individuals with suicidal ideation or thoughts of causing harm to others require immediate attention.

Serious mental illness (SMI) categorizes the most severe mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. SMI is a term used by healthcare professionals, and it describes illnesses that prevent or restrict one or more major activities in life in general.

SMIs, or major mental illnesses, typically don’t appear just one day. Those who are heavily involved in an individual’s life, such as a teacher, friend, or family member, may initially recognize minor changes in them over time. For example, peculiar behavior, thinking, or feelings before the illness fully evolves.

Raising awareness about the warning signs will empower all of us to help those in our lives experiencing a mental illness. Awareness creates empathy, understanding, and will inspire positive and productive action for growth, and inevitably, change.

About the Author: Brittney Morse is a Reputation Management Coordinator for American Addiction Centers. Brittney is a Licensed Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology and a master’s degree in psychology. Brittney has 5 years clinical experience working in the field of addiction at all levels of care.

Recognizing the Warning Signs of Mental Illness