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How to Know If You Have a Mental Illness 

how to know if you have a mental health disorder

Over 50 million people in the United States need mental health treatment, but less than half receive the services they deserve. There are several reasons for this. Many are scared to seek help, are afraid that treatment will not help, or simply do not know if they need treatment at all. Some people question whether their symptoms are “bad enough” to warrant professional therapy and support. 

This may be why you are here. You may be wondering if you (or your loved one) is struggling with a mental illness, or whether it’s just temporary difficulties you’re experiencing. You may be seeking advice on how to know if you have a mental illness, or whether your symptoms are “normal.” 

Mental illness is complex and therefore can be difficult to diagnose—especially on your own. People often wonder if they are clinically depressed or “just sad,” facing an anxiety disorder or just extremely nervous about something on the horizon. How can you tell the difference? 

Everyone will experience periods of sadness and anxiety in their lives. However, when these symptoms become overwhelming, happen frequently, and disrupt your quality of life, a mental illness is the likely cause. Mental illness, by definition, encompasses a range of disorders that affect a person’s mood, thought patterns, and behaviors. It does not just affect the mind and emotions; it affects a person’s body and life more generally. Mental illness disrupts one’s day-to-day functioning. It can cause physical ailments, and prevent a person from living to their fullest potential. 

A mental health professional can help you understand whether you have a mental illness, and further, help you cope with and manage your symptoms. In general, if you are experiencing a change in your moods, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors—and those changes affect your daily life, and last for longer than two weeks—you may have a mental health problem that requires professional support.  

Tell-Tale Symptoms that Can Signal a Mental Illness 

Every mental health condition is unique, with varying symptoms and influences on a person’s life. However, some of the more common signs of mental illness include: 

  • Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness 
  • Constantly feeling burnt out or useless 
  • Severe, ongoing feelings of guilt or shame 
  • Loss of self-esteem and high sensitivity to others’ opinions 
  • Overwhelming or excessive worry and fear 
  • Sudden, intense fear or panic – often accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, faintness and dizziness 
  • Unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or generalized muscle aches 
  • Chronic fatigue and lack of energy/motivation (i.e. feeling too tired to do things you love) 
  • Lack of enjoyment in previous interests and once-loved activities 
  • Extreme mood swings, which involve extreme “high” periods of euphoria followed by intense lows (this may look like mania followed by suicidal thoughts) 
  • Uncontrollable emotions 
  • Inability to cope with stress effectively 
  • Inability to carry out daily activities due to emotions and stress 
  • Social isolation—including social phobia or the desire to be alone 
  • Difficulty interacting with others 
  • Loss of touch with reality 
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating 
  • Flashbacks of traumatic experiences, or nightmares 
  • Frequent and strong feelings of anger and irritability 
  • Violent behaviors 
  • Hallucinations, or seeing things and hearing voices that other people do not 
  • Sudden or significant changes in sleeping habits 
  • Sudden or significant changes in eating habits, including increased hunger or lack of appetite 
  • Dramatic changes in weight 
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts 
  • Substance abuse, in efforts to cope with difficult symptoms 

In children and adolescents, other common signs of mental illness might include: 

  • Changes in school performance, as well as skipping school  
  • Defying rules, boundaries, and adult figures – frequent disobedience 
  • Hyperactive behavior 
  • Trouble with learning and concentrating 
  • Frequent nightmares 
  • Excessive worry and fear, often without rational cause (e.g. wanting to avoid school) 
  • Frequent temper tantrums 

Some people will also experience “anosognosia,” or “lack of insight,” which is an inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior, or personality. This is a severe symptom of mental illness which prevents a person from understanding their illness. In these cases, the person is not aware that they need mental health treatment, and a loved one usually is needed to intervene. 

Many mental illnesses appear early in life, most before the age of 25 years old. As a result, it is also important for parents to be aware of these potential symptoms, which typically emerge during adolescence. Common mental health problems across the age groups include depression and anxiety, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.  

Where You Can Go for Help When Facing a Mental Illness 

Mental illness is not always straightforward or simple to diagnosis. Just as there are no universal symptoms that define a mental health disorder, there is not one, single test that can detect if someone has a mental illness. A mental health professional, such as a counselor or psychiatrist, is needed to evaluate your symptoms and recommend a plan for recovery. 

But that’s the good news: Recovery is possible. You do not have to live with these symptoms or try to manage them on your own. Mental health disorders are treatable and manageable, with the right treatment and support. 

If you think you are facing a mental illness, and displaying any of the symptoms above, there are many places you can go for help. You may consider calling your primary care provider, who can provide you with a mental health screening or a referral to a mental health treatment provider. You may also call a counselor or therapist, or speak with your insurance company about treatment options. If you do not know who to call and seeking support, you may always contact Turnbridge for guidance.  

Today, there are many options for mental health treatment—between telehealth consultations and residential treatment, there is something for everyone and at every life stage. 

No matter where you go for support, you will receive an assessment to fully understand the scope of your symptoms. A clinician will evaluate your experiences (what you are feeling, as well as physical ailments), how long you’ve been experiencing the symptoms, and further, how they are affecting your quality of life. They will then use this information to provide a diagnosis. 

A diagnosis can be scary to hear, whether for yourself or your loved one—and especially for a child. However, it is important to know that this diagnosis does not need to identify you or shape your life. Rather, a diagnosis can be an incredible tool. It can provide you with peace of mind, by giving you an explanation for your feelings and a path forward to heal.  

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It can happen to anyone, no matter their background, their age, their upbringing, or their socioeconomic status. Much like a chronic illness (think asthma or diabetes), it requires specialized, ongoing health care. As described by the U.S. Office on Women’s Health, “Mental health conditions are medical problems and can just as big an effect on your life as physical problems.” Therefore, they require attention, treatment, and support. 

If you believe you have a mental illness, or your loved one is showing signs of a mental health disorder, do not hesitate to seek help. It is never too early to seek the guidance of a therapist or mental health treatment professional. Even if you are not facing a mental illness, calling a clinical professional can provide you peace of mind by ensuring that all is well, and that you are going to be okay. 

To learn more about diagnosing mental health disorders, or to seek the help of a mental health professional, do not hesitate to call Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider with both inpatient and outpatient programs for young men and women. Call 877-581-1793 to speak with a treatment specialist today.