Mental health is a delicate topic that needs to be talked about. It’s something we do not always see, but it affects the people all around us – family members, neighbors, close friends. Across the United States, almost 48 million people struggle with a mental illness. About 1 in 5 youth live with a mental health condition. Many more are struggling with symptoms of a mental health disorder, but may be scared to acknowledge it. The more we talk about mental health problems, the more easily we can recognize them – and get others the help they need.
How do you spot the signs of a mental illness? And at what point do these become signs concerning?
Any sign of a mental health disorder is concerning. Left untreated, mental illness can lead to significant troubles, including worsened health conditions, substance addiction, poor quality of life, and potentially suicide. If you suspect your loved one is struggling with their mental health, but are unsure whether a “real” problem exists, you can still act. Speaking up can be a significant step in getting your loved one the help that he or she deserves.
Below, we outline the 10 most common signs of a mental illness. All of these symptoms, in particular, can lead to drug-related dangers like substance addiction and overdose. Why? Mental health disorders and substance use disorders often co-occur.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 9.2 million American adults struggle with both substance addiction and mental illness. The problem is, the signs of mental illness and the signs of addiction often overlap. Your loved one may be abusing drugs, but the effects of the drug abuse are masking a mental health disorder. The same can go vice versa.
10 Signs of Mental Health Disorders and Addiction
There are a variety of different mental health conditions, from mood disorders like depression and anxiety, to personality and dissociative disorders. Substance use disorders are also considered a mental health problem. Each mental health disorder comes with its own symptoms and risks, but most have a lot in common, too. Below are 10 common signs of mental illness that can lead to other health risks, like addiction.
- Excessive sadness, tiredness, and/or withdrawal.
Frequent feelings of sadness and hopelessness can be attributed to several mental health disorders, like depression. In turn, people experiencing these feelings tend to feel excessively tired or have low energy. Often, those experiencing feelings of hopelessness have trouble getting out of bed each day. They withdraw from family, friends, and once-loved activities that no longer bring them pleasure.
- Excessive worrying or fear that gets in the way of daily activities.
Intense worry and fear are additional signs of a mental health disorders. This worry may be persistent, affecting everyday activities, or come on more severely and suddenly, without reasonable cause. This can often be a sign of anxiety and panic disorders, but may coincide with other mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, OCD, or substance addiction.
- Frequent disobedience, or risk-taking behaviors.
Does your loved one tend to disobey the rules, or push the boundaries? Do they fail to think about the long-term consequences of their actions? With several mental health disorders, out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors can be a tell-tale sign. Those experiencing this symptom will participate in risky activities that could cause harm to themselves or others. This is the symptom that can escalate a mental health disorder into a substance addiction.
- Sudden changes in behavior, personality, weight, or sleeping habits.
Those struggling with a mental health issue may experience a sudden change in their eating, sleeping, or everyday habits. This is something you can pick up on as a parent or family member. Has your loved one been eating properly, sleeping at normal hours, exercising excessively? You may also notice behavioral and personality changes. Does your loved one act like his/her normal self? This could be a sign of mental illness, as well as a sign of drug abuse.
- Extreme mood changes, such as uncontrollable aggression or feelings of euphoria.
Similar to behavioral changes, sudden or significant mood changes can also be a sign of a mental health disorder. When someone is experiencing mood changes, they may experience sudden bouts of anger and aggression, or extreme feelings of “high” euphoria. These mood swings can cause problems in relationships and in professional settings. Extreme mood changes are another overlapping sign of mental illness and addiction.
- Problems with concentrating or staying still.
Troubles with concentrating, staying still, and paying attention are often associate with attention disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If left unaddressed, this can create problems with learning, and lead to lower academic success. It can also lead to drug abuse, for those who do not know how to cope with this difficult symptom.
- Delusions, hallucinations, and/or trouble perceiving reality.
Those experiencing a mental health disorder may have difficulty perceiving reality, and sense things that don’t actually exist. This could translate to hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia around things that are not there. This symptom could also be caused by drug abuse, so it is important to pay attention to any patterns associated with delusional thinking.
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Because depressive symptoms are common among many mental health conditions, so are thoughts of suicide and self-harm. Often, those with untreated mental health conditions will feel excessively sad and alone. They feel “fed up” or frustrated with their health, and may feel they have a poor quality of life. For those who do not know how to effectively cope, they may make plans to, or have thoughts of, hurting themselves.
- Inability to carry out responsibilities, daily activities, or handle normal stress.
When mental health symptoms become too much, too overwhelming, it can be difficult to carry out normal activities like going to school or work, or even cleaning up the bedroom. It can be difficult to get out of bed, let alone go to the grocery store. It can also be difficult to manage feelings like stress, anger, or sadness properly, due to feelings of being overwhelmed.
- Repeated substance abuse.
When symptoms of a mental health disorder become overwhelming, people may lean towards drinking or drug use to cope. This is highly common, as drugs and alcohol can provide a temporary sense of euphoria or relief. However, after the “high,” drug use is typically followed by a “low” – stirring feelings of anxiety, depression, irritability, and physical illness (i.e. withdrawal symptoms) – and exacerbating mental illness symptoms. To alleviate these negative feelings, a person may choose to use drugs again. This can create a cycle of drug abuse, and ultimately lead to addiction.
Understanding the Overlapping Signs of Mental Illness, Addiction, and Teen Behavior
As you can see in the signs and symptoms above, mental health disorders and substance use disorders often overlap. It becomes dangerous when their symptoms mask one another, and it can be difficult to glean whether a person is suffering from both. These symptoms can also mimic (and therefore be masked by) the hormonal changes we often see during the teenage years. Too often, parents mistake their child’s mood changes, social withdrawal, or behavioral issues as “typical teen behavior.” They may think that withdrawing from family, or changing friend groups, is a normal part of growing up. While this can be true, these can also be signs of a potential drug or mental disorder.
As a parent, it is important to be aware. It is important to have open and honest communications with your teen about drugs, alcohol, and their general mental health. By staying involved in your teens’ life, and having open conversations about difficult topics like these, you can set your child up for the most positive outcome.
Mental health disorders and substance addiction require very specialized treatment, especially when both are present. It is never too early to speak up, to ask for help, or to hold an intervention for a loved one that may be suffering. You can help save his or her life, even at the earliest signs.If you would like to learn more about the signs of mental health disorders, and how mental health and addiction intertwine, please do not hesitate to contact Turnbridge. We are a teen and young adult treatment facility, offering programs for youth battling co-occurring disorders. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.