Most disorders don’t show up out of the blue.
It’s easy to brush off mental health issues as just a “bad day” or a “tough time.” After all, everyone experiences some degree of sadness, worry, and compulsiveness from time to time. Mixed emotions are part of being human, after all. But how do you know when certain feelings could be a sign of a more serious mental health disorder?
The line is drawn at your ability to perform your everyday tasks, according to Gail Saltz, MD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “It’s when these things are taken to the degree that they interrupt our ability to function,” says Dr. Saltz, “that they then are called a disorder.”
One of the first signs that something more serious is going on is social withdrawal, according to psychiatrist and HealthiNation Medical Advisory Board member Susan Samuels, MD. When this occurs, people will often engage less with family and friends or lose interest in hobbies and topics.
Other symptoms of a mental health disorder could include:
Excessive sadness or anxiety
Changes in sleep or eating patterns
Changes in sex drive
Physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, or chest pain
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Another key factor to pay attention to: duration of symptoms. “If something is lasting for two weeks or more,” says New York City-based psychologist Jennifer Harstein, PshyD, “it’s really important to recognize that, ask for help, reach out to your doctor, talk to your partner or whomever, and see where you can get some support.”
If you’re tempted to tough it out, don’t. The longer you sit with the negative thought cycles—untreated—the more developed and ingrained those thoughts can become. This will make it harder to recover, as well as more likely to relapse later on. (Here’s more information on how depression is treated and how bipolar disorder is treated.)
A family history of mental health disorders may increases your chances of developing one, since many mental health issues have a strong genetic component. On the other hand, having a family member with a mental disorder makes you more aware of the symptoms so you can recognize it early and seek treatment sooner.
If a mental health disorder runs in your family, you can still take steps to nurture you mental health. If you suspect you may be experiencing a mental health disorder, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends reaching out to your health insurance, primary care doctor, or state mental health authority for resources.
“Because mental illness is genetically based, there’s not a lot you can do to prevent the illness,” says Dr. Samuels, “but there’s a lot you can do to prevent the severity of the illness.”
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We all are sad sometimes.
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We all are obsessive sometimes.
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We all are anxious sometimes.
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It's when these things are taken to the
degree that they interrupt our ability to
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function that they then
are called a disorder.
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Major mental illnesses
rarely occur out of the blue.
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There might be some early signs
that something's going on.
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One of those signs is social withdrawal.
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So people that are feeling less
engaged with their friends and
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their family members might be a sign.
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Other signs might be specific to
whatever that illness might be.
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Feeling particularly low in a way
that you're just not used to.
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Or feeling incredibly anxious
in a way that it just feels
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very different than being a little bit
worried like you're used to feeling.
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One could also notice changes
in their sleep patterns,
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changes to their physical symptoms.
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They might become more symptomatic
in terms of stomach aches,
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headaches, chest pains.
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One of the hallmark timeframes is
are things lasting for two weeks or more?
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If it's a few days,
you're having an off time, it could be for
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a lot of different things.
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If something is lasting for two weeks or
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more, it's really important
to recognize that.
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Ask for help, reach out to your doctor,
reach out to your partner, whoever, for
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The earlier you can
identify these things,
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the more quickly you can get treatment.
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And the more you can alter
the patterns for that person's life.
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Because the longer
a mental illness goes on,
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the more entrenched those patterns get.
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And the more difficult
it is to unwind them.
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The wiring in the brain that was
initially rarely traveled, a country road,
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let's say, just traveled once, or
traveled twice and stayed small.
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With repetition, like a truck driving down
that country road makes it bigger and
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wider until it becomes
ultimately a super highway.
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And then it's very easy
to travel that road.
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And so people tend to relapse if
they either don't get treated and
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it goes on a long time, or
they continue to have episodes untreated.
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So when you have a family history
of any kind of mental illness,
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you're probably gonna be a little
more on top of whether or
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not you yourself might be experiencing
some of those very same symptoms.
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The good thing is that you know what these
symptoms look like because you've seen
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Because mental illness
is genetically based,
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there's not a lot you can
do to prevent the illness.
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But there is a lot you can do to
prevent the severity of the illness.
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So making sure that you
know what the signs are and
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getting help when you see those
signs is the best thing you can do.
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Know the warning signs. Arlington, VA: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (Accessed on November 29, 2017 at https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs.)
Warning signs of mental illness. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2015. (Accessed on November 29, 2017 at https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness.)