The symptoms of mental illness depend upon the specific disease. Each mental illness is characterized by both similar and different behaviors which originate in thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. Commonly dealt with mental health disorders can include depression, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Learning to distinguish the symptoms of mental health disorders helps individuals get one step closer to receiving the mental health treatment they need to lead a happy and healthy life again.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Everyone experiences a normal amount of anxiety caused by things such as sleeping through an alarm and being late for work, or having a flat tire. This is anxiety that is relieved when the situation is resolved. In contrast, generalized anxiety is characterized by incessant worry about even the most insignificant things and then worrying about them.
GAD is characterized by a combination of mental and physical symptoms. Mental symptoms are exhibited by an inability to relax and a failure to focus or make decisions. When action is needed, a person with anxiety will think through options and then fail to act or reach a negative conclusion. Physical symptoms include fatigue, muscle tension, irritability, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, or headaches. People with anxiety often isolate themselves and withdraw from social occasions and family members.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
It’s normal to perhaps check twice that the iron is turned off or the door locked, but a person with OCD will check the same thing over and over and over and never be convinced that all is well. They have no control over their behavior and feel compelled to continually repeat it. There are many manifestations of OCD; it may be repeated hand washing until the skin is raw to avoid perceived germs, the compulsion to put specific items in specific places in an exact pattern, or a compulsion to count certain items or add certain numbers. Some can only perform their obsession at particular times of the day. It is the compulsion that drives the obsession.
Obsessions are involuntary, apparently uncontrollable thoughts, images, or impulses that repeatedly occur in the mind. To the person experiencing them, they are often distracting and disturbing. Unfortunately, following the compulsion and carrying out the obsession does not bring relief but actually reinforces the compulsive thoughts, making them more time-consuming and demanding.
This disorder was formerly known as manic depressive disorder and is characterized by unpredictable mood swings which go from depression to mania with many variations. Changes in energy and activity levels are noted, which affect a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks. Much different from the normal highs and lows of everyday life, bipolar disorder results in damaged relationships, poor performance at work or school, and even suicide attempts. Bipolar disorder most commonly appears in the late teens or early adulthood and, for a few, later in life. Diagnosis is difficult, and many patients show symptoms for a long time until accurately diagnosed.
In the manic phase, a person appears overly happy and energetic but still shows irritability. They may speak fast, have racing thoughts, and take on too many tasks. Restlessness is noted, and little sleep seems to be required. They may display impulsive and high-risk behavior.
In the depressive phase, a person experiences sadness or hopelessness and shows no interest in activities they formerly enjoyed. They will seem fatigued, have difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and be restless and irritable. Sleeping and eating patterns change, and there may be thoughts of or attempts at suicide.