Understanding Signs of Mental Illness: What to Look for, and When to Seek Help

drawing of woman helping woman with mental illness

In the United States, roughly 20% of adults experience some form of mental illness each year. 

If you have ever felt overwhelming stress, anxiety, or depression, it’s likely you’ve also suffered from a mental illness. However, it can sometimes be difficult to understand the difference between feeling appropriate emotional responses to the events of our lives and suffering from mental illness. 

It’s incredibly important to know how to read the signs of mental illness. It’s equally important to know when these signs are pointing towards getting the help you need. 

The human mind and spirit can overcome incredible strife. However, there are certain factors of the human mind that can impede growth. These factors, or mental illnesses, have physical and chemical effects that inhibit us from pushing past obstacles and living our best lives. 

However, before we can begin to understand the signs of mental illness, we first have to understand mental illnesses for what they are.

Understanding Mental Illnesses

Even though there is such a high number of people who suffer from mental illnesses, it’s still a misunderstood disease. 

Unfortunately, some people hold negative stigmas against mental illnesses which can completely undermine what sufferers go through. It can also make the sufferer feel worse about their condition and even make them question their self-worth. 

It’s important to see mental illness for what it is—a disease.

Mental illness is a disease of the brain that can have an effect on the way people think, act, and feel. These conditions can come about from traumatic events, chemical imbalances, or genetic factors. 

Unfortunately, those who suffer from mental illnesses have little or no control over how their brain interprets and responds to certain stimuli. Mental illnesses can make someone feel overly stressed, inconsolably sad, confused, paranoid, or worse. 

However, understanding the signs of mental illness and knowing when to seek help is a major component of living a normal and happy life. Keep reading to understand the signs of common mental illnesses, and learn what you can do about it.

The Signs of Mental Illness

As we suggested above, there are varying types of mental illnesses and multiple levels of severity for each one. Follow along to get a better understanding of each one.


In our society, we face a lot of external stressors. These can include pressures at work, our social lives, and financially. Therefore, having some anxiety or stress isn’t uncommon. 

However, when we feel so much stress or anxiety that it changes the way we respond or behave, it could indicate an anxiety disorder. 

Look for the following signs:

  • Irrational fear or dread toward certain situations
  • Panic attacks
  • Rapid heartbeat and excessive sweating 
  • Interference with the ability to function normally 
  • Extreme changes in behavior to avoid certain situations
  • Excessive worrying or stress
  • Chronic worrying or stress
  • Eating too little or too much


Like anxiety, the symptoms and signs of depressions closely mirror those of typical sadness. However, there are significant distinctions between appropriate sadness, mourning, or melancholy versus depression.

Sings of depression include:

  • Feeling hopeless or lost
  • Loss of interest in normal enjoyments
  • Feeling apathetic
  • Loss of appetite
  • Self-loathing
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Reckless or risky behavior
  • Problems focusing

Depression is a mental disease that may have dire consequences for those who don’t seek help. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression, seeking professional help may be the best option. Take these signs of mental illness seriously, as many people suffering from depression end up taking their own lives.

Professionals, such as this psychologist, specializing in helping those who suffer from depression can change the outcome of their patient’s lives.


Schizophrenia is a very serious mental illness that can prevent sufferers from distinguishing reality from fiction. They often hear and see things that aren’t real, suffer from extreme paranoia, and may experience difficulty completing normal, every-day tasks. 

The signs of schizophrenia to watch for include:

  • Depression
  • Extreme reactions to criticism
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Hostility
  • Suspiciousness
  • Irregular sleeping patterns
  • Inappropriate emotional responses
  • Odd statements
  • Strange speech patterns

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental disease that affects nearly 5 million people. Sufferers experience extreme mood swings in all directions.

They experience extreme highs and lows in their moods. For example, extreme highs presenting as mania, and extreme lows presenting as depression. 

There are many signs of mental illness for people suffering from bipolar disorder. 

  • Extreme impulsivity
  • Irrational overconfidence 
  • Not needing sleep to feel rested
  • Severe mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Lack of focus
  • Irrational anger and aggression

Eating Disorders

Sadly, along with the many demands of our culture is the demand to look a certain way. 

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible for most people to keep up with these societal standards, especially where our physical appearance is concerned. This leads many people to develop eating disorders. 

Here are some telltale signs:

  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Extreme tactics for weight loss (vomiting after meals, starvation, deprivation)
  • Obsession over food and dieting
  • Frequent self-deprecating statements involving weight
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Avoidance of eating in public
  • Irrational fear of weight gain

Impulse-Control and Addiction

Sometimes, the signs of mental illness are displayed in how we handle certain situations. For example, a mental illness may present itself in how we deal with stress. Many people develop impulse-control disorders as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. 

This can often lead to or pair with addiction. Addictions are incredibly common. Over 21 million people in America have a drug or alcohol addiction. However, those numbers aren’t entirely accurate. 

There are countless people who never report that addiction because they refuse to recognize that they have one. Additionally, addictions come in all shapes and sizes, including pornography, food, sex, video gaming, cigarettes, etc. Addictions can have varying levels of severity in both the level of addiction and their ramifications on your life. 

Here are some common signs.

  • Inability to say no to using
  • Hiding usage
  • Making excuses for using
  • Withdrawing from social events or skipping work to use
  • Knowing you should stop, but not being able to
  • Being consumed with thoughts of using
  • Lying about using

Get Help Sooner Rather than Later

The signs of mental illness barely brush the surface of the severity of mental diseases. If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness, it’s vital not to waste any time seeking the help you need.

Get your life back into your hands today!

For more helpful articles, be sure to check out the rest of our blog.