9 Mental Health Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore
What kinds of mental health symptoms should prompt you to call your GP and immediately schedule a mental health evaluation? Whatever you're imagining, it's probably more extreme than many of the actual signs that indicate that you're dealing with serious mental health issues that need professional care. People often neglect their brains far longer than they would their bodies if they were in a similar state of pain or distress, sometimes because they're afraid of being labeled "crazy" or of being put on medication; but the reality is that mental health problems, if left untreated, can cause quite serious havoc, or even danger, to your life. So if you're struggling with any of the symptoms below — or any other mental health symptoms that feel hard to deal with — it's always worth finding a sympathetic medical professional who can answer your questions and guide you towards treatment.
If you're experiencing mental health distress but are not able to get to a doctor, contact a mental health hotline, like the National Alliance on Mental illness is at 800-950-6264, Mental Health American is at 800-969-6642, or the Panic Disorder Information Hotline is at 800-64-PANIC. You can also try local hotlines affiliated with medical centers in your area. But no matter what choice you go with, investigate all your options for finding professional diagnosis and help; this isn't a situation where you should rely on social media for information or self-diagnose with WebMD.
And if you have experienced any suicidal or self-harming thoughts, seek help from a helpline, a friend or family member you trust, or a mental health professional immediately. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline any time at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK), or contact the American Society for Suicide Prevention website for support via phone or chat. You can also find resources to help keep yourself safe right now at websites like The HopeLine.
If any of these nine mental health symptoms below are occurring in your life, please get in contact with a doctor or mental health professional who can help — and remember that treatment, help, and hope are available.
1. Suicidal Thoughts
This is a Big Deal. If you're having thoughts about self-harm or suicide — even if you think of them as "unserious" ramblings or the odd bit of panicked 3 a.m. irrationality — you need to talk to a professional as soon as possible. Perhaps you argue to yourself that you have "no real intention" of killing yourself, or don't want to "alarm people," but the impulse is a concerning one and definitely deserves professional attention. It can indicate serious unhappiness, a trapped feeling, hopelessness, self-punishment, a reaction to severe stress or other factors of mental health that need assessment and treatment. Please don't try to deal with this on your own.
This can be a difficult one to see when it is happening to you, as our thoughts tend to feel reasonable to us; this is why increased paranoia may first be noticed by friends or family, rather than the person experiencing it. But if you've increasingly begun to feel that you're being followed, your communications are being monitored, unknown people are trying to hurt you, people whom you know aren't who they say they are, or that there's an element of conspiracy in your environment (and you aren't a spy or involved in some kind of criminal enterprise), you may want to talk to somebody. Paranoia doesn't automatically mean you're experiencing schizophrenia or a similar disorder; it can be part of a delusional disorder or serious anxiety. But no matter what its roots, it needs to be checked if it's actively impeding your life and causing you serious fear.
If you're on medication that might cause hallucinations, then this isn't necessarily a symptom to freak out about; but if there's no clear reason for you to be seeing, hearing, or otherwise experiencing things that aren't there, raise this issue with a medical professional.
There are several different factors that can cause people to experiencing hallucinations like hearing voices or seeing visions, which range from loss of vision, to a bad reaction to an illegal drug, to potential brain issues like epilepsy or migraines; they've also been experienced by people in solitary confinement or leading very solitary lives. No matter what the cause, they are a very clear sign that your brain's signaling isn't operating as it should, and you deserve to go get examined to make sure that you are healthy (even if the hallucinations are pleasant and not intruding on your life).
4. Serious Lack Of Motivation
People often believe that depression is all about sadness, but it's actually a far wider-ranging psychological condition that encompasses a lot of different behaviors and symptoms. One of the most marked symptoms is a change in your levels of motivation: generally, severely depressed people are unable to motivate themselves to do anything, from getting out of bed to doing the most basic activities of self-care (like showering). Severely depressed people will often tell concerned friends that they're avoiding these activities because "there's no point" or "they don't deserve it." We're not talking about the occasional bout of boredom or lack of forward momentum on a Sunday afternoon; if your lack of motivation is preventing you from living an ordinary life, seeing friends, doing a job or maintaining your own health, then get yourself to a GP.
5. Behavior Demonstrating Self-Hatred Or Destructiveness
Again, this pattern may not be evident to you until somebody who cares about you points it out. But if you're indulging in behavior involving serious risk, self-harm, destruction or self-sabotage, it would probably be valuable for you to seek psychological aid to figure out why. In this category I'm including all kinds of potential destructive actions, including repeatedly and purposely violating the rules of your workplace until you are disciplined or fired, sabotaging your romantic relationships, or engaging in self-harm, excessive self-isolation, compulsive lying, and high-risk stuff like substance abuse. If you seem to be sabotaging or punishing yourself, consider that it may be time to try and stop, and that a professional may be able to help.
6. Manic Periods
The mania associated with bipolar disorders isn't exactly a "high," even though it may feel like it when you are experiencing it. If you occasionally experience periods of phenomenally high energy when you hardly sleep, feel vaguely invincible, are convinced of your own luck and genius, are hugely productive and erratic, and get easily distracted, then you may have a variety of bipolar disorder. This is particularly worrisome if you often commit actions that then need to be "fixed" when you feel more level, such as over-spending or making impulsive decisions. Talk to a doctor about your experiences and learn about what steps you can take to make sure that your moods remain more manageable.
7. Serious Anhedonia
Anhedonia is the technical term for losing complete interest in anything, including things that used to interest or absorb you, and it's a classic sign of developing depression. If you've suddenly stopped doing one or multiple activities that you really cared about, and you don't know why, this is a matter of concern. If you stopped doing them because you hate the other people involved, have changed interests, or decided that archery just isn't for you, that's no big deal; the issue is when you drop things that give you joy, for reasons that have nothing to do with scheduling or other logistics. Abandonment of hobbies, social activities and other sources of fun and support are a serious matter and not just you going through a "bit of a slump;" yes, it is legit to go to a doctor because you just don't feel interested in anything any more.
8. Self-Punishing Thoughts
"I'm an idiot", "why on earth did I do that", "I don't deserve XYZ": if these sort of thoughts starts cropping up in your head, and actively interfere with or drown out more positive thinking processes, you may need professional assistance. Negative thought patterns can be extremely controlling and difficult to break, though cognitive behavioral therapy can help. These kinds of thought patterns are associated with mood and anxiety disorders, and you shouldn't feel like you have to "just try to find a way to live with them" — nobody deserves to be repeatedly beating themselves up over everything.
9. Compulsions And/Or Fear-Based Behavior
When I say "fear-based behavior," I'm actually spreading the net pretty wide. Do you avoid social spaces, particular scenarios, or people or animals due to crippling terror? Do you actively shape your life around avoiding triggering anxiety? Do you have rituals or practices that you have to do to feel safe, even if they don't seem to make much rational sense? Any one of these may indicate that an anxiety issue has gotten slightly out of control and could benefit from professional attention. A life controlled and directed by anxiety and the avoidance of potential terror is not the life you have to have, and it's definitely important enough to see somebody about — and getting a handle on it is probably easier than you think.
In fact, none of these problems are hopeless, no matter how bleak you might feel right now about treatment working for you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from reaching out and talking to someone.
Images: baona/E+/Getty Images, Giphy