Everyone gets irritable from time to time, but some people may more often than others. Of course, many things cause irritability, from lack of sleep to lack of food and energy. But sometimes, it may mean something else, and there are certain signs your irritability is a greater mental health issue. In other words, although you may just chalk up your off mood to irritability, there may be an underlying cause.
“Irritability is often seen as a ‘normal’ experience,” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. “And while we all get irritable from time to time, irritability can actually be the sign of a more serious mental health problem.”
He says that having the symptom of irritability is not sufficient to be diagnosed with a mental health issue. However, if the irritability persists, never seems to go away, and is impacting your relationships, work, school, or social functioning — or if friends or loved ones are telling you that you seem irritable all the time — it’s best to see a mental health or medical professional. “It may not be a psychiatric problem, but it could be one symptom of a disorder,” Dr. Klapow says.
Below, he and other experts weigh in on signs your irritability may actually be part of a bigger mental health issue.
Your Irritability Doesn’t Seem To Be Going Away
Prolonged irritability can be a symptom of depression, Dr. Klapow says. “In fact, many individuals with depression don’t experience a sad or depressed mood, but, rather, feel irritable.” He says that while irritability alone is not sufficient to diagnose depression, it can be one of the primary presenting complaints.
You May Have Angry Outbursts More Than Usual
Anger is an emotion that everybody has sometimes. However, increased bouts of anger can indicate a bigger mental health issue. “You might start to notice things that you’d usually brush off are getting under your skin, causing angry outbursts and damaging relationships,” Dr. Maheinthan Yogeswaran, a general practitioner at MedicSpot, tells Bustle. “This heightened irritability and agitation could be a sign of depression.”
He says that while depression is usually known for making people feel sad, it can also make you feel angry. “If you are noticing that you are experiencing angry outbursts due to things that you would usually be fine with, you should speak with a doctor who will be able to suggest the right treatment for you,” Dr. Yogeswaran says.
You’re More Anxious Than Usual
Many people feel anxious from time to time. But if you’re feeling more anxiety than usual, it may be a symptom of an anxiety disorder. “Very often, individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder will feel ‘on edge’ or ‘irritable,’” Dr. Klapow says. “They will not describe their experience of the disorder as feeling anxious — but of feeling irritable.” He says that, like depression, irritability is not enough to make the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, but it can be a primary presenting complaint.
Your Irritability Is Getting Worse
Ashley Smith, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist with experience in irritability, tells Bustle that it’s important to see if your irritability is getting worse. “I believe the two most important signs that irritability is a greater mental health issue are: severity and persistence,” she says. “Severe and persistent irritability could be signs of anxiety, depression, or even bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder.” She adds that men, due to society’s gender normative expectations, have a tendency to display irritability and anger more so than sadness and tearfulness.
You Exhibit All Three Of These Signs: Frequency, Intensity, And Duration
Dr. Chris Cortman, licensed clinical social worker, therapist, and author of Keep Pain in the Past tells Bustle that there are three ways to ascertain whether anything is a clinical issue: frequency, intensity, and duration. He says that although it is certainly possible to show irritability to excess in just one of these three ways, most often, all three will be true and may indicate a sign of an underlying mental health issue.
First, he says that if one is irritable way too often, it’s a clinical problem. Second, if the situation calls for mild frustration or irritability and what you see is off the charts rage and/or victimization, it’s also a clinical issue. Third, if the situation is in the rearview mirror but the irritability persists, it, too, is an indication of a clinical issue.
“What we are oftentimes looking for, needless to say, is bipolar type two disorder, with frequent mood changes,” Dr. Cortman tells Bustle. “But there could be other issues, including personality disorders, brain injury (including an undiagnosed tumor), or, in some cases, just good old-fashioned immaturity and entitled thinking.”
As you can see, being irritable sometimes is part of life, but if you think you’re more irritable than usual, you may want to seek out a doctor to try to figure out the cause. Because once you know the cause, you can better find a solution for it and focus on being happy more often than being irritable.