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Warning Signs of Mental Illness

How prevalent is mental illness?

Nearly 19 percent of American adults – 1 in 5 – suffers from a mental illness in any given year. Four mental disorders – major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder – are among the leading causes of disability in the U.S. Among children and adolescents, 1 in 5 suffers from a mental illness at some point during this stage of life. The good news is that with early diagnosis and proper treatment and support, a significant percentage of individuals will experience substantial reduction in symptoms and an improved quality of life.

Is it easy to spot warning signs?

Most major mental illnesses start gradually. Family and friends usually recognize that something is not quite right about a person’s thoughts, feelings, speech, behavior, and/or social interactions. Some signs are subtle; others are not. Realize, too, that warning signs of a mental illness are ongoing, rather than just merely occurring on occasion.

What are warning signs of mental illness in adults?

Every mental disorder has its own specific symptoms, but there are general warning signs. The more prevalent ones in adults include:

  • changes in sleeping habits or lacking energy
  • increase or decrease in appetite
  • problems concentrating and/or illogical thinking
  • social withdrawal
  • lack of interest in activities that previously were enjoyed
  • excessive worrying or fear
  • extreme mood changes
  • prolonged feelings of anger or irritability
  • physical ailments without obvious causes, such as headaches, stomach aches, and vague aches and pains
  • substance abuse
  • inability to perform daily activities or handle daily problems.

What are warning signs of mental illness in adolescents and children?

Adolescents and children may exhibit some of the same signs as adults, but they may also become defiant of authority, truant, steal, and commit acts of vandalism, and have frequent outbursts of anger. Other warning signs are:

  • changes in academic performance
  • hyperactivity
  • persistent nightmares
  • persistent disobedience
  • frequent temper tantrums

Do these signs always signal a mental illness?

No. Some signs may be the result of a medical condition. Hypothyroidism, for instance, may cause symptoms of depression.

What are the benefits of early diagnosis?

Early diagnosis results in appropriate intervention and treatment, which often can greatly reduce the severity of an illness, not only for the individual, but for his or her family and friends as well.

What should I do if I think that I have a mental illness, or my loved does?

Be evaluated by a professional. A full continuum of mental-health services is available at Christian Health. These include LiveWell Counseling for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors; Ramapo Ridge Partial-hospitalization Program; and Ramapo Ridge Behavioral Health. Treatment can include therapy, medication, or a combination of both. If you or someone you know is in crisis right now or have thoughts of suicide, however, seek help immediately. Go to your local hospital emergency room.

For more information about mental-health services at Christian Health, call (201) 848-5200, or visit