Symptoms of mental illness

April 21, 2017

Changes in thinking, mood or behaviour that are ­troubling, last longer than two weeks, or are interfering with everyday life should prompt an evaluation by a doctor or other mental health professional. A family doctor is a good place to start, as they can rule out any other causes for changes in thinking, mood or behaviour and can ­refer patients to another mental health professional like a counsellor, ­psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker.

Symptoms vary with each person and type of mental illness, but the following are some of the common symptoms to watch for:

  • Sudden withdrawal from friends and family
  • Confused thoughts, delusions and/or hallucinations
  • Extreme fears or anxiety that seem out of proportion
    to circumstances or events
  • Lack of motivation for a prolonged period of time
    (longer than two weeks)
  • Persistent feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Extreme mood swings between depression and mania,
    sometimes with overly reckless behaviour
  • Repeated, unusual actions such as hand washing or checking of lights
  • Unexplained physical symptoms such as nausea,
    trembling, fatigue or headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating, maintaining attention and/or sudden irritability
  • Disruption to usual sleep patterns
  • Serious disturbance in eating patterns accompanied
    by a preoccupation with body image
  • Talk or thoughts of suicide

What causes mental illness?

There is no single cause of mental illness, and no one is to blame when someone develops a mental illness. A ­complex interplay of factors affects the likelihood of ­developing a mental illness.

Brain chemistry

A chemical imbalance in the brain is caused by an ­imbalance of neurotransmitters, which can lead to ­symptoms such as depression, anxiety or stress reactions.

Psychological and social factors

It is commonly thought that mental illness can be ­triggered by a traumatic life event or situation, and/or prolonged stress. Some examples of traumatic events are child abuse and neglect, family violence, severe or prolonged stress and unemployment.

Genetics and heredity

Most mental illnesses are more common among close family members, which suggests that genetics plays a role. However, people don’t inherit the illness itself; they ­inherit only the tendency to get it.

Personality characteristics

People who are prone to think, feel and behave in ­certain ways can influence their likelihood of developing a mental illness or experiencing mental health problems.

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