Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the particular disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Examples of signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Extreme feelings of guilt
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as abdominal pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains.

Is it mental illness?

In general, signs and symptoms may indicate a mental illness when they make you miserable and interfere with your ability to function in your daily life. You may have trouble coping with stress, anger or other emotions. Or you may find it difficult to handle family, work or school responsibilities, or have serious legal or financial problems.

With some types of mental illness, though, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you may not realize the extent of your problems — instead, it may be family members or friends who first become aware that you have a mental illness.

When to see a doctor

If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness, see your doctor, mental health provider or other health professional. Most mental illnesses don't improve on their own, and if untreated, a mental illness may get worse over time and cause serious problems.

If you have suicidal thoughts

Suicidal thoughts and behavior are common with some mental illnesses. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, get help right away:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one — even though you may be reluctant to talk about your feelings.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
  • Contact your doctor, other health care provider or mental health specialist.

Suicidal thinking doesn't get better on its own — so get help.

Helping a loved one

If your loved one shows signs of mental illness, have an open and honest discussion with him or her about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to seek professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified doctor or mental health provider and make an appointment. You may even be able to go along to the appointment.

If your loved one has harmed himself or herself, or is seriously considering doing so, take the person to the hospital, or call for emergency help.

Sep. 15, 2012