What Is a Mental Illness and How is it Identified?

Woman having a consultation with her psychiatrist

Signs that our bodies don’t feel well are often obvious. We might have pain, run a fever, or experience symptoms like coughing and sneezing. 

But when we’re not at peak performance mentally or emotionally, it can be more difficult to figure out what’s going on. In some cases, a mental illness could be the cause. Here’s a closer look into what mental illnesses are and how to identify them.

What Is a Mental Illness?

A mental illness or disorder can be any brain-based condition that causes clinical disturbances and impairments in your thinking, emotions, or behavior. There are many different types of these mental health conditions, all of which can differently affect your mood, how you act, and the way you think.

While most people regularly experience mental and emotional shifts, a mental illness is different than having normal changes in mood. Instead, it produces ongoing symptoms that could make everything in your day-to-day life difficult, from your job performance to your relationships.

Although they may not get as much attention as other conditions, mental illnesses are a serious health concern. Poor mental health is estimated to cost the world economy approximately $2.5 trillion per year. One in five adults in the U.S. experiences a mental illness annually, so if you think you could be struggling with your mental health, you’re not alone.

How to Identify Mental Illness

Anxiety and depression are the two most common of the more than 200 types of classified mental illnesses, though their symptoms are often unique to each person. 

In the case of an anxiety disorder, you may experience excessive fear of even “normal” occurrences like going to the grocery store or interacting socially, making it difficult to function. Others with anxiety disorders may experience panic attacks: an intense episode of unexpected fear that can come with physical symptoms such as sweating, racing heart, chills, nausea, and trembling.  

Just as symptoms of anxiety disorders are more serious than dealing with everyday stress, depression is more than feeling sad temporarily. People diagnosed with clinical depression experience prolonged symptoms such as a loss of self-worth, difficulty eating or getting out of bed, and disinterest in their usual activities for at least two weeks.

Just like depression and anxiety disorders, other mental illnesses come with their own set of symptoms that can show up differently in individuals. But in general, common signs to watch for include:

  • Feelings of sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Extreme worrying
  • Extreme mood swings, including intense highs and lows
  • Becoming withdrawn from friends and activities you once enjoyed
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Difficulty coping with everyday challenges
  • Difficulty relating to or understanding others
  • Inability to perform daily chores
  • Major changes in eating patterns
  • Excessive anger
  • Overuse of substances like drugs or alcohol
  • Thoughts of suicide

Only a doctor can formally diagnose someone with a mental illness. But if you or someone you love is experiencing the symptoms above, it’s important to get professional help quickly. Suicidal thoughts especially call for immediate attention, and you can always call 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, to speak with someone 24/7.

For any of your mental health concerns, turn to one of our providers. YourTown Health offers compassionate mental health care, including personalized treatments to help you achieve the best possible outcomes. To find your nearest office, visit our locations page or contact us online for direct answers.