Signs and Symptoms

Mental health is defined as a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.  Being “mentally healthy” is a positive state of mind which includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.  When a person is mentally healthy, they are able to be productive, make contributions to society and realize their full potential.

Although people may strive for that healthy state of mind, many struggle with disorders that inhibit these efforts and affect their daily life.  Among the most common mental health disorders are:

Depressive Disorder

Depression can cause significant changes in a person’s daily functions, disrupting normal behaviors and can be debilitating.  According to the DSM-V, a depressive disorder is indicated if five or more of the following symptoms are present for two weeks:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful). Note: In children and adolescents, can be irritable mood
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observation made by others)
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5 percent of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day. Note: In children, consider failure to make expected weight gains
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down)
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or feeling guilty about being sick)
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others)
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide

Anxiety Disorder

There are several types of anxiety disorders so the symptoms or characteristics of the anxiety disorder will vary according to which type it is. The most common symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness
  • Problems sleeping
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Chronic indigestion or IBS
  • Heart palpitations
  • Numbness or tingling in hands
  • Restlessness
  • Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle tension

The different types of anxiety disorders have specific symptoms associated with them that may occur in addition to the above:

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

Symptoms include excessive worry, persistent anxious thoughts that occur most days and for at least six months, clenched jaw and fists, fatigue and edginess.

Social anxiety

Symptoms include intense anxiety in social situations, avoidance, confusion, pounding heart, blushing and shaking.

Specific phobias

Symptoms include a pronounced and unreasonable fear of a thing, place or situation, palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate, trembling or shaking, fear of dying, shortness of breath or smothering.

Panic disorder

Symptoms include racing or pounding heart, sweating, sense of choking, nausea or abdominal distress, dizziness, lightheaded, faint, derealization (feelings of unreality), fear of losing control or going crazy, chills or heat sensations, trembling or shaking.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Symptoms include perfectionism, compulsive rituals and behaviors, unreasonable fear of germs (excessive hand washing), irritability, thoughts of harming self or others, compulsive cleaning, rigidity and orderliness and demanding reassurances.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily tasks, called mood episodes. Those who suffer from bipolar disorder can bounce between being overly excited and joyful to an extremely sad and despairing state.

Symptoms while in the manic state include talking very fast, being easily distracted, restless, getting little sleep, impulsive behaviors, having an over inflated belief in abilities, and increasingly taking on new activities.

Symptoms while in the depressive state include long periods of hopelessness and sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, concentration problems, and suicide ideation.

Bipolar disorder is diagnosed using guidelines from the DSM-V. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the symptoms must be a major change from your normal mood or behavior. There are four basic types of bipolar disorder:

  1. Bipolar I disorder—defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least two weeks
  2. Bipolar II disorder—defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes
  3. Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS)—diagnosed when symptoms of the illness exist but do not meet diagnostic criteria for either bipolar I or II. However, the symptoms are clearly out of the person’s normal range of behavior
  4. Cyclothymic disorder, or Cyclothymia—a mild form of bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymia have episodes of hypomania as well as mild depression for at least two years. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for any other type of bipolar disorder