You’re scheduled to speak in front of a group, and you get increasingly tense before the big day. Are you just nervous, or do you have anxiety disorder? You’ve been feeling down for a solid week—do you have true depression, or are you simply feeling blue?
We all encounter challenges that affect our moods. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when we should become concerned about our mental health, what to do about it, or even how to define mental health.
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health is the part of your overall well-being that involves how you think, how you manage emotions, and how you behave. Your mental wellness affects the life choices you make, how you interact with others, and how you handle stress and challenges.
Your thoughts and emotions may fall on spectrum of positive to negative or in between—this is normal. You may become upset at times, or stressed out in certain situations, or occasionally exhibit less than your best behavior—also normal. But changes in your thinking, emotions and/or behavior that interfere with your ability to function can signal poor mental health or a mental health disorder.
Mental health disorders are sometimes called mental health conditions or illnesses, depending on the context or severity. They can involve mild impairment, with little effect on function, to severe limitation of function and activity in these areas:
- Relationships and social situations.
- Participation in activities.
- Performance at school or work.
Sometimes life hands you more than you can handle. Financial stress, extended caregiving or a punishing work schedule can tax your psychological and emotional well-being. Health problems, life situations and traumatic events can also trigger mental health issues.
Other risk factors include:
- Genetics—this applies particularly to bipolar disorder; 5–10% of children with a bipolar parent will develop the disorder.
- Trauma or abuse.
- Major life changes, the strain of the pandemic, being isolated or feeling lonely for extended periods.
- Chronic health problems, such as diabetes or cancer.
- Chemical imbalances or stress resulting from poor nutrition, environmental factors or substance use.
“A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.”National Alliance on Mental Illness
Mental Health Disorders
Every year, one in five adults in the US experiences a mental health disorder. That figure is one in three among young adults, and one in six among children ages 6–17. Lifetime disorders usually appear early in life—50% begin by age 14, and 75% by age 24. You can have more than one disorder at the same time, known as co-occurring disorders.
Anxiety involves feelings of worry or fear about everyday situations or things that could happen. About 20% of adults and 7% of children in the US have anxiety disorder.
Depression affects about 8% of the adult population. Hallmarks of depression, which can range from mild to severe, include sadness and a loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities. Depression negatively affects a person’s ability to function in various settings—work, social, home and school.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 3.6% of the population—those who experience or witness violence, injury, assault or abuse, or traumatic events such as natural disasters. PTSD can cause distressing, intrusive memories and thoughts, nightmares, avoidance of certain places or things, anxiety or guilt, and being on “permanent alert.”
Bipolar Disorder affects an estimated 2.8% of the population. Onset is typically in young adulthood, but it can begin in adolescence or even childhood. Marked by extreme swings in mood and energy levels, bipolar disorder affects a person’s ability to think clearly and behave appropriately.
Less common mental health disorders include:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), an anxiety-related, chronic disorder involving recurring, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
- Borderline Personality Disorder, marked by mood swings and difficulty regulating emotions, which negatively affect relationships with others.
- Schizophrenia, a serious mental illness that causes hallucinations, delusions and illogical thinking, making functioning difficult. It usually manifests in late adolescence or early adulthood.
- Eating disorders, which involve preoccupation with weight and/or appearance, emotional dysfunction and negative effects on physical health.
Two developmental disorders often treated by mental health professionals are usually diagnosed in childhood but can persist into adulthood:
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) involves difficulties with paying and maintaining attention, hyperactivity and/or impulsive behavior.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability marked by difficulties communicating and interacting with others.
When to Seek Help
When mental health issues are interfering with your or a loved one’s life or ability to function, or when they cause others alarm, it’s time to seek help.
Each disorder has its own symptoms, which may vary in severity. In general, these red flags are cause for concern:
- Changes in personality, energy levels, concentration, sleep patterns or eating habits (including sudden weight gain or loss).
- Inability to cope with everyday challenges and stress, and/or unmanageable fear, worry or guilt.
- Feeling sad and/or apathetic for more than two weeks.
- Withdrawal from others or favorite activities.
- Severe mood swings, excessive anger or violence.
- Paranoia and/or hallucinations.
- Suicidal thoughts and talk about suicide or harming others (these may require immediate action; see Resources below).
Other indications of mental health issues include self-harm and unusual risk taking. Excessive or increasing alcohol consumption can signal that something is wrong, but substance use can also mask mental health disorders. Physical symptoms such as stomach problems and headaches can indicate underlying mental health issues as well.
Signs of mental health or developmental issues are often difficult to spot in children, who—in the course of normal development—undergo change with each passing year (and sometimes month). Delays or interruptions to development appropriate for their age should be monitored, as well as out-of-control emotions (outside the normal range) or trouble with social skills or self-regulation. Children have trouble explaining how they feel, so feedback from teachers and pediatricians can be valuable in deciding whether to seek professional help.
Getting help begins with reaching out. A primary care physician can refer you or your loved one to a mental health facility or professional for diagnosis. To diagnose mental health disorders, psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers and other mental health professionals use the client’s medical history and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a guide published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Many disorders can be treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy). Treatment settings vary. The most common is outpatient therapy, being treated by a professional while you go about your daily life. Inpatient treatment takes place in a residential facility that usually provides 24/7 care for patients in crisis or with severe symptoms.
Most mental health disorders do not improve on their own; left untreated, a condition can worsen over time. Best Day’s counselors are trained to diagnose and treat a range of mental health and developmental disorders. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to explore treatment options. Our mental health professionals are standing by to help you and your loved ones live a productive, satisfying and full life.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, get help immediately. Call 911 or the suicide hotline— the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential help 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. Starting in mid-July 2022, simply dial 988.
How We Can Help You?
Best Day Psychiatry and Counseling is here to help you have a better day and find a better way. We treat a wide range of psychiatric conditions for both children and adults. Contact us today, we’re ready to help:
Charlotte: (980) 867-4440• Durham: (919) 659-8686 • Fayetteville: (910) 323-1543
Fuquay-Varina: (919) 567-0684 • Greenville: (252) 375-3322 • Raleigh: (919) 670-3939
Wilmington: (910) 500-7072 • Winston-Salem: (336) 934-5556