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How can I tell if a friend or family member is suffering from mental disorder or disease?

Everyone feels a little down or stressed sometimes. It’s normal for friends and family to occasionally seem sad or distant. But what if a loved one consistently exhibits signs of deep depression or unease? What if their changes in mood are sudden and drastic? What if they mention thoughts of suicide, or forget people and places they’ve always known?

Many individuals with mental illnesses don’t even realize they have a disease, for a variety of reasons. Some may be in denial, some may have symptoms that cloud their judgement, and others may not be familiar with the specific illness they suffer from or recognize the severity of their own symptoms. While there is no way to accurately diagnose them without medical training and assessment, you are in a unique position to help a loved one realize they may struggling with a disorder in the first place. Your gentle support and encouragement may be the difference between them continuing to suffer alone or seeking treatment from a mental healthcare professional. And, no matter what their ultimate diagnosis is, a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist will be able to help.

Use the quick guide to the symptoms of common mental illnesses below and be sure follow the links for more information.

Signs of Mental Illness

Psychology mental illness. Brain or mind function model 3D illustration
  • Depression

    Depression, one of the most common mental disorders, causes feelings of intense sadness, loss of interest in work and social activities, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and sometimes even physical aches and pains.

  • Alzheimer’s Disease

    Alzheimer’s primarily affects individuals over the age of 60, causing memory loss, confusion, and a depreciating loss of cognitive abilities including speech, balance and motor skills.

  • Binge Eating Disorder

    Those who suffer from binge eating disorder may be secretive about their eating habits and will often eat large quantities of high calorie foods in one sitting without control. Their binging is typically accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame.

  • Bipolar Disorder

    Bipolar individuals will regularly alternate between manic symptoms – such as euphoria, extreme amounts of energy, restlessness, and unrealistic beliefs – and depressive symptoms – like low energy, anxiety and hopelessness. Comparatively speaking, bipolar disorder is rarer than most of the mental illnesses on this list. However, it often goes undiagnosed for years, so it is important to take note if your loved one exhibits these behaviors.

  • Seasonal Depression (SAD)

    Seasonal depression shares its symptoms with regular depression, but only occurs during a certain time of year, usually winter. If your loved one retreats from work and social activities and seems unable to pull themselves out of the “holiday blues” they may have seasonal depression.

  • Postpartum Depression

    When a new baby is born, it should be one of the happiest times in a mother’s life. But some women experience negative mood changes, appetite changes, anxiety and doubt, all hallmarks of postpartum depression.

  • Fibromyalgia

    While not a mental disorder, Fibromyalgia’s neurological components make it complicated and difficult to self diagnose. It causes muscle and joint pain, fatigue and sleep issues most commonly.

  • Schizophrenia

    The National Institute of Mental Health breaks behaviors and symptoms for schizophrenia into three major categories: positive; negative; cognitive. Positive symptoms are usually clear indicators that something is functionally disrupted, and not associated with healthy behavior. Negative symptoms consist of behaviors that, while disruptive, are not as easy to identify as functionally inhibitive. Cognitive symptoms can vary in severity from case to case and are related to critical thinking and maintaining focus.

  • Anxiety Disorder

    A very common disorder, anxiety symptoms include loss of focus, unmanageable fears and worries, consistent uneasy feelings ans tension.

If your friend or family member is showing the signs of any of these mental illnesses, start an open, honest conversation about what you’ve notice regarding their behaviors. Encourage them to seek the advice of their doctor or a dedicated mental health professional who can help them manage their feelings and emotions, whether they are the result of a specific illness or not.

It may seem awkward to start this kind of conversation, but if you care about a person’s well being, you undoubtedly care about their mental health. If you approach the subject with care and compassion, it will only bring you closer in the long run.

About Lehigh Center

The Lehigh Center is the largest independently run research facility in the Lehigh Valley. Our qualified physicians conduct clinical trials  to evaluate investigational treatments for specific diseases, including those listed above. If you are interested in leaning more about our current studies, please click the link below.