Signs Of Worsening Mental Health

Signs of worsening mental health are not always easy to recognize. However, knowing common symptoms of mental health disorders provides a good starting point for identifying when you or someone you know is in need of help.

Mental health matters. But, too often, men and women in the United States find themselves struggling with painful mental health illnesses on their own, even after those issues become severe or even dangerous. 

By learning to see the signs and symptoms of worsening mental health in others or in your own life, you may be able to better identify when help is needed. 

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What Is Poor Mental Health (Mental Illness)?

Just like lung disease and heart disease are umbrella terms for many medical conditions that impact the lungs and heart, mental illness can refer to any number of psychological conditions that influence a person’s mind and behavior, which may include long-lasting feelings of being sad, distressed, overwhelmed, angry, empty, absent, aimless, lonely, or hopeless. 

Of course, everyone has rough days, stressful experiences, and bad memories. But when a person’s mood or behavior becomes extreme, interfering with their safety or their ability to get through the day, or when happiness and optimism become the exception rather than the norm, that is when a person is considered to have poor mental health or, potentially, to be struggling with an undiagnosed mental health disorder. 

Warning Signs And Symptoms Of Worsening Mental Health

Knowing the key warning signs of worsening mental health can help you spot when you or a loved one needs professional help. Untreated mental illness tends to worsen over time without treatment.

Signs and symptoms of worsening mental health include:

  • frequently feeling sad or low, and having trouble expressing positive emotions
  • mental confusion, i.e., being unable to think clearly
  • restlessness and being unable to concentrate
  • excessive fear, worry, or guilt
  • major energy and mood swings
  • pulling away from friendships, personal responsibilities, and passions
  • consistently low energy levels and fatigue
  • sleep problems, including over- or under-sleeping 
  • increasing alcohol or drug use
  • changes in appetite and self-care
  • psychosis, e.g., experiencing delusions, paranoia, or hallucinations
  • struggling to cope with normal daily stressors
  • strange changes in personality or behavior, including high-risk behavior
  • talking about death or dying
  • signs of self-injury, e.g., cutting

People will often do their best to disguise these signs and symptoms in public or private, and they may look different from person-to-person and from day-to-day. But, if you take the time to check in with the people you care about, you may be able to notice changes as they happen and let your loved ones know when you are concerned. 

Signs & Symptoms Of Specific Mental Health Disorders

There are many different types of mental health disorders, all of which have their own characteristic signs and symptoms. These conditions are grouped as follows. 

Please note that these summaries are intended to draw your attention to common symptoms that may signal these disorders so that you have a general idea of when help may be needed. Only a medical professional is qualified to diagnose mental illness or recommend a specific course of treatment. 

Anxiety Disorders

There are several different types of anxiety disorders, all of which involve unwanted, extreme, and inappropriate feelings of nervousness, fear, or dread. While some anxiety is normal for everyone, people with these disorders often overreact, causing them to have trouble with their daily activities. 

Anxiety disorders produce symptoms including fatigue, restlessness, sweating, nausea, concentration problems, sleep problems, heart palpitations, and trembling. 

Anxiety disorders include:

  • generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), characterized by chronic psychological and physical feelings of fear, overwhelm, and worry
  • panic disorder, involving panic attacks and sudden, overwhelming feelings of fear or terror
  • specific phobias, irrational fear responses directed towards specific things like heights (acrophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), or public spaces (agoraphobia)
  • separation anxiety, a condition involving an intense fear of being separated from a loved one

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders include all forms of depression and bipolar disorder. While common and among the most treatable of all serious mental illnesses (SMIs), depression can damage your psyche and your physical health over time if left untreated. It also shares a deep connection with suicide, making it all the more important that everyone who experiences symptoms of depression get the help they need to manage it.

Common symptoms of depressive mood disorders include flat or negative emotions, irritability, sleep problems, guilt or feelings of worthlessness, low sex drive, lack of interest in other activities, changes in appetite and weight, fatigue, problems making decisions, and physical aches and pains. 

Mood disorders include:

  • major depression, involving significant symptoms of depression that continue for at least two weeks
  • dysthymia/persistent depressive disorder, chronic low-grade symptoms of depression lasting for two years or more
  • bipolar disorder (manic-depression), producing alternating periods of low-energy depression and high-energy mania 
  • seasonal affective disorder (SAD), symptoms of depression linked to a specific time of year, often the winter, when daylight is limited
  • postpartum depression (PPD), depression that develops after the birth of a child

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience persistent, unwanted thoughts or fixations (obsessions) that often lead to the development of ritual actions and behaviors (compulsions). 

Obsessions can be wide-ranging, with examples including:

  • fixations on germs and washing
  • worries about injury or assault
  • fears about losing or forgetting things
  • fixations on a certain aspect of sex, religion, or violence 
  • a focus on things being properly ordered, symmetrical, or complete
  • considerations given to certain numbers, letters, or patterns

Keep in mind that a person’s obsession is unwanted, involuntary, and sometimes deeply disturbing and upsetting. Most people with obsessions are fully aware that the fixation is irrational, but they are unable to stop and so develop patterns of behavior designed to satisfy their obsession. OCD therefore involves compulsive, repeated ritual behaviors like keeping a certain routine, washing, tapping, counting, arranging, repeating words or phrases, checking locks, scouring the internet, and seeking reassurance from others. 

OCD can vary from mild to severe and often gets worse over time without treatment. It’s also commonly associated with co-occurring anxiety disorders. 

Psychotic Disorders

Psychosis is a state in which a person’s perception of the world and their own thinking become distorted, falling out of touch with reality. It typically involves delusions (strange beliefs), paranoia (a feeling that others are watching or working against you), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), and disorganized thinking, speech, or behavior.

Psychosis may be produced by certain mental health disorders or abuse of certain substances, especially stimulants like methamphetamine. 

Psychotic disorders include:

  • schizophrenia, a long-term psychotic disorder that can be managed using medications, psychotherapy, and specialized personal care
  • schizoaffective disorder, producing symptoms of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder
  • schizophreniform disorder, producing symptoms of schizophrenia that last for only between one and six months
  • postpartum psychosis (PPP), unusual and potentially dangerous behaviors and psychotic symptoms that develop some time after childbirth

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs due to changes in the brain brought about after extreme, terrifying experiences. Trauma triggers can vary, but examples include sexual assault, car accidents, the unexpected loss of a loved one, warfare, or natural disasters. 

When someone experiences trauma, they will most likely feel shock, anger, fear, guilt, or grief, or any combination of these. However, when PTSD develops, a person will continue to experience prolonged and often worsening symptoms, possibly reliving the experience through flashbacks and nightmares, avoiding things or thoughts associated with the traumatic event, and experiencing extreme emotional reactivity, sleep problems, and lasting negative feelings. 

PTSD usually develops within three months of the event that triggers it, but in some cases isn’t identified until many years later, especially if the trauma happened during childhood when the person’s resources were limited, wasn’t addressed by parents, and was buried. PTSD is often linked to abuse of drugs or alcohol and suicidal thoughts. 

Personality Disorders

This class of disorder occurs when a person develops extreme, inflexible, and unhelpful aspects of their thinking and personality that interfere with their perception of the world, their personal responsibilities, and their ability to form healthy relationships. 

Personality disorders include:

  • paranoid personality disorder, involving unwarranted fear and distrust of others and their motivations
  • schizoid personality disorder, in which a person is not interested in interacting with others or forming relationships, and has trouble expressing a full range of emotions
  • schizotypal personality disorder, characterized by odd beliefs, speech, and behavior as well as discomfort with forming relationships or trusting others
  • antisocial personality disorder, and a long-term pattern of habitually using, exploiting, and harming others
  • borderline personality disorder, characterized by extreme and unmanaged emotions, impulsivity, and reactivity
  • histrionic personality disorder, in which a person is highly emotional, dramatic, and constantly attention-seeking
  • narcissistic personality disorder, which occurs when someone lacks empathy and believes that they are better than others and should be given special treatment accordingly
  • avoidant personality disorder, in which a person feels shy and lesser than those around them, leading them to avoid interpersonal interaction for fear of exposure or rejection
  • dependent personality disorder, involving a deep dependence on others and a constant need to be taken care of, even if they are abused or exploited
  • obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, in which a person is extremely inflexible, ordered, and controlling in their behavior, personal space, or relationships

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common childhood behavioral disorder that often improves with age. However, there are countless American adults who, knowingly or unknowingly, also live with unmanaged ADHD and its many symptoms. The condition is caused by abnormally low dopamine levels and can be treated using low doses of stimulant medications like amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methylphenidate, as well as certain non-stimulant medications, and counseling. 

Symptoms of adult ADHD can be quite different than symptoms in children, but tend to include impulsivity, lack of organization, starting new projects before finishing old ones, misplacing things, restlessness, talkativeness, mood swings, impatience, substance abuse, and risk-taking. 

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are conditions that involve abnormal behavior, thoughts, and emotions surrounding food and self-image. These conditions can be extremely serious, damaging, and complicated to treat, and may be recognized through signs and symptoms including cooking or baking without eating, not eating in front of others, encouraging other people to eat “unhealthy” foods, refusing to try or share food, preoccupation with food-related topics, odd regressive behavior, insomnia, fatigue, and weight loss/gain. 

Specific eating disorders include:

  • anorexia nervosa, involving distorted body image, self-starvation, and excessive exercise
  • bulimia nervosa, repeated binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting and other unhealthy weight-loss practices
  • binge-eating disorder, characterized by periods of compulsive and excessive eating, often in response to stress or poor self-esteem

Suicidal Thoughts Or Intentions

Suicidal thoughts usually begin some time before someone attempts suicide. Those around someone who is having suicidal thoughts may notice symptoms of depression, talking or making jokes about death or dying, expressing that others would be better off without them, isolation from others, changes in sleep or appetite, neglecting self-care, giving away possessions, subtly saying goodbye to those in their life, or causing themselves self-harm. 

Unfortunately, people experiencing suicidal thoughts or planning for suicide often have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings or reaching out for help. They may also feel judged or not worth helping. But with care and treatment, they can work through these feelings and live long and rewarding lives. 

Recognizing And Responding To A Mental Health Emergency

In most cases, talking to someone in your life about their mental health and the specific concerns you have noticed is the best you may be able to do. It isn’t your job to force them into treatment or to demand answers from them if they don’t want to share. 

However, there are certain signs and symptoms that are more alarming and may require an immediate call to local first responders (911) or other forms of intervention.

Signs of a mental health crisis include:

  • signs of psychosis, e.g., hallucinations or delusions
  • other extreme confusion or amnesia
  • self-harming behavior
  • talking about committing suicide or making suicidal plans
  • not caring for one’s own basic needs
  • neglecting one’s own children or other dependents

In these situations, you should talk to the person experiencing a crisis if it is safe to do so, ask gentle questions, listen with compassion, and offer to connect them to services like the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988), the NAMI Crisis Helpline/Textline, or the SAMHSA National Helpline. And don’t be afraid to summon first responders, as they are trained to respond to both physical and mental health emergencies and to get people the help and support they need in the midst of a crisis. 

Inpatient Mental Health Treatment At Ohio Recovery Center 

Mental health disorders can develop in anyone for almost any reason. And, when you or a loved one experiences signs of worsening mental health, it’s important to have a plan to respond.

Here at Ohio Recovery Center (ORC), we specialize in helping people who are experiencing mental health issues of all kinds develop a foundation for a successful and long-lasting recovery. Our inpatient treatment center is located in Van Wert, OH, on a sprawling, 55-acre campus surrounded by woodlands, offering an alternative to a psychiatric hospital or serving as a “step down” following such care.

Our multidisciplinary treatment team offers:

  • mental health stabilization services
  • medication management 
  • individual and group psychotherapy
  • family therapy
  • substance abuse/dual diagnosis treatment services
  • other psychosocial treatment services
  • alternative treatment programming
  • aftercare planning 

To learn more and find out if ORC is the right option for you or your loved one, please reach out today.

  1. American Psychiatric Association - Warning Signs of Mental Illness
  2. Cleveland Clinic - Mental Health Disorders: Types, Diagnosis & Treatment Options
  3. Mayo Clinic - Mental illness: Symptoms and causes,eating%20disorders%20and%20addictive%20behaviors.
  4. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) - Mental Health Conditions

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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