Lately, your friend hasn’t been quite himself. He seems ‘different’ and ‘off.’ How would you know if she’s having mood swings or if she’s mentally ill? What are the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions that would help us distinguish them from other simpler health concerns?

Mental Health Illness Defined

Mental illness is a term used to describe a group of mental disorders that affect an individual’s personality. They may present as depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders. When a person experiences mood changes, hopelessness, lack of interest to socialize, unpredictable thought patterns and poor self-control, he or she might be having a mental health disorder.

Emotional and Physical Symptoms

  • Mood swings.  While most of us experience mood swings from time to time, extreme mood swings can be distinctive of bipolar disorder, a type of mental health condition wherein a person presents with emotional highs and lows. It is also referred to as manic depression.
  • Illogical thinking.  Persons with psychotic and depressive disorders often present with a disorganized thought process. They are unable to decide reasonably and sometimes think that they have magical powers.
  • Hallucinations. These are things that a mentally ill person senses that are not really there. The most common type is auditory hallucination, which may be characteristic of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
  • Negative thinking and low self-esteem.  Individuals with low self-esteem usually look down on themselves. They feel useless and think negatively about everything that happens to them and their surroundings. They are usually seen in conditions such as depressive and anxiety disorders and personality disorders.


  • Self-harm. This symptom is commonly seen in younger individuals aged 11 to 25. They also have suicidal thoughts, especially those who consume too much alcohol or drugs, which are prevalent in persons with eating and post-traumatic stress disorders.
  • Sleep and appetite problems. Although difficulty sleeping can be caused by a number of factors like stress and anxiety, persistent insomnia can point to a severe mental health illness, including bipolar disorder. Mentally ill individuals also present with excessive weight loss and weight gain.
  • Other equally important symptoms to watch out for are apathy, chronic anxiety, extreme feelings of guilt, and detachment from friends, family, and society.

Ways to Deal with Mental Health Illness

If you know a friend or loved one who has some or all of the above symptoms, your first move would be to tell him to see a health professional. Most cases of mental conditions don’t get cured without professional help. Online tests and assessments cannot fully identify all potential symptoms. However, you may want to provide support by helping him formulate a great treatment plan.


  • Attend treatment sessions regularly. If you have undesirable medication side effects, inform your doctor right away. Always talk to him about anything and everything. This is an essential part of your management and recovery.
  • Drugs and alcohol no more. Alcohol and drugs are some of the most potent triggers of mental health disorders. You will do well to avoid them as much as you can. If you think you can’t quit on your own, ask help from a health professional.
  • Stay fit. Getting into some form of physical activity can definitely diminish the symptoms of mental disorders and reduce side effects of some medications. Swimming, jogging, and dancing are some interesting activities to consider.
  • Think and stay positive. Get rid of the negative thoughts and replace them with happy, positive thoughts. That way you can look forward to every day with a smile and the determination to get better, one day at a time.
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