Mental illness comes in degrees. The obvious illnesses that have observable and extreme behaviors are actually a small percentage of the entire spectrum. The majority are less overt – what some call “quiet” emotional disturbance – and most people actually experience some level of these at various points in their lives.
- About 1 in 5 adults will experience mental/emotional distress or illness in a given year
- About 1 in 25 experience mental/emotional illness to a degree that it impacts their abilities to conduct basic life activities
- 18.1% experience an anxiety disorder in a year
Given these statistics, it would not be unusual for a career professional to suffer some mental illness issues, especially during stressful times or events in their lives.
The key to mental health is to recognize these symptoms early on and to take steps to alleviate the causes. Or, if that is not possible, find methods to deal with those causes in healthy ways. The early warning signs may be subtle and are usually internal. But, being aware of them will allow a person to take action.
Here Are Some Tips That Will Help You Identify Early Signs
1. Feelings of Exhaustion, Even After a Normal Night’s Sleep
Exhaustion is usually a coping mechanism for stress caused by personal or work problems. Being exhausted and welcoming sleep as a result is a classic avoidance mechanism. When you sleep, you don’t have to worry or address the issues you are facing.
2. Lack of Motivation
You have a good idea of your normal level of energy and motivation with which you attack tasks and activities. When that motivation drops off, it can be because the stress is causing a type of burnout. Lack of motivation can transfer over to your personal life too – turning down invites to social gatherings, lack of desire to get up, get dressed, and take care with personal hygiene.
We all have common and normal episodes of forgetfulness. Some of us need to write everything down on a calendar, so we do not miss appointments and deadlines. But, when forgetfulness goes beyond what is normal for you, this is an early sign that anxiety is creeping in. Again, it is often a coping mechanism to avoid facing situations or events that are causing worry/anxiety.
4. Appetite Change
If you do have a change in appetite and you have eliminated any physical cause, your body is telling you that something emotional is going on. Loss of appetite is often a sign of excessive worry; a gain in appetite is often a coping mechanism for not wanting to deal with a traumatic event.
5. Increase in Irritability
Too much stress can cause irritability, and this is common on college campuses. When students suffer from mental health issues, usually due to the stress of school work or social problems, it is often manifested in irritability. Adults are no different. When there are family issues, financial problems, or stressful situations at work, the irritability usually expresses itself at those who are not related to the situation. If you find yourself becoming irritated with others who are “innocent”, better look for the cause and deal with it.
6. Difficulty Focusing
There are often worries and anxieties that we push to the back of our subconscious. There they reside, but they do not remain “silent”. They manifest in a number of ways, and one of these is the lack of ability to focus. If you should find that, in the midst of a task of any sort, your mind jumps to other things; if you get up physically and move about to other activities (which are not planned, scheduled breaks), you are not focusing well. Sometimes this can come from just feeling exhausted, but remember – feeling exhausted can be an early sign of emotional distress/illness too.
7. Worry/Anxiety That is Not Specified
This is often referred to as a general malaise. You have a general feeling of unease or worry, and you cannot specifically “peg” the cause of the anxiety. There are causes of this, for certain, but they may be buried quite deeply in your subconscious. When they bubble up as an undefined worry, however, this can be an early sign that should be addressed. It might be time to seek some counseling assistance, for this general anxiety will affect your work performance and your personal life too.
8. Increased Negativity
We all know people who have a negative outlook on life in general. It’s a part of their personality, and it is consistent. What is not consistent is a change to increased negativity on the part of a person who is typically more positive in their general outlook. This change in mood is cause for concern. It could be an early sign of clinical depression, or at least a response to trauma or a major life change. The change, for example, can be a result of a personal issue, such as a divorce, or a career event, such as loss of a job. If the increase in negativity resolves when those life or work events are resolved, there is nothing for concern. However, if the change continues, there is a clear signal being given.
9. Ruminating to Excess
You have an argument with a friend, family member, or colleague. After it is over, you spend the rest of the day and/or evening reliving it, going over it blow by blow, thinking about things you should or should not have said. We all do this occasionally, because the conflict affected us deeply. However, if you find yourself ruminating often, even over small conflicts, and possibly losing sleep as a result, you may be in the early stages of some emotional distress.
10. Not Finding Pleasure Where You Normally Do
Perhaps you have always enjoyed pleasure reading; maybe it is working out, going for happy hours with friends or colleagues, or coaching a little league team. Those things that bring us pleasure help keep us balanced and optimistic. If those things are no longer bringing pleasure, it is important to ask why. This could be an early sign of depression.
Don’t Overreact, But Don’t Ignore
It’s easy to read symptoms of illnesses, physical or emotional, and suddenly “develop” them. Most students who study a basic abnormal psychology course in college are convinced they “have” all of the mental illnesses that are covered.
Many of the symptoms/signals described above, while present, may be very temporary, and the result of situations/circumstances that will dissipate with time. But, be aware of signals that persist, find healthy ways to cope, or, if not, seek some counseling help.
Amanda Sparks, pro writer and head of content at Essay Supply, lifestyle writer at Huffington Post. A former psychologist, I strive to help people overcome their troubles with mental health and come back to the normal life.