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Spotlight on mental illness: Signs, facts and help

Oct. 7, 2018—Do you know someone who struggles with a mental illness? It doesn't always show. A loved one, a co-worker—even the person you see in the mirror—could have a serious illness, like depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or an eating disorder, and you might not know it.

It pays to be aware

Learning the warning signs of mental illness can be a crucial step toward helping someone or yourself. It's important to remember: There are different types of mental illness, each with its own specific signs. But common symptoms of mental illness in general may include:

  • Having excessive worries or fears.
  • Feeling unusually sad or low.
  • Having trouble concentrating, learning or thinking.
  • Having extreme mood swings, including high feelings (euphoria) on some days.
  • Feeling irritable or angry a lot.
  • Avoiding friends or social activities.
  • Having difficulty understanding or relating to others.
  • Having changes in sleep habits, sex drive or eating (such as eating too little or too much).
  • Having low energy.
  • Having delusions or hallucinations.
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs.
  • Having ongoing unexplained aches and pains.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by daily activities, problems or stress.
  • Thinking about suicide.
  • Having intense fear of weight gain or concerns with personal appearance.

A common, often-silent struggle

Unfortunately, all-too-many people who may have a mental illness don't talk about their symptoms. One reason? There's still a great deal of stigma around mental health conditions.

And it's dangerous, experts say, because baseless fear and shame keep many people from seeking help, which many Americans may need. In fact, as many as 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition each year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports.

Here are a few more key facts about mental illness in the U.S., also courtesy of NAMI:

  • Nearly 7 percent of adults have at least one bout with major depression every year.
  • About 2.6 percent of adults are living with bipolar disorder.
  • About 1.1 percent of adults have schizophrenia.
  • Some 18 percent of adults experience an anxiety disorder, such as PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias, in a given year.

How to get help

If you're worried that you or someone you know has a mental health issue, help is available. With a proper diagnosis and treatment, many people with a mental illness can begin to see their way through.

To get help, you can start with your primary doctor. He or she may refer you to a mental health professional for an evaluation. If you're worried about someone else's mental health, you may want to contact a state or county mental health authority. They may have information and resources for helping your loved one.

If someone could be suicidal, take it seriously. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and talk to a trained crisis worker; they are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or call 911 to get immediate help, if you think someone's life could be at risk.

Visit our Mental Health topic center to learn even more.

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