Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to various mental health conditions that affect mood, thoughts, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health issues from time to time. However, when persistent signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and interfere with functioning, mental health problems become mental illness.
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Mental illness can make you unhappy and cause problems in your daily life, such as school, work, and relationships. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and talk therapy (psychotherapy).
Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
Examples of signs and symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or down
- Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
- Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
- Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
- Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
- Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
- Problems with alcohol or drug use
- Major changes in eating habits
- Sex drive changes
- Excessive anger, hostility or violence
- Suicidal thinking
Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches and pains.
When to see a doctor
If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness, see your primary care provider or a mental health professional. Most mental illnesses do not get better on their own, and if left untreated, mental illnesses can get worse over time and cause serious problems.
If you have suicidal thoughts
Suicidal ideation and behavior are common in some mental illnesses. Seek help immediately if you think you might get hurt or attempt suicide.
- Call 119 or your local emergency number immediately.
- Call a mental health professional.
- Please contact the suicide hotline. In the US, call or text 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Or use Lifeline Chat. The service is free and confidential.
- Seek help from your family doctor.
- Reach out to your close friends and loved ones. Talk to a clergyman, spiritual leader, or someone in your faith community.
- Seek help because suicidal thoughts don’t get better on their own.
Help loved ones
If your loved one is showing signs of mental illness, be open and honest about your concerns. You may not be able to force someone to seek professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find and schedule an appointment with a qualified psychologist. They may come to meet you.