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How to Recognise Mental Illness

Mental Illness

Table of Contents

Mental illness is a wide range of conditions affecting a person’s mood, thinking, behaviour, and overall mental health.

Many mental disorders can bring a significant impact on your ability to function, be it at work, at school, at home, and in the community. Hence, it is important to recognise warning signs of mental illness.

No Shame in Mental Ill-Health

Mental disorders are disturbances in a person’s thinking, feeling, or behaviour that can become a problem in their overall mental function. Just like the term ‘physical illness’ is used to describe several physical health conditions, ‘mental illness’ covers a range of mental health conditions.

If left without treatment, these conditions can greatly impact one’s way of living. These include their ability to work, care for their family, and socialise with others.

Similar to having other health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, there is no shame in having a mental disorder.

People will mental illness are not alone in their battle. Do not let stigma create self-doubt or shame in getting treatment. There is no shame in seeking help, and recovery is very much possible.

Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Learning the common symptoms of mental disorders can help early recognition if you or a loved one needs help.

Symptoms may include:

Feeling of sadness and burnout

Everyone will feel down from time to time, but if the feeling of sadness lingers for more than two weeks (alongside the sense of guilt and hopelessness), it could be a sign of depression.

Severe and persistent feelings of sadness, burnout, and uselessness are what distinguish depression from mood changes. Other symptoms of depression include loss of self-esteem, sleeping difficulties, and loss of interest in things previously enjoyed.

Ongoing worries and fears

People with a general anxiety disorder (GAD) may constantly worry about activities or events, even those that are ordinary or routine.

The anxiety may not go away for weeks, months, or years and worsen over time if left without treatment.

Intense fear and panic

Panic disorder is characterised by losing control of your feelings and the presumption of terror when there is no real danger.

Having intense heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness, trembling, and near-fainting experiences can be signs of panic disorder.

Unexplained physical symptoms

Physical symptoms that do not go away can indicate emotional distress or stress overload. These symptoms may include headaches, stomachaches, and chronic pain without a clear cause.

Chronic fatigue (lack of energy)

The body tends to shut down when it cannot handle the overload of emotions and stress. As a result, the person may feel tired and not have the energy to do things they once enjoyed.

Chronic fatigue could be a sign of emotional distress or depression.

Mood fluctuations

Extreme behaviour that varies between high and low energy is known as mood fluctuations.

People with high energy tend to have a reduced need for sleep and loss touch with reality. While people with low energy have zero motivation and lose interest in daily activity.

Both mood fluctuations – whether high or low – could be a sign of bipolar disorder. The length of time and the seriousness of the cycles will vary depending on the person.


Pay attention to sudden changes in thoughts and behaviour as they could be a sign of developing mental illness.

Keep in mind that the onset of the symptoms mentioned above (two or more) may indicate a problem that should be assessed.

There are many resources to which you can refer for information about mental illness – helplines, websites, information services, and a mental health first aid course (MHFA).

To learn more about symptoms and interventions of common mental disorders, consider getting a mental health first aid course.

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