Commons Signs and Symptoms of Major Mental Illnesses
For a general list of signs and symptoms, visit our Seeking Services section.
Below are specific symptoms associated with common mental health disorders. These lists are very brief – there are many and varied symptoms that can occur depending on the disorder someone is experiencing and the severity of their illness. However, these should serve as a guide to the types of symptoms associated with many common forms of mental illness.
Clinical depression lasts for at least two weeks and affects a person’s emotions, thinking, behavior and physical wellbeing.
- Emotional – Sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, mood swings, lack of emotional responsiveness, helplessness, hopelessness
- Psychological – Frequent self-criticism, self-blame, pessimism, impaired memory and concentration, indecisiveness and confusion, tendency to believe others see you in a negative light, thoughts of death and suicide
- Behavioral – Crying spells, withdrawal from others, worrying, neglect of responsibilities, loss of interest in personal appearance, loss of motivation, drug or alcohol use
- Physical – Chronic fatigue, lack of energy, sleeping too much or too little, overeating or loss of appetite, constipation, weight loss or gain, irregular menstrual cycle, loss of sexual desire, unexplained aches and pains
An anxiety disorder differs from normal stress and anxiety. It is more severe and long-lasting, and interferes with work and relationships. Anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder.
- Physical – Heart palpitations, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, flushing, hyperventilation, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, sweating, tingling and numbness, choking, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, restlessness, tremors/shaking
- Psychological – Unrealistic and/or excessive fear and worry, mind racing or going blank, decrease concentration and memory, indecisiveness, irritability, impatience, anger, confusion, restlessness or feeling “on edge” or nervousness, tiredness, sleep disturbance, vivid dreams
- Behavioral – Avoidance of situations, obsessive or compulsive behavior, distress in social situations, phobic behavior
Bi-Polar Disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings. A person with Bi-Polar disorder may have periods of depression, mania, and normal mood, but must have episodes of both depression and mania to be diagnosed as having Bi-Polar Disorder. Bi-Polar Disorder used to be called Manic-Depressive Disorder. Symptoms include those for both depression and mania.
- Depressive Symptoms - Sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, lack of emotional responsiveness, helplessness, hopelessness, self-criticism, self-blame, pessimism, impaired memory and concentration, indecisiveness and confusion, thoughts of death and suicide, crying spells, withdrawal from others, worrying, neglect of responsibilities, loss of interest in personal appearance, loss of motivation, chronic fatigue, lack of energy, overeating or loss of appetite, constipation, weight loss or gain, loss of sexual desire
- Manic Symptoms – Increased energy and overactivity, elated mood, needing less sleep than usual, rapid thinking and speech, lack of inhibitions, grandiose delusions, lack of insight.
Psychosis is a mental disorder in which a person has lost some contact with reality. There may be severe disturbances in thinking, emotions or behavior. Psychotic disorders are not as common as depression and anxiety disorders, affecting just over 1% of the population. Psychotic disorders include Schizophrenia, Psychotic Mania, Psychotic Depression, Schizoaffective Disorder and Drug-Induced Psychosis.
- Changes in Emotion and Motivation – Depression, anxiety, irritability, suspiciousness, blunted, flat or inappropriate emotion, change in appetite, reduced energy and motivation
- Changes in Thinking and Perception – Difficulties with concentration or attention, sense of alteration of self, others or the outside world (e.g. feeling that self or others have changed or are acting different in some way), strange ideas, unusual perceptual experiences (such as a reduction or greater intensity of smell, sound or color), delusions, hallucinations
- Changes in Behavior – Sleep disturbance, social isolation or withdrawal, reduced ability to carry out work or other roles.
See our Chemical Dependency – Signs and Symptoms page
*Note – Signs, symptoms and definitions provided courtesy of the Mental Health First Aid training curriculum.