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Signs of a Mental Health Disorder You Might Be Ignoring

In this video, find out the signs of a serious mental health disorder and how to decide if it is more than just your mood.

Lauren SmithMera Goodman, MD
Written by Lauren Smith | Reviewed by Mera Goodman, MD
Updated on January 12, 2021

It’s easy to brush off mental health issues as just a “bad day” or a “tough time.” After all, everyone experiences some degree of sadness, worry, and compulsiveness from time to time. Mixed emotions are part of being human, after all. But how do you know when certain feelings could be a sign of a more serious mental health disorder?

The line is drawn at your ability to perform your everyday tasks, according to Gail Saltz, MD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “It’s when these things are taken to the degree that they interrupt our ability to function,” says Dr. Saltz, “that they then are called a disorder.”

One of the first signs that something more serious is going on is social withdrawal, according to psychiatrist and HealthiNation Medical Advisory Board member Susan Samuels, MD. When this occurs, people will often engage less with family and friends or lose interest in hobbies and topics.

Other symptoms of a mental health disorder could include:

  • Excessive sadness or anxiety

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns

  • Changes in sex drive

  • Physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, or chest pain

  • Substance abuse

  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Another key factor to pay attention to: duration of symptoms. “If something is lasting for  two weeks or more,” says New York City-based psychologist Jennifer Harstein, PshyD, “it’s really important to recognize that, ask for help, reach out to your doctor, talk to your partner or whomever, and see where you can get some support.”

If you’re tempted to tough it out, don’t. The longer you sit with the negative thought cycles—untreated—the more developed and ingrained those thoughts can become. This will make it harder to recover, as well as more likely to relapse later on.  (Here’s more information on how depression is treated and how bipolar disorder is treated.)

A family history of mental health disorders may increases your chances of developing one, since many mental health issues have a strong genetic component. On the other hand, having a family member with a mental disorder makes you more aware of the symptoms so you can recognize it early and seek treatment sooner.

If a mental health disorder runs in your family, you can still take steps to nurture you mental health. If you suspect you may be experiencing a mental health disorder, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends reaching out to your health insurance, primary care doctor, or state mental health authority for resources.

“Because mental illness is genetically based, there’s not a lot you can do to prevent the illness,” says Dr. Samuels, “but there’s a lot you can do to prevent the severity of the illness.”

Additional Medical Contributors (5)
  • Gail Saltz, MDDr. Saltz is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine and a psychoanalyst with the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.
    • Susan Samuels, MDDr. Samuels is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
      • Khadijah Watkins, MD, MPHDr. Watkins is an assistant professor of psychiatry in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
        • Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyDDr. Hartstein is the owner of Hartstein Psychological Services, a group psychotherapy practice in New York City.
          • Ben Michaelis, PhDDr. Michaelis is a clinical and media psychologist in New York City.


            Know the warning signs. Arlington, VA: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (Accessed on January 10, 2021 at https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs.)

            Warning signs of mental illness. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2015. (Accessed on January 10, 2021 at https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness.)

            GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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