10 Red Flags You're Struggling With Your Mental Health, From A Neuroscientist
Everybody worries at times. Everybody feels down occasionally. Everybody has trouble focusing sometimes. How can you tell if your anxiousness, sadness, distraction, or other symptoms are normal or signs of a mental health problem? I hear this question from many people.
With physical health, it's easy to measure factors like blood pressure, glucose levels, and heart rate. You can get hard data that shows if your levels are within the normal range or if they're too high or too low. Quantifying mental health, however, can be more challenging.
When attempting to do so, first remember that major life events can take a serious toll on your emotional well-being and cognitive function. Moving, losing a loved one, getting divorced, or having a baby can greatly impact your moods and emotions. These ups and downs are usually temporary and resolve over time, while mental health issues tend to persist.
Similarly, biological changes can impact your mental health. For example, medical conditions, certain medications, head injuries, hormonal imbalances, infectious diseases, and exposure to toxins can be at the root of some mental health challenges.
Once you've ruled out these common causes, it's time to assess the severity of your symptoms. Here are 11 signs you're struggling with your mental health and could use some additional support.
Signs you're struggling with your mental health
The No. 1 sign that your issues are more than just everyday ups and downs is if they are causing problems in any area of your life. With my patients, it's typically when they feel like some area of their life is out of their control that they finally make an appointment to seek mental health treatment. Let's dig a little deeper into the various aspects of your life that may be impacted when you have a mental health problem:
Your work performance is suffering
I have treated many people who say they can't concentrate at work, don't turn in projects because they're worried they aren't good enough, or routinely miss deadlines. Lacking the motivation to start a new project, having difficulty following directions, or having run-ins with co-workers are other indicators that your emotional issues may need treatment.
It's impacting your relationships
Many people seek help when they're on the brink of divorce. If you're withdrawing from your family and friends, picking fights with loved ones, or feeling disconnected in any way, it may be time to seek help. Changes in sexual desire are another sign that may be related to mental health problems. If your symptoms are driving a wedge between you and your loved ones, it's a red flag.
You're getting into hot water financially
Many people who have sat on my psychiatrist's couch made an appointment because their symptoms led to financial problems. If you're forgetting to pay your bills, spending excessively, or compulsively gambling, it's time to take your issues seriously.
You're having trouble with sleep
If you're so anxious, depressed, or revved up at night that it keeps you from falling asleep, take note. Or, if you're waking up in the middle of the night with stressful thoughts racing through your mind, you might benefit from seeking help. On the flip side, if you're sleeping more than usual and can't get out of bed, you may have a problem.
Your appetite or eating habits have changed
Some people are so anxious that they lose their appetite and start dropping pounds. Others eat to soothe worries or sadness and start gaining weight. Any unexplained significant changes in appetite or weight are a sign that something's wrong.
Your energy levels are off
Feeling over-energized? Or, conversely, does it seem like your get-up-and-go got up and went? Major changes or fluctuations in your energy levels may indicate some form of mental disorder.
You're getting into legal trouble
Are your impulsive decisions leading to run-ins with the law? When you keep making the same mistakes over and over despite the consequences, it's a sure sign you need help.
Engaging in any actions that go against your moral code should be a red flag.
You're engaging in uncharacteristic behaviors
If you're behaving in ways that are out of character for you, and it's leading to regrets or causing trouble in your life, it's time to admit that you might have a problem. For example, I've had many patients who finally came to me because they were uncharacteristically stealing money from work, lying, or cheating on a spouse. Engaging in any actions that go against your moral code should be a red flag.
You aren't thinking clearly
Ongoing brain fog and a lack of mental clarity are common signs that something is wrong. I meet with many patients whose brain fog is related to depression, ADD/ADHD, or other mental health issues.
You're using substances to cope
Are you turning to alcohol, marijuana, or other substances to fill feelings of emptiness, to calm anxiousness, or to stimulate or energize yourself? Using substances to try to regulate your emotional state is another mental health red flag.
If you notice one or more of these signs, it doesn't mean that you definitely have a mental illness. However, it's an indicator that you may benefit from seeking help from a mental health professional.
Daniel Amen, MD, is a clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist, physician, professor and 10-time New York Times bestselling author. He is a double board-certified child and adult psychiatrist and founder of Amen Clinics, Inc., which has eight clinics across the country with one of the highest published success rates for treating complex psychiatric issues with the world’s largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior, with more than 160,000 scans on patients from 121 countries. Amen is the lead researcher for the largest brain imaging and rehabilitation study for professional football players that demonstrates high levels of brain damage in players with solutions for significant recovery as a result of his extensive work. His research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury was recognized by Discover magazine’s Year in Science issue as one of the “100 Top Stories of 2015.” Amen has authored and co-authored more than 70 professional articles, seven scientific book chapters and 40-plus books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestsellers, “The Daniel Plan” and “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.” His most recent book, “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades,” includes editorial contributions from his teenage daughter, Chloe Amen, and niece, Alizé Castellanos.