What are the Common Symptoms of Mental Illness?

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  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2018
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Symptoms of mental illness are specific to each individual and type of mental illness. There are a few symptoms that are more common than others. Self-destructive behavior, isolation, and emotions like anger and fear are some examples of these symptoms. Other common symptoms are loss of interest in activities that were previous of interest and significant changes in sleeping and eating habits.

Self-destructive behavior is one of the most common symptoms of mental illness. Eating disorders, drug abuse, and engaging in generally risky behaviors are considered self-destructive. Self-inflicted injuries, such as burning, cutting, and hair pulling are also self-destructive. A healthy mind is self-protective and calculates risk, engaging only in risks that provide a clear benefit. Self-destruction indicates a low sense of self-value.

Symptoms of mental illness may also include isolation. Isolation can be a result of paranoia, feeling as though there is no one to trust. It can also occur because of low self-esteem, meaning the person may feel as though he or she is a burden on other people. Anxiety may be another reason for isolation, as socializing with even close friends and family can become too overwhelming for people suffering from mental illness.


Anger can be a healthy emotion when experienced and expressed appropriately. Anger problems are common symptoms of mental illness. Everyone has bad days from time to time, but chronic anger is a very toxic mental health issue. Anger problems often develop from a hostile view of the world and low self-esteem. This emotion can cause a person to always feel on guard and that others are threatening and need to be shut down. When left untreated, anger problems can lead to abusive relationships.

Fear is another perfectly healthy emotion under normal circumstances. Under abnormal circumstances, however, fear is at the heart of many symptoms of mental illness. Phobias, generalized anxiety, and panic disorders are just a few examples that center on fear. Typically, these cases involve a trauma that was under-processed. Phobias are a great example of this. If a person has a traumatic, near-drowning experience and doesn't fully understand what occurred, the person's brain might recognize all water as life-threatening, resulting in a phobia of water.

Other symptoms of mental illness include loss of interest in activities that used to hold interest. These activities could be school studies, career pursuits, or hobbies and are most often a sign of depression. Things that once were high priorities may seem pointless during a period of depression, or it could be that the person doesn't feel he or she has what it takes to succeed in the activity. Depression also causes low energy levels, so the loss of interest may not even be conscious.

Significant changes in eating and sleeping habits are also common symptoms of mental illness. These symptoms are fairly universal to all kinds of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, and other disorders. Loss of appetite and sleep may indicate that the person is preoccupied with cognitive distortions, such as self-abusive thoughts or fears. Over-eating and sleeping might mean that the person is using the eating and sleeping to avoid problems that he or she doesn't feel capable of handling.



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