11 Habits That Can Actually Be Signs Of Mental Illness

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While the signs and symptoms of different mental illnesses can be tricky to spot, it helps to consider how they might show up in the form of certain daily habits. By knowing what to look for, it can be easier to see these habits for what they really are, and even get some help. Because if they’re holding you back, or negatively impacting your life, then they very well may be something worth treating.

“A habit becomes a sign of mental illness once it hijacks your physical and/or mental well-being and interferes with your [life],” Dr. Georgia Witkin, Progyny’s head of patient services development, tells Bustle. “For instance, constant worry [can lead you] to make life-altering changes, such as not leaving the house,” which can impact your career, relationships, and hobbies.

These habits can take many forms, and will be different for everyone. But what you’ll want to keep an eye out for are habits that seem out of character, or ones that are making life more difficult. When that’s the case, “it’s worth a visit to a healthcare provider who can help to identify and address the underlying issue(s),” Susan Weinstein, co-executive director of Families for Depression Awareness, tells Bustle.

With that in mind, read on below for some habits that can be a sign of a mental health concern, according to experts.

1. Wanting To Spend More Time Alone

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“No longer wanting to see loved ones or participating in hobbies is indicative of mental illness,” Dr. Witkin says, with depression being one of the most likely culprits, since it can make it difficult to go about your usual routine.

That said, it’s always OK to take time for yourself, and hang out alone. But if you used to go out, see friends, or enjoy certain hobbies, it may be a good idea to reach out to a therapist, if you can no longer find the energy to do so.

2. Missing Work Or Appointments

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If you’re generally on top of your schedule, but have developed the habit of showing up late to work, calling out, or blowing off appointments, take note.

“Individuals [that] frequently disengage could be dealing with high anxiety, which often leads to avoidance, or possibly depression, which can lead to an inability to reach out,” Reynelda Jones, LMSW, CAADC, ADS, tells Bustle.

Even things like bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues, can make it difficult to get to work on time — or even get there at all.

3. Spending A Lot Of Money

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There’s nothing wrong with going shopping, or treating yourself to something nice. But for many people, excessive spending can be a sign of a health concern.

For example, “spending large amounts of money often manifests in an individual whose experiencing a manic episode,” Jones says, which is an aspect of bipolar disorder.

“Often the individual spends money beyond [their] financial means,” she says, only to feel really guilty or hopeless about how much they spent, once they come down from this phase. If this has become an issue for you, it may be time to ask for help.

4. Feeling Irritated & Picking Fights

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While it’s fine to have the occasional disagreement, acting in an excessively angry or cranky way, or picking little fights with others, isn’t a habit that should be overlooked.

“Anger and irritability, such as flying off the handle or constant grousing, can be signs of depression or bipolar disorder, particularly when they seem unprovoked and unusual for that person,” Weinstein says.

If these habits sound familiar, reaching out to a therapist may be a good next step, so you can figure out what’s going on.

5. Starting New Projects And/Or Businesses

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This is another habit that’s common among people who have bipolar disorder. But unlike folks who are starting businesses because they’ve thought it through and are thinking clearly, someone with this disorder might go forth with no concern to the risks they’re taking on, Jones says.

When someone is manic, they might also talk rapidly or jump from topic to topic, Dr. Indra Cidambi, psychiatrist and addiction expert, tells Bustle. Or they’ll take on too many things at once. Oftentimes, manic episodes are followed by periods of depression, which is when these grandiose plans can fall apart.

While it’s always great to learn new things, start new projects, and get excited about business ideas, this habit could mean something isn’t quite right.

6. Developing New Mannerisms

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“A shifting posture or gesture or even how we walk throughout our day can signal shifts in mood, which can often be a sign of mental health concerns or maybe even mental illness,” therapist Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, tells Bustle.

It could, for example, point to a mood disorder, since movement can be a “reflection of our emotional state and mental health,” she says. Think along the lines of new mannerisms, and other habits that seem out of character.

7. Misplacing Things

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Not being able to find belongings in a messy room, along with an inability to make decisions and forgetting things, can be a sign of depression, Weinstein says.

If this is a problem you’re struggling with, let a doctor know. They can help you figure out if it is, in fact, stemming from depression, and set you on the right course of treatment.

8. Staying Up All Night

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“Sleeping either too little or too much can be a symptom of a mental disorder,” Dr. Witkin says. “Often times, anxiety disorders cause insomnia or restless sleep, while depression causes oversleeping and eventual fatigue.”

In general, it’s healthy to sleep about seven to nine hours a night. If this is something you struggle to do, you may want to look into reasons why, including possible mental health issues.

9. Worrying About The Day Ahead

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While it’s common to feel a bit stressed or worried as you think about the day ahead, it might be a sign of anxiety if you worry to the point of distraction, avoid certain situations, or play out worst-case scenarios.

As Dr. Cidambi says, “Excessive worrying that is disproportionate to normal, everyday events is one important sign that one may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.”

10. Repeating Small Daily Rituals

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“Normal rituals we might all partake in that are a way to mark a change of pace for the day — such as kissing a [partner] goodbye, or checking to make sure that we have our keys or phone — are normal, and can be helpful rituals,” licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Scott Hoye, PsyD, tells Bustle.

But for folks with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), these habits can take over. Instead of locking your front door once, for example, you might lock it ten times, or even drive back home to lock it again.

That’s because this disorder can cause you to doubt yourself, perform rituals over and over again, or experience magical thinking. So when a habit has turned into an obsession, Dr. Hoye says it may be a sign of a mental health concern.

11. Needing A Drink After Work

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There’s nothing wrong with getting a drink after work, having wine with dinner, or hanging out at the bar. But if this habit has turned into something you need to do in order to relax, consider how it might be a way to mask symptoms of anxiety or depression, Dr. Hoye says.

It’s not uncommon for folks experiencing excessive worry, for example, to develop ways to relax, such as reaching for a drink. So if you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to let a doctor know.

It can be tough to spot these habits, and see them for what they are. But if you or someone else notices them, it doesn’t hurt to seek out the help.

By speaking with a therapist, you may realize that one of your habits was, in fact, a sign of a mental health concern. And in doing so, you’ll be starting the process of getting help and support, so you can get back to feeling better.

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.`

Smiling Depression: Are You Suffering? Take Note Of The Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

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Depression is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Over the years, it has affected millions across the globe. For some people, the death of a loved one can bring on major depression. Losing a job or being a victim of a physical assault or a major disaster can lead to depression for some people. When grief and depression co-exist, the grief is more severe and lasts longer than grief without depression.

Do you appear happy but feel numb and vacant inside? Recently, another term “smiling depression” seems to have gained momentum among youngsters all across the globe. Google has recorded an upswing in the number of searches for the mental ailment.

Spot the symptoms

So, how to find out if you or a close one is suffering from the mental disorder? Dr Kedar Tilwe,consultant psychiatrist at the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, reveals how to spot the symptoms.

“Pervasive sadness may be felt but is often wilfully disregarded by the person and they may make a sustained, conscious and emotionally tiring effort to appear ‘happy’ in public,” he says, adding, “Often a person may appear cheerful in public, not giving even a hint of deep inner personal turmoil.”

Shedding light on the behavioural changes, Dr Tilwe adds, “There may also be a decreased interest in previously pleasurable activities, altered sleep patterns, reduced appetite or difficulty in concentration.”

Major causes

“Like depression, causes are usually multifactorial and have a bio-psycho-social model of causation. However a major life event such as loss of a spouse, the breakdown of a marriage or loss of a job can act as a precipitating factor,” he says.

“Stigma associated with mental illness or the ‘need to be stable’ and ‘not showing any sign of weaknesses’ is a major reason why the person continues to suffer silently,” Dr Tilwe adds.

How to help treat the patient?

Spotting the symptoms and encouraging the person to seek professional help is the most crucial part of treatment. Dr Tilwe suggests “psychotherapy like CBT, REBT, supportivecounselling” and adds, “at times, necessary pharmacological interventions such as anti-depressants are safe and recommended modality of treatment that can be initiated.”

So, if you or someone close to you is suffering from “smiling depression”, the first step is to accept the problem, recognise the need for professional help and speak to experts. After all, you can’t tell just by looking at someone what they are dealing with inside.

The Many Conditions that Mimic Depression

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Finding the right diagnosis for any disorder requires a comprehensive evaluation. Indeed, many illnesses share many of the same symptoms.

Take symptoms such as headache, stomachache, dizziness, fatigue, lethargy, insomnia and appetite loss. There are countless conditions with these exact indications.

Similarly, many mental illnesses share the same symptoms, said Stephanie Smith, PsyD, a psychologist in practice in Erie, Colo., who specializes in working with individuals with depression. Which makes “the process of diagnosing mental illness tricky, to say the least.”

For instance, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder can look like depression. All three cause difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, and increased worry, Smith said.

Anxiety also mimics depression. According to psychotherapist Colleen Mullen, PsyD, LMFT, like individuals with depression, people who struggle with anxiety might not want to get out of bed. They might stop going to work. They might withdraw socially. However, depression isn’t driving the person’s behavior. Anxiety is.

“An anxious person may stop engaging in their outside world because of the level of anxiety they experience when they try to leave their home.” Because of this, they might, understandably, become depressed, as well. Still, it’s important to treat the anxiety symptoms first (which, in turn, will help to diminish the depression), said Mullen, founder of the Coaching Through Chaos private practice and podcast in San Diego.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another condition that’s hard to distinguish from major depression. According to Mullen, “PTSD and depression share the following symptoms: memory problems, avoidant behaviors, reduced interest in activities, negative thoughts or beliefs about self or others, inability to concentrate, feeling disconnected from others, irritability and sleep disruptions, and of course, mood changes towards negative emotions.” The biggest tell-tale sign of PTSD is that a person experiences or is exposed to a traumatic or tremendously emotionally straining situation, she said.

Medical conditions mimic depression, too. Two examples are chronic fatigue syndrome and low blood pressure, Mullen said. In this piece Psych Central blogger and author Therese Borchard discusses six conditions that feel like clinical depression but aren’t: vitamin D deficiency; hypothyroidism; low blood sugar; dehydration; food intolerance; and even caffeine withdrawal.

Gary S. Ross, M.D., believes all patients diagnosed with depression should be screened for thyroid dysfunction. As he writes in his 2006 book, Depression & Your Thyroid: What You Need to Know:

There may be rare cases of depression that cannot benefit from thyroid treatment. Nevertheless, in every case of depression, it is optimal practice to test very thoroughly for thyroid dysfunction, much more thoroughly than is usually done in initial screening examinations. When the testing is thorough, then if anything is found in keeping with a low thyroid function, it is crucial to include some kind of thyroid treatment protocol in the overall treatment plan for maximum benefit to the patient.

(Learn more about testing and diagnosis in this piece.)

Having the correct diagnosis is vital. “[I]t leads to a more precise, effective treatment plan,” Smith said. “If we don’t know what we’re dealing with at the beginning of treatment, our interventions can be like shooting arrows in the dark: not very accurate and possibly dangerous.”

Indeed, an accurate diagnosis is life-saving. Literally. Mullen has heard horror stories of primary care physicians diagnosing women with depression when their sluggishness, depressed mood, and weight gain were actually symptoms of cancer. Similar symptoms also may be due to a heart condition, which if undiagnosed, puts a person at risk for severe medical consequences, she said.

This is why it’s so important to have a comprehensive evaluation. See your primary care physician for a series of tests to rule out medical conditions. Ask for a referral to a therapist who specializes in mood disorders, so you can receive a psychological evaluation.

What does a thorough psychological assessment look like?

“[A] good clinical interview includes lots and lots of questions,” Smith said. She asks everything from how long clients have been experiencing their low mood to whether they’ve recently had any changes in their life. Mullen takes into account the person’s current stressors and psychosocial history. The latter involves assessing social support—or lack thereof—and work, education, legal, medical and family history. “It helps us understand the person in the full context of their life thus far.”

Smith also might give objective screening measures such as the Beck Depression Inventory. “It can take one to four sessions to get all the information I need to make a fully informed diagnosis.”

You may or may not be struggling with depression. As Smith said, “depression is a condition almost everyone is familiar with, so it can easily become a catch-all phrase or diagnosis. But there are literally hundreds of other mental health disorders, one of which may better capture the symptoms you are experiencing.”

Either way, take your symptoms seriously and seek second opinions, Mullen said. Because you know yourself better than any professional who spends several hours assessing your symptoms. “Advocate for yourself and ask questions so that you understand what [the professional] recommends for a treatment plan and why.” This is your body. Your mind. Your health and well-being. Advocating for yourself in all areas of your life is one of the best things you can do.

How to Calm Your Racing Mind so You Can Sleep

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You long for sleep. You may even feel tired before going to bed. But as soon as your head hits the pillow, it happens again. You’re wide awake. You can’t stop thinking. It’s the worst.

I regularly speak to groups about the necessity of sleep for the prevention of burnoutmanagement of stress, improvement of mood, and a host of other benefits. Almost every time I do, someone comes up to me and says:

     “I know I need more sleep. But what do I do if I can’t fall asleep? I get into bed early enough to get eight hours, but then I just lie there with my mind racing.”

I also frequently hear this from coaching clients and patients. When I do, I start asking questions. And usually find the answer.

Here are the questions, for you to ask yourself:

1. Do you take your phone to bed?

First of all, the light from the phone is stimulating to the brain and can suppress melatonin release (melatonin helps you sleep). The best solution is to not look at your phone after 9 p.m. (or an hour or two before bed), but lots of people aren’t ready to give up that habit. If that’s you, use a blue light-blocking mode, like “Night Shift” on iPhones, and turn your screen brightness down as far as it can go.

2. What are you reading, or doing in bed, before you go to sleep?

This is my second point about the phone. I once heard a sleep expert at Harvard say that texting at bedtime is a bad idea. The thought processes that you use are too stimulating to your brain. Obviously, checking work emails (or any email) at bedtime is a really bad idea, especially if you come across something stressful. You may not even want to read the news, in case there’s a headline that stimulates thoughts or concerns.

If you like to read to wind down, choose a book (the printed kind). Ideally, that book should not be too thought-provoking or stimulating. It shouldn’t be disturbing. It also probably shouldn’t be so incredibly captivating that you can’t put it down…

3. What do you do with your evenings?

If you have trouble winding down to sleep, take care not to wind yourself up over the course of the evening. Good rules of thumb:

  • Avoid challenging conversations with your spouse in the evenings if possible. Definitely avoid starting a difficult conversation close to bedtime.
  • If you must work in the evening (i.e., answering emails), try to do so earlier versus later, so you have time to wind down your mind before bed.
  • Working out in the evening makes it harder to wind down and fall asleep. Do it earlier in the day.
  • If you go out on a work night, plan to get home at a reasonable hour so that you have time to wind down and still get into bed on time.

Notice what “winds you up” in the evenings. Either avoid it, or schedule it much earlier.

4. What lighting do you use at night?

This is another key to winding down. People used to sleep an average of nine hours a night before the advent of widespread electricity. The lights we have on at night in our homes are stimulating and can also suppress melatonin secretion.

Feel the difference between two late evening scenarios:

A) All the lights are on. The TV is blaring. You’re sitting at a table catching up on emails, while simultaneously conducting a logistical discussion with your spouse. You feel stressed and don’t even want to go to bed. You’ll need at least an hour of Netflix to wind down from this (not a good idea, because of the screen involved, and also if it’s a really well-written show, it will be hard to turn off in time for bed).

B) All the lights are off, except a warm yellow lamp in the corner of the room. Soft music is playing. You and your spouse are quietly reading. As you read, the inevitable happens. Your eyelids start to droop. Your head bobs as you fall asleep for a split second. Even though it’s earlier than you’d planned, you get up and head over to the bathroom to start getting ready for bed.

5. Is there something specific you’re worried about?

Perhaps there’s a stressful situation you can’t stop worrying about that’s keeping you awake. In this case, I’d recommend a variety of approaches:

  • If it’s serious, get professional counseling support to help you problem-solve the situation and/or your response to it.
  • Journal before going to bed to get your worries out of your head and onto the page.
  • Learn a relaxation practice, such as a simple relaxation breathing meditation, to quiet your mind and body before bed. If I can’t fall asleep, I focus on a three-line scripture about peace as I breathe slowly in and out; it almost always works. One of my coaching clients, a former figure skater, skates in her mind until she falls asleep.

6. How are you using your bed?

Leverage the strategy of “stimulus control.” If you do lots of different things in bed (e.g., watch movies, answer emails, take phone calls, etc.), your body and mind get confused about the purpose of bed. If you have insomnia, it’s best to only use your bed for sleep. For the same reason, if you can’t fall asleep, get out of bed, and go do something quiet and relaxing until you start to feel sleepy, and then head back to bed.

7. How much caffeine are you drinking?

The sleep expert I mentioned earlier also said that if you struggle with insomnia, you should eliminate caffeine (and any other stimulants) completely and see if that helps. If that feels impossible, start by eliminating caffeine in the late afternoon or evening. Sources of caffeine include coffee, non-herbal teas, chocolate, and some supplements.

Elena Rostunova/Shutterstock
Source: Elena Rostunova/Shutterstock

Note: Some people who can’t sleep have a bigger issue, such as Generalized AnxietyBipolar Disorder, or other medical concerns. If your sleeplessness is extreme or doesn’t respond to simple interventions, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Susan Biali Haas