A Primer on Common Mental Health Concerns

Mental health is an important aspect of overall health and wellbeing, yet many people suffer from mental health problems and do not recognize them or are not comfortable talking about them. Mental disorders are diagnosable clinical conditions that affect how an individual thinks, feels, behaves, and functions. Anxiety disorders, depression, substance use disorder, and bipolar disorder are some of the most common mental disorders, with additional mental health issues including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dementia.

Everyone experiences mental health challenges throughout their lifetime, and mental health disorders are experienced by one in five people in the United States. As with any physical illness, it is important to be aware of and understand the signs and symptoms of mental health issues. Anxiety disorders involve feelings of worry, fear, or dread and can involve physical and emotional symptoms ranging from fatigue, poor concentration, racing thoughts, and loss of interest in activities to chest pain, difficulty breathing, difficulty sleeping, and frequent thoughts about death or suicide.

Depression, like anxiety, is experienced differently by each individual. Potential symptoms include extreme fatigue, loss of interest in activities, significant weight gain or weight loss, sleep disturbances, thoughts of suicide or death, and an overall feeling of helplessness. The good news is that depression is treatable, and there are numerous methods available, including psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.

Substance use disorder is a medical disorder, not a personal choice or moral failing. It is characterized by an inability to control one’s use of alcohol, drugs, or other substances despite significant negative consequences. In individuals with substance use disorder, substance abuse can lead to life-threatening effects, such as increased risk of overdose, liver and kidney damage, and psychological effects, including paranoia, hallucinations, and mood changes.

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder characterized by mood swings between periods of extreme elation, called mania, and periods of extreme depression. Amongst symptoms of mania are increased talkativeness, fast speech, racing thoughts, poor judgment, and an exaggerated sense of self-confidence. Depression symptoms include sadness, hopelessness, and difficulty concentrating. In some cases, bipolar disorder may be accompanied by anxiety and substance use disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder that is caused by a life-threatening or traumatic event. Coping with the event can leave individuals with feelings of guilt, fear, nightmares, and difficulty sleeping. It can also lead to flashbacks and intense emotional reactions that can make it difficult to function at work, home, or school. It’s important to seek treatment for PTSD in order to mitigate its symptoms and reduce its potential long-term effects.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by obsessive and intrusive thoughts or impulses that lead to compulsive behaviors. Common OCD symptoms include checking locks or appliances multiple times, fear of dirt or germs, and reorganizing belongings. People with OCD may be aware of the excessiveness of their behavior, but it is difficult to control. Treatment for OCD can help reduce its symptoms.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a mental disorder consisting of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. People with it may have difficulty in focusing on tasks, difficulty in completing tasks, and difficulty in controlling their behavior. Treatment for ADHD can help children and adults lead more productive and satisfying lives.

Finally, dementia is a mental disorder that is caused by a decline in cognitive functions, especially memory and cognitive reasoning. People with dementia may have difficulty making decisions, experiencing mood changes, and remembering even their closest relatives and friends. Treatment may involve memory training and other therapies.

Mental health concerns are not uncommon and can affect anybody. Taking the time to understand common mental disorders is an important aspect of recognizing warning signs and seeking appropriate, timely treatment. If individuals are experiencing symptoms of mental health issues, they should be evaluated by a mental health professional and receive the appropriate treatment.

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