Unsettling Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders to Look Out For

It is crucial to pay attention to common mental health symptoms for several reasons. First and foremost, recognizing these symptoms allows people to acknowledge and validate… Alexander Gabriel - May 29, 2023

It is crucial to pay attention to common mental health symptoms for several reasons. First and foremost, recognizing these symptoms allows people to acknowledge and validate their own emotional well-being. By understanding and identifying the signs of mental health issues, you can gain insight into others’ experiences and seek appropriate support and treatment if necessary.

Additionally, being aware of these symptoms enables us to recognize them in others, fostering empathy, understanding, and the potential to offer support. Identifying mental health symptoms can also help reduce stigma surrounding mental health concerns, as it emphasizes that mental health struggles are common and valid. Lastly, early detection of mental health symptoms allows for timely intervention and treatment, which can help people find the support they need and work towards their personal growth and recovery.


Persistent Sadness or Low Mood

While it is normal to experience temporary periods of sadness or feeling down, when these feelings persist and significantly affect one’s daily life and functioning, it may be a sign of a more profound issue. Conditions such as major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), or bipolar disorder can manifest as persistent sadness or a chronically low mood. These disorders involve disruptions in brain chemistry, hormonal imbalances, or other physiological factors that contribute to prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness. Life stressors, traumatic events, or a combination of genetic, biological, and environmental factors can contribute to the development of these disorders.

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Sensitivity to Light and Sound

Sensitivity to light and sound can be symptoms of various mental health disorders, shedding light on the intricate relationship between our sensory experiences and mental health. Bright lights and loud sounds can trigger intense emotional or physiological responses, leading to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety or discomfort. For some people with sensory processing issues or autism spectrum disorders, sensitivity to light and sound can be part of their neurodevelopmental profile. It’s important to recognize that these symptoms are not simply a matter of being more easily annoyed by bright lights or loud noises, but rather a genuine physiological and psychological response that may significantly impact a person’s daily life.

American Migraine Foundation

Unexplained Physical Symptoms

The mind-body connection suggests that psychological distress or unresolved emotional issues can manifest as physical ailments. It’s essential to understand that these symptoms are not imagined or intentionally fabricated; they are real and can cause significant distress and impairment. Unexplained physical symptoms serve as a signal that something deeper may be at play, urging individuals to explore their emotional well-being and seek appropriate mental health support. A comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional can help differentiate between physical and psychological causes, leading to a holistic approach to treatment that addresses both the mind and body.


Difficulty with Decision Making or Indecisiveness

Conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can interfere with cognitive processes. People experiencing depression may struggle with motivation and find it challenging to weigh options or envision positive outcomes. This results in indecisiveness or a lack of interest in decision-making. Anxiety disorders can lead to excessive worry and fear of making the wrong choice, causing individuals to feel overwhelmed and stuck. OCD may involve intrusive thoughts or repetitive behaviors that consume mental energy and make decisions feel impossible. ADHD can affect executive functions. This includes impulse control and planning, making it difficult to consider long-term consequences and make informed choices.

Verywell Mind

Racing or Intrusive Thoughts

These thoughts are characterized by a rapid and uncontrollable stream of ideas, images, or worries that intrude upon one’s mind. This often causes significant distress. In anxiety disorders, racing thoughts are typically associated with excessive worry, catastrophic thinking, or an overwhelming sense of impending danger. They can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as restlessness, increased heart rate, or sweating. In OCD, intrusive thoughts are often distressing and unwanted. This leads to repetitive rituals or mental compulsions to alleviate the anxiety triggered by these thoughts. It’s important to note that racing or intrusive thoughts do not necessarily reflect one’s true desires or intentions. Rather, they result from the underlying mental health condition.

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Feelings of Emptiness or Emotional Numbness

Emotional numbness is characterized by a pervasive lack of emotional responsiveness or the inability to feel and express emotions fully. Those experiencing emotional numbness may describe feeling detached, empty, or as if their emotions are muted or inaccessible. It can be distressing as it creates a sense of disconnection from oneself and others. Emotional numbness often serves as a protective mechanism in response to overwhelming or traumatic experiences. This allows those suffering to cope and temporarily distance themselves from intense emotions. However, prolonged emotional numbness can hinder one’s ability to engage in meaningful relationships and experiences. Recognizing and addressing emotional numbness is crucial in the recovery process.


Impaired Sense of Time

Those experiencing this symptom may struggle to accurately perceive the passage of time. This results in a distorted or disrupted sense of time. This can manifest as a feeling of time moving too quickly or too slowly. They may even have difficulty gauging the duration of events or activities. People with depression may feel as if time is dragging on, making even simple tasks feel arduous and too difficult. In contrast, people with ADHD may perceive time as slipping away rapidly, leading to difficulties with time management and meeting deadlines. An impaired sense of time can disrupt daily functioning and add to feelings of confusion or frustration.

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Significant Changes in Appetite or Weight

Significant changes in appetite or weight can be indicative of underlying mental health disorders. Depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and certain mood disorders can disrupt the normal regulation of appetite and result in noticeable fluctuations in weight. In depression people may experience a decrease in appetite, leading to unintended weight loss. On the other hand, some individuals may turn to food as a way to cope with emotional distress, leading to increased appetite and subsequent weight gain. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, are characterized by distorted eating patterns and a preoccupation with body weight or shape. These disorders often involve significant changes in appetite and weight as key diagnostic criteria.

New York Presbyterian

Social Withdrawal or Isolation

Social withdrawal, characterized by a retreat from social interactions and a decreased interest in relationships, is a prevalent symptom found in several mental health disorders. It often emerges as individuals experience a reduced motivation or capacity to engage socially. This symptom can manifest in many conditions. This includes depression, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders. This can foster a sense of isolation and a preference for solitude. Social withdrawal may arise from factors such as diminished self-esteem, fear of judgment or rejection, excessive anxiety in social settings, or a general disinterest in interpersonal connections. Recognizing this symptom is important, as it can be indicative of underlying emotional struggles and may require support and intervention to help those isolated restore social engagement.

Medical Xpress

Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances frequently accompany mental health disorders, significantly impacting the quality and duration of sleep. These disorders often lead to difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep. Insomnia, characterized by persistent sleep problems, is commonly observed in individuals with mental health concerns. Conversely, some individuals may experience excessive sleep or hypersomnia. Sleep disturbances can exacerbate emotional and cognitive challenges, forming a cycle of poor sleep and worsening mental health. Addressing sleep issues is vital in managing mental health, as improving sleep quality can have a positive impact on overall well-being and enhance the effectiveness of other therapeutic interventions. Implementing sleep hygiene practices, relaxation techniques, and, when appropriate, considering medication can help regulate sleep patterns and improve sleep quality.

IDEA Health

Issues with Spatial Awareness

Difficulty with spatial awareness can manifest as a significant symptom of mental health disorders. Anxiety disorders, dissociative disorders, and certain neurological conditions can disrupt perception and understanding of spatial relationships. Spatial awareness involves skills like judging distances, coordinating movements, and orienting oneself in space. Challenges with spatial awareness may result in difficulties with balance, coordination, and a sense of disorientation. Addressing this symptom is critical, as it can impact the ability to navigate the environment effectively. Occupational therapy, sensory integration techniques, and targeted exercises can be helpful in improving spatial skills and mitigating the impact on daily functioning.


Fear of Abandonment

Intense fear of abandonment or rejection, commonly known as abandonment anxiety, is a significant psychological phenomenon that can affect people from diverse backgrounds. This fear arises from a deep-seated worry and apprehension about being left alone or rejected by those close to them. Those with abandonment anxiety may constantly seek reassurance, exhibit clingy behaviors, or struggle with trust and forming secure attachments. This fear may be rooted in past experiences of abandonment or perceived emotional unavailability from caregivers or significant others. Abandonment anxiety can profoundly impact relationships, leading to clinginess, jealousy, and an ongoing need for validation. This fear can drive individuals to engage in self-sabotaging behaviors, such as pushing away their partners or becoming overly dependent, ultimately straining the relationship and hindering its growth and intimacy. It can also contribute to emotional distress and a diminished sense of self-worth.

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Persistent Feelings of Guilt or Self-blame

Persistent feelings of guilt or self-blame are common for those grappling with mental health challenges. This symptom involves an ongoing sense of responsibility for perceived wrongdoings or shortcomings, even when there may be little or no rational basis for such guilt. Those affected by this symptom tend to excessively blame themselves for past actions or situations, often magnifying their perceived faults. These feelings can be particularly burdensome, leading to a negative self-image, low self-esteem, and a constant sense of shame. Persistent guilt and self-blame are associated with conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).


Excessive Daydreaming or Detachment From Reality

Excessive daydreaming or detachment from reality, also known as maladaptive daydreaming, is a phenomenon commonly observed in the context of certain mental health conditions. This symptom involves a persistent and intense immersion in vivid daydreams or fantasies that can significantly interfere with daily functioning and interpersonal relationships. Those experiencing maladaptive daydreaming may find themselves lost in elaborate inner worlds, often for extended periods, to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy. This absorption in daydreaming can serve as an escape mechanism or a way to cope with emotional distress. However, it can also lead to difficulties with concentration, decreased productivity, and a sense of disconnection from the present moment.


Perfectionism to an Extreme Degree

This symptom involves an unwavering pursuit of flawlessness, where there is an excessive focus on achieving impossibly high standards and an intense fear of making mistakes. The relentless desire for perfection can manifest in different domains, such as work, relationships, and personal achievements. However, this unattainable pursuit can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and a constant sense of dissatisfaction. It can hinder productivity, creativity, and overall well-being. Addressing the obsessive need for perfection involves exploring underlying beliefs and adopting healthier perspectives on success and self-worth.

London Psychologist Clinic

Unusual Beliefs or Experiences

Unusual beliefs or experiences, characterized by odd or magical thinking, can manifest in various contexts. This symptom involves holding beliefs or experiencing perceptions that deviate from societal norms or conventional reality. It can include beliefs in supernatural or paranormal phenomena, magical rituals, or the conviction of having special powers or abilities. These unusual beliefs or experiences may be influenced by cultural or personal factors, and they can sometimes be associated with certain mental health conditions. Recognizing and addressing these beliefs or experiences is important, as they may impact daily functioning and social interactions.

Boston Neurobehavioral Associates

Rejection Sensitivity

Rejection sensitivity is a psychological trait that can be observed across different situations. This trait involves a heightened emotional response to perceived criticism or rejection, regardless of the specific circumstances. Individuals with rejection sensitivity may react strongly to even minor indications of disapproval or potential rejection, leading to intense feelings of shame, self-doubt, or fear of abandonment. This sensitivity can negatively impact interpersonal relationships, as individuals may avoid situations where they anticipate criticism or rejection. Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) is commonly associated with certain mental health disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD).

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Compulsive Counting, Arranging, or Symmetry-related Behaviors

Symmetry obsessions are observable patterns found in various conditions. These behaviors involve an irresistible urge to engage in repetitive actions, such as counting, organizing, or arranging objects, to achieve a sense of balance or symmetry. The need for symmetry can extend to multiple areas of life, including daily routines, personal belongings, or physical surroundings. Symmetry obsession can be associated with conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and it can significantly impact an individual’s daily functioning and quality of life. Therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP), can be effective in managing and reducing the impact of symmetry-related behaviors.

Sick Not Weak

Sensitive Startle Response

This symptom involves an exaggerated response to unexpected stimuli or a state of constant alertness and heightened awareness of potential threats in the environment. Individuals experiencing a heightened startle response may exhibit exaggerated reactions, such as jumping or becoming easily startled by sudden noises or movements. Hypervigilance, on the other hand, entails a persistent state of heightened alertness, where individuals are constantly scanning their surroundings for potential dangers. Heightened startle response and hypervigilance can be associated with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, or certain neurological conditions. These symptoms can significantly impact daily functioning, disrupt sleep patterns, and contribute to feelings of anxiety and distress.

Verywell Mind

Impaired Sense of Self Identity

Impaired sense of self or identity confusion involves a disruption in one’s understanding, perception, or continuity of self, leading to feelings of confusion, uncertainty, or a lack of clarity about one’s identity, values, or beliefs. Individuals experiencing an impaired sense of self may struggle to establish a coherent and stable sense of who they are, resulting in a sense of emptiness or a shifting sense of identity. This symptom can be associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD), dissociative disorders, or certain mood disorders.

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Increased Irritability/Overreaction

Increased irritability or anger outbursts involve experiencing heightened levels of irritability or anger that may be disproportionate to the situation at hand. Individuals with increased irritability may find themselves easily agitated, impatient or quick to anger, often over seemingly minor triggers. Anger outbursts can manifest as intense verbal or physical expressions of anger. Persistent irritability can strain relationships, as it may lead to impulsive reactions, verbal aggression, or the avoidance of social interactions, further isolating individuals and hindering the development of healthy and supportive connections. This symptom can be associated with conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), or certain personality disorders.

Verywell Mind

Impulse Control Issues

Engaging in impulsive or risky behaviors, often without considering the potential consequences, is frequently observed across different conditions. These behaviors can include excessive spending, substance abuse, reckless driving, promiscuity, or self-harm. They typically arise from a desire for immediate gratification and difficulty in weighing the long-term impact of one’s actions. Impulsivity can be associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder, or substance use disorders. Addressing impulsive or risky behaviors is necessary for one’s safety.

NYU Silver School of Social Work

Unusual or Intense Emotional Reactions to Ordinary Situations

Unusual or intense emotional reactions to ordinary situations is often referred to as emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation involves experiencing emotional responses that are disproportionate or out of sync with the situation at hand. People with emotional dysregulation may have heightened sensitivity to triggers, leading to intense emotional states such as anger, sadness, anxiety, or even euphoria. These emotional reactions can be overwhelming and challenging to manage, impacting relationships, and daily functioning. Emotional dysregulation is commonly associated with conditions like borderline personality disorder (BPD), mood disorders, or trauma-related disorders.

Martha Kauppi

Hypersexuality or Sexual Aversion

Hypersexuality refers to an excessive preoccupation with sexual thoughts, fantasies, or behaviors, often leading to a compulsive or uncontrollable desire for sexual activity. On the other hand, sexual aversion involves an intense and persistent aversion or avoidance of sexual experiences, which can cause distress or difficulties in intimate relationships. Both hypersexuality and sexual aversion can impact an individual’s emotional state and relationships. Addressing hypersexuality or sexual aversion is important for developing a healthy approach to sexuality. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoeducation, and couples therapy can help those dealing with these issues explore underlying factors and establish healthy boundaries.

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Feeling Disconnected From One’s Body or Experiencing Dissociative Episodes

Dissociation is a sense of detachment or disconnection from oneself, as if observing one’s thoughts, feelings, or actions from a distance. Individuals may also experience episodes of dissociation where they feel detached from their physical sensations or surroundings, as if living in a dream-like state. Dissociation often occurs as a defense mechanism in response to trauma, overwhelming stress, or as a way to cope with distressing experiences. dissociative episodes can disrupt interpersonal relationships, as individuals may struggle with forming and maintaining emotional connections due to their tendency to disconnect from their own emotions and experiences.

Everyday Health

Decreased or Increased Activity Levels

In some cases, individuals may experience decreased activity levels, feeling lethargic, unmotivated, or lacking energy to engage in daily tasks. This can be associated with depression or certain anxiety disorders, where a person may withdraw from activities they once enjoyed. Increased energy levels, marked by restlessness, hyperactivity, or impulsivity, may more likely be seen in bipolar disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These fluctuations in activity levels can disrupt lives and greatly impact relationships with significant others, family members, or coworkers.