Common Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of mental illness are many and varied depending upon the specific type of illness. Mental illness affects emotions, thoughts and resultant behaviors. Some of the more common mental illnesses include mood disorders, anxiety disorders and others. Mood disorders refers to disorders like depression and bipolar disorder while anxiety disorders encompass General anxiety disorder, panic disorder, Obsessive-compulsive disorder and Post-traumatic stress disorder. Other disorders can include things like Schizophrenia and disorders.


Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders. It can be acute or chronic or may appear intermittently, depending on what type it is. Different types of depression include minor and major depression and more. Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of sadness, worthlessness or emptiness
  • Irritability, anger or frustration
  • Lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Apathy and lack of energy or incentive
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Change in appetite
  • Anxiety, restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking and body movement
  • Difficulty focusing or remembering
  • Thoughts of death and/or suicide
  • Unexplained bodily pain


Generalized anxiety disorder

A certain amount of anxiety is normal; it is when a person is always dealing with anxiety that there is a problem. Generalized anxiety is characterized by continual worry about even the smallest things, some even worry about worrying so much. There is an inability to relax, concentrate or make decisions. When action is required, a person with anxiety will think options through and reach only negative conclusions. Physical symptoms include fatigue, muscle tension, irritability, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, headaches and a high startle reflex. There is a tendency to withdraw from family members and avoid social occasions.

Panic disorder

Panic attacks occur without warning and are very upsetting as the person experiencing the attack has a sense of impending doom or even death. They may experience chest pain and also live with the fear that an attack may happen at any time. Symptoms include:

  • Sudden, frequent attacks lasting five to ten minutes
  • Sweating, difficulty breathing, weakness, dizziness, a racing heart, stomach or chest pain, feeling too hot or too cold
  • Fear of losing control
  • An illogical sense of danger
  • Fear of a heart attack
  • Avoidance of areas where perhaps a previous attack occurred

The cause of panic disorder is unknown, although genetic factors are suspected as the disorder runs in families.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

It is normal to make sure the oven is turned off or that a door is locked. However, when OCD is present it takes over and a person has little control over their behavior. There are many manifestations of OCD but it is the compulsion which controls the behavior. A person may check the stove 25 times to make sure it’s really turned off or repeatedly wash their hands to make sure all bacteria are removed until their skin is red and raw. Obsessions are involuntary, seemingly uncontrollable thoughts, images or impulses which occur repeatedly in the mind. They are often disturbing and distracting. Compulsions are behaviors or rituals which a person feels the need to repeat again and again. Unfortunately, carrying out the ritual does not bring relief, in fact the obsessive thoughts return more strongly, becoming more and more demanding and time consuming. The compulsion may be to count objects or numbers. It may be an urge to place items in an extremely specific place or order or to continually check doors and windows to make sure they are locked.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder causes unpredictable mood changes, from a manic high to a depressive low with many variations between. There are changes in energy and activity levels, affecting the ability to carry out daily tasks. Much different from the normal ups and downs everyone experiences, bipolar disorder results in damaged relationships, poor school or work performance and even suicide.  The condition often appears in the late teens or early adulthood and for some people, later in life. It is not an easy disease to spot and some have it for years before being finally diagnosed correctly. It is a long-term illness requiring lifelong management.

When a person is in the manic phase, they appear overly happy and outgoing but still show irritability. They may speak very fast, have racing thoughts, become distracted and take on multiple simultaneous new projects. They appear restless and seem to need little sleep and also believe they can take on almost anything. There may also be impulsive and engage in high-risk behavior.

In the depressive phase, people with bipolar disorder experience sadness or hopelessness and show no interest in activities once enjoyed. They will appear overly tired, have difficulty focusing or making decisions and be restless and irritable. There are changes in eating and sleeping habits and thoughts of death or suicide.


Schizophrenia is diagnosed by the presence of at least two of the following symptoms for a period of one month:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech or incoherence
  • Gross disorganization
  • A flattening of emotion

A diagnosis may be made with only one symptom if the delusions are bizarre or if the hallucination is a voice with a running commentary on the person’s thoughts or behavior or if two or more voices are conversing with each other. The peak onset time for schizophrenia is during a person’s 20s, onset prior to adolescence is rare.

Anyone exhibiting signs or symptoms of mental illness should be immediately assessed by a doctor who will then refer that person to a psychiatrist, psychologist or other clinician for treatment. If you would like further information regarding the symptoms of mental illness, please call Colorado Mental Health Help to speak with a member of our team.