Everyone has good days and bad days — even good years and bad years — but you should be concerned when the signs of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or bipolar disorder make it difficult to carry out the tasks of everyday life. Challenging emotions can arise in any situation, from work to relationships, and you want to act before they seriously interfere with your ability to function.
Mental Health: 5 Signs of Clinical Depression
“You determine clinical depression by two measures. One is by time and one is by severity — impact on function. When you have severe symptoms that last at least two weeks and are interfering with fundamental basic functions, it falls into the realm of clinical depression,” explains psychiatrist Jill RachBeisel, MD, associate professor of psychiatry of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
There are many symptoms of depression, but most common among people with clinical depression are changes in:
- Appetite. “In clinical depression you lose your appetite completely, and you stop eating, or you eat very little,” says Dr. RachBeisel.
- Sleep. When clinical depression sets in, you may have consistent, severe insomnia and be unable to sleep well almost every night.
- Concentration. “Someone might find themselves unable to maintain focus on simple activities like watching a TV program or reading a newspaper article,” says RachBeisel. You may not be able to focus on a recipe for dinner or tasks at work.
- Energy level. “With severe clinical depression your energy is so low you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning or carrying through your basic activities of daily living. People find themselves lying in bed and staying in pajamas all day long,” RachBeisel explains.
- Interest in activities that one would normally enjoy. This may mean that you no longer care about shaving or styling your hair, for example, or about bigger issues, like caring for your children.
At its most severe, clinical depression can lead to suicide. Having thoughts like “My family would be better off without me” is a warning sign.
Mental Health: 5 Signs of Anxiety
“We all should have a little anxiety on board because when you think about it, what makes you really perform well is you get a little anxious,” says RachBeisel. These, however, are signs that you may need help with your anxiety level:
- You can’t follow a conversation or complete a basic task.
- You can’t do what other people do; for example, a fear of crossing bridges prevents you from seeing the other side of town.
- You find yourself avoiding family gatherings or office parties due to social anxiety.
- You worry that in a crowded room people are looking at you or talking about you.
- You may avoid projects that require public speaking or presenting your work.
Mental Health: 5 Signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is on the extreme end of the anxiety spectrum.
“People with OCD are so anxious, they have intrusive thoughts that are irrational, and they can’t get the thoughts out of their head. So what they do is develop behaviors to cope with the anxiety,” says RachBeisel. These behaviors or rituals may be so time-consuming that you can’t get to work (or anywhere) on time, and may even prevent you from working. For example, you may:
- Wash your hands 20 to 30 times a day.
- Count 15 cars before you can park.
- Spend hours checking the door and window locks before going to bed.
- Spend hours bathing.
- Repeat work tasks multiple times to make sure they are perfect.
Mental Health: 5 Signs of Bipolar Disorder
“A person with bipolar disorder is someone who has severe mood swings,” says RachBeisel. During the depressed phase, the signs of clinical depression appear, but people with bipolar disorder also experience a manic phase during which they may have a lot of energy and positive feelings about themselves. Signs of mania are:
- Mood swings. Examples are elevated mood or extreme irritability.
- Fast speech. “You can’t get a word in edgewise and you have to ask them to slow down,” says RachBeisel.
- No need for sleep. People with pipolar disorder may stay up all night for many days cleaning, painting walls, or doing laundry.
- Overextended. An overly high estimation of themselves leads to commitments they can’t possibly keep, such as taking on jobs they don’t have the skills to do.
- Excessive behaviors. Charging tens of thousands of dollars or having sex with casual acquaintances are just two examples.
Mental Health: How to Get Help
If you suspect that you have signs of one of these mental health conditions, RachBeisel advises that you:
- Call your primary care doctor and ask for a referral so you can get evaluated by a specialist.
- Call a local suicide hotline if you are experiencing severe symptoms.
- Contact your local health department for a list of mental health services.
By knowing the signs of these common mental health conditions, you'll be better equipped to recognize when you, or someone you love, may need professional help.
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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