Well, there’s a reason why you clicked on this, assuming you read the title. Mental health is just as important as your physical health, so identifying early signs will be incredibly helpful for diagnosis and treatment. Depression is one of, if not, the most treatable yet widespread mental illnesses, which is caused by a factor of things, namely the stigmas behind it. It is okay to reach out. You are strong for going out there and trying to get help. Try going into this with an open mind. Some of these signs may apply to you and some may not. Be introspective, unbiased, and objective. But, take it from someone who has (and probably still is) facing depression. If you feel as if you fall into some of these symptoms, you can take a screening test online before consulting a mental health professional. Remember, you are not alone.
1. You constantly feel anxious
Anxiety in itself could be considered a mental illness and is also caused by many other types of mental illnesses like depression or ADHD. Although a little bit of anxiety as a warning in times of stress is relatively normal, having your mind dictated by it is a call for concern. If you are unsure if you have anxiety, go ahead and watch this video. We have time to spare. No rush.
Try to find things that hinder your anxiety. Breathing techniques, meditation, even just changing your mindset can help. Perhaps get a friend you trust to help you calm your nerves. Whatever makes you calm.
Just as important as reducing it, is preventing it. Try to stay clear of areas that trigger your anxiety, and reduce habits that make you feel worried. If unavoidable, try to reduce the smaller things around it, like trimming away at things in the background that make you uncomfortable.
Habits especially can be a hard one to nail down, and even more so when they become your day-to-day thing. Try writing a schedule, and add reminders not to do whatever it is, or not write about it at all.
How I manage my anxiety is through being aware when I am anxious, so instead of dwelling on my thoughts, I can distance them to be irrational. I also just like to stop for a moment and breath, WITH the mask on (You know who you are).
2. You have persistent feelings of sadness or numbness.
Like anxiety, feeling sad some of the time is incredibly human, but having it prolong across days, weeks, months even? That’s when it begins to be a problem. Can’t tell if you’re just in a bad mood? Try watching this video and then reflect on yourself. Some days, you feel too tired to be sad, like you don’t have the effort in you to be miserable. Just, numb. Unfortunately, it also mutes out your other emotions. This is something I can vividly remember, despite the blandness of it all. Just restless nights and tireless days, trotting along just the same as yesterday. I most likely still suffer from this, but I will recommend something against it nonetheless. It’s called a Gratitude Journal. Essentially, you write something you’re grateful for each day in a journal, which helps train your brain to be happier about the things around you, or something along those lines. For a more in-depth tutorial, check out this tutorial on it. If this isn’t for you, find something that is. You have to remember that if I knew all the answers, then I wouldn’t still be the mess that I am today. But that’s ok for now. As long as you’re getting better.
3. You have thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
Probably one of the most dangerous and urgent signs, these thoughts, intrusive or not, indicate unconsciously the willingness to do these actions, even if you consciously don’t want to. Even some thoughts like “I want to disappear forever” count as thoughts of self-harm/suicide.
The first course of action is to distance yourself from these thoughts. Acknowledge that you deserve to live and that nothing should tell you otherwise. Try to combat these thoughts when they appear, reason with yourself that you should continue to persist, no matter what. If you feel overwhelmed, there are online therapists and anonymous hotlines. For some crisis hotlines in Boston, there is this website. I really can’t say anything else but the cliches, but it’s hard not to. It’ll get better one day.
4. You have a lack of motivation
Look, we all find that we want to do our homework the next day, then end up with three piles of leftover homework alongside your upcoming project. If not, you are a better person than me, but hopefully one would learn afterward. Most do, and the reason why that happens over and over for some people (including me) is that they have a concerning lack of motivation. Feeling tired after some rigorous work should give no signs of concern, but being unwilling or unable to do your daily routine is. Finding yourself skipping over taking care of yourself to the point of apathy could be a signal for something more insidious. Another thing to note is that this can easily be misunderstood as laziness and that backlash can make you even less motivated. Just know that you can get through this.
5. You are easily irritable and have mood swings.
Life has a lot of annoyances, so when you feel like breaking everything in your room whenever a relatively minor thing irritates you, at that point try and retrospect on yourself. Collect your thoughts, see through the person you got angry at, and see if it was reasonable. Look objectively at the situation and ask close friends about your reactions. Mood swings are also very common and are usually unprompted. This includes all emotions, so when you feel manic one day and nothing the next, it might mean there is more underlying within you. Try looking up ways to regulate emotions, and to keep yourself calm when things go poorly. Most of my advice simply goes into self-awareness, through which you acknowledge that you could be acting irrationally in a situation, and react accordingly. Although, it is easier said than done when you are in the moment of an outburst.
6. You isolate/detach yourself
I’m sure most people like to spend some time alone (myself included) and that’s perfectly fine. Spending weeks and months in your room without talking to anyone once is more of a call of concern. We, humans, are social creatures. If you feel as if you’ve been drifting away from your friend groups, declining invitations more often, or spending way too much alone time, try to reintroduce yourself to some of your close friends. Perhaps tell them what you have been going through, and communicate with them about how they can accommodate you. Letting out deep-seated emotions or getting that weight off your chest can be incredibly relieving. If you feel as if you don’t express your emotions, try to remember the last time you opened up to someone. When was the last time you were vulnerable with somebody else? Maybe do this anonymously on an online therapy forum or a call to your counselor. There has been a massive increase in resources for mental health. The hardest part is starting.
7. You have inconsistent eating and sleeping habits
Look, as relatable as staying up at 3 a.m. for a midnight snack is, everybody realizes that they probably shouldn’t be doing it, no matter how hypocritical I sound saying this. Sleep helps boost our brain after a long day’s worth of work, so not getting enough can heavily impact your mentality. Getting too much sleep is also a problem if you are sleeping through the majority of your day. A sign of sleeping problems is if you do finally manage to sleep on time and you still wake up incredibly tired.
Eating habits are also another dangerous symptom of mental illness. Eating too much can lead to more unhealthy foods to keep up with the ever-increasingly ravenous diets, and eating too little can end up with you starving yourself from the nutrients you need. Stress eating is a common example of this. Some counterbalances that you could put in place is to have more nutritious options. Healthier foods have also been shown to increase happiness. I sound like your mom, but at least she knows best.
TLDR; Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
The first and most important step to bettering your mental health is to be aware of a problem in the first place. I seriously do not recommend using this as a replacement for professional advice. Again, if you feel as if you’ve been suffering a mental illness, take a government-approved screening online or make an appointment for a therapist. It’s much easier to have other people in your life help you out rather than burdening yourself with an undeserved punishment. Do not be afraid to take that leap of faith. It’ll be worth it, I promise (as much as a high school student can promise anyways). You are not alone. As much as I slowly descend into repeating myself over and over again, it’s to get the point across. I hope this helps you.
(Also, if you have gotten sick of Psych-to-Go videos, my sincerest apologies. I just adore them.)