You might think you’d be able to tell if you were suffering from a mental health issue, but sometimes the tell-tale symptoms are a little more surprising.
Feeling sad, helpless, or having a sense of hopelessness are some of the signs we might associate with a mental health condition, but what if you started feeling randomly dizzy or you splashed the cash you’d otherwise have saved?
Could you actually be suffering from a mental health condition without even realising?
“The symptoms of a mental health problem won’t always be psychological. Many mental health problems have physical symptoms too,” explains Rachel Boyd, Head of Information Content at mental health charity Mind.
“If you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder you might experience things like headaches, upset stomach and grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw.
“If you’re struggling with unmanageable stress it can affect your immune system so you might find you’re picking up more colds and bugs than normal,” she continues.
“Symptoms could also be behavioural – for example, someone in a manic phase of bipolar disorder might find that they spend more money than they can afford while someone with depression and anxiety problems might struggle to pay their bills or open their post,” Boyd adds.
But the sooner you’re able to identify the signs and symptoms that could indicate a mental health problem, the quicker you’ll be able to seek help and get back to your happier, healthier self.
“There’s a commonly held belief that people with mental health problems experience quite sad or muted feelings, but actually feelings of racing thoughts or mind, overwhelming energy or not needing sleep can also be signs of a mental health problem,” Boyd explains.
“Ultimately it’s about noticing anything that’s out of the ordinary for you, as well as how that makes you feel.”
So in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve outlined some of the more surprising signs you could be suffering from a mental health problem – and what to do if you do believe you might be at risk.
“The brain relies on oxygen carried in the bloodstream in order to function properly,” explains David Brudö, CEO and co-founder from mental wellbeing and self-development platform, Remente.
“Certain bodily responses, such as to stress and anxiety can cause disruption to your blood flow. Your body can usually correct reduced blood flow to the brain, but it can leave you feeling dizzy, and if it takes too long to balance your oxygen levels, it can cause you to faint.”
If you start to feel dizzy, Brudö suggests trying to increase the oxygen to your brain by taking five deep breaths, breathing in for a count of 10, and out for 10.
Loss of sexual desire
Not feeling it? Might be time to assess your mental health. “In order for your libido (sexual desire) to function properly, your hormone balance and neurological pathways need to be in sync,” explains Brendan Street. “When you are stressed, you release stress hormones, which interfere with this balance and can lead to a loss of libido.”
“Unfortunately, anti-depression medicine can also cause one's sex drive to lessen,” David Brudö adds. “But is very important to treat the depression first, and the sexual side effects after.”
Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health says that stress has some very real effects on our overall health by suppressing the immune system. “When we are stressed we release a hormone called cortisol into our bloodstream and when cortisol is released, the immune-system-supporting hormone called DHEA can't be released at the same time,” he explains.
“As a result, our immune system isn't as efficient. So, if you find you're catching colds very easily, or can't shake them off, it may be because you have a reduced immune system, which can be a result of stress.”
Unexplained aches and pains
Suddenly hurting somewhere you wouldn’t normally? It could be down to anxiety. “Anxiety can cause the body to pump adrenaline through the body more frequently than normal,” explains David Brudö.
“As the body starts to feel something that it recognises as unknown or uncomfortable, adrenaline rushes through the body, preparing it to cope with whatever danger is approaching - what is known as 'flight or fight' mode.
Brudö says that when this happens, adrenaline increases our blood pressure, as well as our blood supply, which may cause the muscles around the spine to tense and spasm.
He suggests regular low-impact exercise such as yoga could help to regulate adrenaline levels.
A dry mouth
According to David Brudö feeling anxious or depressed can reduce the amount of saliva your body produces, in turn causing dry mouth.
“Some signs of dry mouth include having a constant sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and dry nasal passages - similar symptoms as when you have an ongoing cold,” he explains.
For some, though, dry mouth is not caused by the anxiety or depression itself, but rather the medicines that are taken.
“If you think that you are experiencing dry mouth due to your medication, then let your doctor know. Remember that medicine and stress can leave us feeling dehydrated, so make sure that you drink enough water every day,” he adds.
Changes in the way you dress and/or personal hygiene
“People with mental ill-health lose their sense of enjoyment and willingness to interact. This can lead them to lose interest in how they appear including how they dress and take care of themselves,” explains Dr Dane Vishnubala, Chief Medical Officer at Active IQ.
“Looking as though they have made no effort can be a sign of anxiety or depression as how they look is not important to them at that point in time,” Dr Vishnubala continues.
But it’s very important that we don’t generalise. “Everyone is an individual and will respond to their anxiety or depression differently: you can’t simply say that if someone starts to dress badly or neglect their personal hygiene that they are depressed,” he explains.
That’s something mindfulness therapist Frances Trussell is keen to echo. “Any dramatic sudden changes might indicate an underlying mental health issue, but it is also worth bearing in mind that people do change,” she explains. “I'd advise against jumping to the conclusion your co-worker has a mental health issue just because she's gone for a drastic new look.”
Dr Vishnubala points out that: “sudden eccentric dressing and behaviour is more likely to be associated with a manic episode such as you find in people with bi-polar disorder but, again, that is not always the case.”
Maxing out your credit cards
According to Frances Trussell symptoms of certain mental health problems might increase your likelihood to end up in the black.
She says that suddenly spending a large amount of money may indicate a deeper mental ill health that requires help.
“Someone suddenly purchasing lots of things they can't afford or would normally want may signal a bipolar episode,” she explains.
“Other signs of mania can include talking quickly, having grand plans or schemes, not needing sleep or food,” she adds.
Hypersexuality is very common in bipolar and the cause of an affair might be related to a manic phase of the illness.
“Addictive behaviours and excessive actions such as workaholism, binge drinking, hoarding, excessive gambling and overspending can all indicate mental ill health,” explains Trussell. “When feeling low many of us look for outside factors to boost our happiness or fill the hole of emptiness. Any binge behaviour is often an indicator of unhappiness and that our actions have become misaligned with rational thinking.”
She says it is vital that we treat those around us displaying signs of poor mental health with compassion, encourage them to open up about how they are feeling and seek help.
A dodgy stomach
Spending more time in the loo than out? Bad bowels could be an indication of an underlying mental health problem. “When you're stressed you might experience abdominal pains, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea,” explains Brendan Street.
“If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome already, being stressed can worsen the symptoms. This is because the digestive system is controlled by the nervous system – the mediator of stress.
“The body's response to stress involves the release of a range of hormones,” he continues. “These hormones can alter digestion in complex ways and alter water intake to the digestive system in some way that either slows food (constipation) or pushes food too quickly through the digestive tract (diarrhoea).”
What do do if you feel like you’re suffering from a mental health condition
“If you think someone has a mental health problem, it is important to seek help early, either through mental health charities or your GP,” advises Dr Vishnubala.
“Sometimes it’s hard to pin down what the problem is but the first action to take is to listen to them and support them to access the professional help they need. This is likely to include talking therapies, exercise and medications which are all known to help.”