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Sometimes we see people acting or thinking in different ways than we might expect. Trying to decide if it might be a sign of a mental illness is not always easy. There is not a simple test that can tell us if it is a mental illness, a typical behavior or thought, or the even the result of a physical illness.

Each mental illness has its own signs and symptoms. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists some common signs of mental illness in adults and teens that include the following:

• Excessive worrying or fear

• Feeling extremely sad or low

• Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

• Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria

• Lengthy or strong feelings of being irritable (cranky) or angry

• Staying away from friends and social activities

• A hard time understanding or relating to other people

• Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

• Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

• Changes in sex drive

• Difficulty perceiving reality

• Not being aware of changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (“lack of insight”)

• Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

• Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)

• Thinking about suicide

• Not being able to carry out daily activities, or handle daily problems and stress

• An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance.

Young children can also begin to develop mental health conditions, but their signs can be different. NAMI lists some signs to watch for in children:

• Changes in how well they are doing in school

• Excessive worry or anxiety, for example fighting about going to bed or school

• Hyperactive behavior

• Often having nightmares

• Frequently being disobedient or aggressive

• Many temper tantrums.

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Knowing the warning signs can help let you decide if you need to speak to a professional. If you think you or someone you know needs help, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor or counselor. If you feel like you or a friend needs help now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-8255 or call 911.

To learn more about local resources or other questions, please call the Four Corners Health Department at (402) 362-2621 or visit our website at


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