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Symptoms of mental illness vary in each person depending on the type of illness involved. There are some general behavioral characteristics usually present, however, and they are listed below. While a single symptom or isolated event is not necessarily a sign of mental illness, multiple or severe symptoms may indicate a need for a medical evaluation. Also, please note that this list is an educational tool and not intended to replace a licensed mental health professionalís diagnosis, advice and care. Only a mental health professional can make a specific assessment. If you have questions, please begin by contacting your personal physician.

Symptoms of mental illness in adults:
Confused thinking
Long-lasting periods of sadness or irritability
Extreme highs and lows in mood
Excessive worrying, fear or anxiety
Social withdrawal
Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
Strong feelings of anger
Delusions or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there)
Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
Thoughts of suicide
Denial of obvious problems
Frequent, abundant, unexplained physical problems
Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol

Symptoms of mental illness in older children and pre-teens:
Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
Inability to cope with daily activities
Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
Frequently skipping school, stealing or damaging property
Intense fear of gaining weight
Long-lasting negative mood, often along with poor appetite and thoughts of death
Frequent outbursts of anger

Symptoms of mental illness in younger children:
Changes in school performance
Poor grades despite strong efforts
Persistent nightmares
Persistent disobedience and aggressive behavior
Frequent temper tantrums

Symptoms of mild mental retardation (IQ 60-70) may not be obvious in early childhood. Children with mental retardation may learn to sit up, crawl, or walk later than other children, or they may learn to talk later. For this reason, even when poor academic performance is recognized, it may take expert assessment to distinguish mild mental retardation from learning disability or emotional/behavioral disorders. As individuals with mild mental retardation reach adulthood, many learn to live independently and maintain gainful employment.

Moderate to severe mental retardation is nearly always apparent within the first few years of life. People with moderate to severe retardation will require considerate support throughout their lives in school, at home and in the community. As adults they may live with their parents or in a supportive group home. Both children and adults with mental retardation may exhibit the following characteristics: delays in oral language skills, deficits in memory skills, difficulty in learning and with problem solving, delays in the development of adaptive behaviors such as self-help or self-care skills and lack of social inhibitors.


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