According to the National Institute for Mental Health, as of 2017, 46.6 million adults in the U.S. were living with some type of mental illness. With a statistic that high, any mental health professional would probably wish there was some concrete answer as to what causes all mental health problems.
Unfortunately, there is no one reason why people develop mental health issues. This is partially because there are a variety of different issues to consider. Some people develop symptoms early in life, while some only start to experience them after a certain situation. Others develop them later in life. Some people struggle with mental health issues their whole lives.
Most people with mental health issues know how it can impact their lives. It can negatively affect relationships, your career, and even cause harmful physical symptoms. So, while it’s important to take care of your mental health, it’s also important to try to understand some of the precursors to mental health problems. Again, there isn’t one solid reason as to why these issues develop. But, there are some warning signs that could make it easier to find treatment or management earlier.
If you’re thinking about your own mental health, or you want to know some of the signs to look for in others, let’s cover a few possible precursors.
Both lifestyle changes and lifestyle choices can be warning signs of a possible mental health problem. Your diet, for example, could have an impact on your mental health. There is a gut-brain connection that many people don’t think about. What you eat can affect the way you think and how you feel, mentally. Foods that can negatively affect your mood include:
- Processed foods
- Fish with high mercury levels
- Artificial sweeteners
- Trans fats
If your diet consists of a lot of these foods, what you eat could be impacting how you feel. Sometimes people overeat or eat the wrong things when they’re already feeling depressed, so it can be a vicious cycle, but one that needs to be looked at and treated.
Changes in your sleep habits could also be a precursor to a mental health problem. If you find yourself sleeping more than usual, or you always feel fatigued, it could be a sign of depression. Alternatively, insomnia can be a sign of a mental health issue, too. Any changes in sleep habits or patterns shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Getting your eyes checked regularly is beneficial for your vision, but did you know certain aspects of an eye exam could indicate a potential mental health problem? Recent studies have found that eye examinations can help to detect early signs of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
Eye exams can also detect conditions that can be attributed to anxiety. For example, eye flashes or ‘floaters’ could be linked to feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. While it isn’t always the case, it’s important for eye doctors to be able to make those connections and refer patients to the right mental health care professionals. If you’re worried about the cost of treatment, talk to your referred specialist about what types of insurance they accept. Some services can even be covered with Medicare.
Additionally, OCT scans of the optic nerve are being used to potentially identify certain neurological disorders. The optic nerve connects the eyes to the brain, so it makes sense that a scan of it could detect something potentially serious early on.
While neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease aren’t necessarily mental health conditions, they can cause things like depression and anxiety if they aren’t properly diagnosed or treated. Catching them early on can be extremely helpful to people who aren’t sure what is going on with their brain or body.
Unusual Thoughts or Behaviors
One of the easiest ways to recognize that you might be struggling with a mental health issue is to take stock of your own thoughts. Have you been having trouble concentrating or remembering simple things? Do you feel disconnected from others, or even yourself? Are you easily irritable?
These could all be warning signs of depression, affecting your thought process. Illogical thinking isn’t uncommon either, but that can sometimes lead to illogical behaviors, too.
If you find yourself doing things that you typically wouldn’t do or behaving in ways that aren’t “normal” to you, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional as soon as possible. Even if you don’t recognize these signs in yourself, pay attention to anything your friends or family might be saying about changes they are seeing in your personality and behavior.
Mental problems are nothing to be ashamed of. Millions of people deal with them all across the globe. But, recognizing some of the precursors can help you to get a handle on the issues early on, so you can find a treatment solution that works for you, and stay in control of your life and your choices.