I have noticed that many people fail to avail mental health services because they are not aware of common symptoms of mental illnesses. This lack of awareness is not restricted to poor uneducated people. Even the most educated ones often fail to recognize signs of a mental illness. The following are common symptoms seen in psychiatric illnesses:
- Any unusual change in behavior without any obvious cause
- Excessive preoccupation with or neglect of cleanliness or personal hygiene
- Loss of interest in routine day-to-day activities
- Sleep disturbance
- Excessive or prolonged sadness or worries interfering with normal life
- Thoughts to harm self (suicidal) or others (homicidal)
- Agitated, aggressive or irritable behavior without any apparent cause
- Over talkativeness, excessively friendly behavior even with strangers
- Grandiose talks like considering oneself to be an important personality or being a blessed one with special powers or abilities.
- Crying or laughing/smiling without any apparent reason
- Muttering or talking to oneself
- Fearfulness without any apparent cause (e.g. Police will come and arrest me)
- Suspicious behavior without any apparent cause (e.g. People are conspiring against me)
- Hearing voices, seeing images or experiencing strange sensations in the absence of any object stimulus (for example, hearing voice of a person when he/she is not around)
- Excessive consumption of alcohol or other drugs of abuse (including cigarette smoking)
At times behavioral changes might be so subtle that family members fail to recognize it. For example, a person repeatedly changing jobs for trivial reasons, often falsely blaming his bosses or co-workers for his poor occupational adjustment.
In case of psychotic illnesses, patients may present with prominent negative symptoms which are often difficult to detect by family members. Such patients may lose interest in all routine activities, lack initiative to carry out normal activities like bathing, dressing, going out to work, interacting with others etc. As a result they may stay at home, prefer remaining aloof, not interacting with others or participating in household chores. Such symptoms are often dismissed as laziness by family members.