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What’s your sign, girl?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

People are always asking what are the signs of mental illness; I am forever trying to answer that with first teaching what are the signs of mental wellness.

“Good mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems,” says “Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.”

No one has all the signs of good mental wellbeing all the time, but we can and should strive to attain as many as possible.

According to the US the National Mental Health Association these are ten characteristics of people who are mentally healthy:

1. They feel good about themselves.
2. They do not become overwhelmed by emotions, such as fear, anger, love, jealousy, guilt, or anxiety.
3. They have lasting and satisfying personal relationships.
4. They feel comfortable with other people.
5. They can laugh at themselves and with others.
6. They have respect for themselves and for others even if there are differences.
7. They are able to accept life’s disappointments.
8. They can meet life’s demands and handle their problems when they arise.
9. They make their own decisions.
10. They shape their environment whenever possible and adjust to it when necessary.

The site Psychology Today says: “When reflecting on how you are faring on the journey toward mental health, check in with yourself to see if your life is trending toward these seven core capacities:

1. Commitment to truth—a fundamental orientation to what is real rather than ideal;
2. Tolerance—the capacity to embrace conflicting aspects of oneself and others;
3. Patience—the capacity to remain present to difficult experiences and work them through slowly over time;
4. Vitality—the experience of being more alive, more engaged, and more free of inhibition;
5. Self-control—the capacity to own and take responsibility for oneself;
6. Love—rooted in gratitude and the effort to make repair for damage done to loved ones; and
7. Internal peace and harmony—rooted in a sense of deeper security with oneself and with others, experienced as the feeling of being more whole.

“As we trend toward living out these seven core capacities, we find that we feel better and do better in life. And this extra bit—the being better bit—allows us to feel more satisfied, content, and grounded along the way” (Copyright 2015 by Jennifer Kunst, PhD).

To respond to the question: “What are the signs of mental illness?” here is an excerpt from the Mayo Clinic.

“Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviours.”

Here are some examples of signs and symptoms, but bear in mind that it is a combination of symptoms over a period of time that constitute or suggest mental ill health or bad mental wellbeing:

• Feeling sad or down
• Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
• Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
• Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
• Withdrawal from friends and activities
• Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
• Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
• Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
• Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Major changes in eating habits
• Sex drive changes
• Excessive anger, hostility or violence
• Suicidal thinking

“Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains” (

It’s okay to ask for help

It is important to get help when our mental wellbeing is threatened. Talking to someone you trust is always my first recommendation for getting an intervention. The problem is that most people with whom I relate would readily speak of the fact that the worst fear is that of being judged by those to whom we turn for help.

Stigma and prejudice are the most common factors preventing people from accessing mental health services. People are reluctant because according to “Society has a tendency to view mental (ill health or mental distress) differently from medical ones. When someone breaks a leg, has chest pains, or needs to get a prescription, they’ll see a doctor.

“However, when they experience depression, excessive fears, or a problem with alcohol, they may be embarrassed to seek help.”

“Many people view these conditions as ‘weaknesses’ they should handle themselves” but “to recognise an emotional problem and receive help is not at all a sign of weakness. Rather, these positive actions are characteristics of strong individuals” (

CAROLINE C RAVELLO is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (UWI). Write to: [email protected]


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