Imagine someone with major depressive disorder, aka depression. Do they exhibit sad facial expressions with deep dark circles under their eyes? Are they in a black and white photo with their hands pressed up against their head? What about someone with anxiety? Does the image depict an individual with jumbled words coming out of their brain? These are the images that our society portrays of individuals living with a mood or anxiety disorder. These images are both simple, powerful, and only half accurate. These collective stereotypes are short-hand for conditions that are, even though maybe typical, defy easy descriptions. These widespread stereotypes are depicted in the media, in books, and in television shows and movies we watch. The problem with stereotypes associated with mental illness is that they can invalidate someone’s experience living with a mental illness. They can invalidate “hidden” or “uncommon” symptoms.
Most symptoms associated with mental health disorders are invisible. Because of this, they are more likely to create self-doubt when compared to a physical condition or injury such as a broken arm or congenital disability. Imagine the amount of self-doubt that occurs when “uncommon” invisible symptoms arise? It is easy to read about “common symptoms associated with mental health disorders,” and many of these well-known symptoms are used to make a clinical diagnosis. These often include sadness, racing thoughts, extreme mood changes, excessive fear and worry, anger outbursts, hallucinations, and difficulty concentrating. But what about the symptoms that nobody mentions? Recognizing the “hidden” warning signs is extremely important for early intervention and may even save someone’s life.
Mental health is tightly connected to physical health and vice versa as the mind and body are intimately connected. If your body is sick, this can affect your mental health and vice versa. Studies show that up to 50% of individuals with chronic pain experience symptoms of depression. Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression can result in headaches, body aches, and gastrointestinal side effects. Additionally, individuals with autoimmune disorders have a higher risk of depression because these disorders often are the culprit of chronic pain.
Research has also shown depression to be linked to an increased sensitivity to pain due to the complex interactions between brain chemicals associated with depression and pain sensation. In other words, individuals with depression have a lower pain threshold and may experience more pain more frequently and on a grander scale compared to others with depression.
Living with a mental illness is physically exhausting. Individuals with mental health disorders often experience trouble falling asleep and staying asleep (a well-known symptom associated with depression), leaving one exhausted throughout the day. But regardless of the sleep/wake complications, intrusive thoughts, extreme fear and worry, compulsive actions, and many other symptoms can be physically draining and lead to chronic exhaustion. Chronic fatigue may also occur because someone is trying to manage their mental health symptoms while juggling work, family, and other critical daily obligations. In addition, battling the stigma associated with mental health disorders and learning to navigate the mental health system in the United States can leave an individual chronically fatigued.
Lack of emotion
Lack of emotion is a common symptom associated with mental illness that is rarely talked about. Many individuals living with mental health disorders often talk about having mood swings, feeling irritable, sad or angry, or anxious. Although all of these feelings are highly valid, it is essential to acknowledge that people can also experience something of the exact opposite: Blankness, nothing, emptiness, and blatant disregard for yourself, others, and the world around you.
Individuals living with a mental illness, especially undiagnosed ones, often struggle with healthy relationships. They may find themselves constantly fighting with friends or family, jumping from one dating relationship to another, and struggling to make new friends. Individuals may avoid people altogether, alienating individuals who are closest to them. Self-sabotage is one of the hidden key components in borderline personality disorder. Suppose you find yourself struggling to maintain healthy relationships because you avoid people, pick fights, overshare, or feel that you do not deserve to be surrounded by people who care about you. In that case, you may be living with an undiagnosed mental health disorder.
Obsession with weight, food, and or exercise
When we think about obsessing overweight
, food, and exercise, we think of eating disorders. However, this is a blanketed half-truth that is commonly and falsely portrayed in the media. Individuals with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and personality disorders may often use food and exercise to cope with their internal thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Exercising beyond exhaustion is an unhealthy coping mechanism that may temporarily relieve the unwanted inner thoughts associated with a mental health disorder. Controlling your diet when you cannot control your emotional state is another common coping mechanism. Starving yourself of carbohydrates, running 40 miles a week, and weighing yourself daily are unhealthy ways to relieve the signs and symptoms associated with anxiety, OCD, and trauma-related disorders. Still, often these behaviors are mistaken for an eating disorder. These unhealthy obsessions with weight, food, and exercise are just that; obsessions but can have the potential to develop into a full-fledged co-occurring eating disorder.
Burning the midnight oil, working weekends, being obsessed with climbing the corporate ladder, and working yourself into a state of incoherence are mental health warning signs that are often pushed under the rug. Our society celebrates people who work hard and people who strive to earn a reputable salary, but at what cost? Mental health disorders are associated with workplace burnout in more ways than one: toxic work environments can trigger mental health disorders, and obsessing over your work can be an unhealthy coping mechanism for individuals living with a mental health disorder.
Remember, there is so much more to living with a mental illness than what meets the eye.
AKUA Mind and Body is a full-service mental health treatment center that offers a wide array of treatment approaches, regardless of how uncommon your invisible symptoms are.