4 Major Warning Signs for Diagnosing Mental Illness

In society, we are quick to deem some criminals as “crazy” particularly with crimes that are complex and extreme in nature. While there is nothing funny about mental illness, the reality is that a large correlation between mental health and crime exists.

Understanding mental illness is important to help solve and prevent crimes. Working to fight stigmas and negative connotations about mental health will help bring more attention to assisting those who suffer from disorders and improve the level of their care.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is described as a range of mental health conditions that can alter one’s behavior and mood, causing them to act impulsively and unlike themselves. While most people will deal with a change in mental health at some point in their lives, a mental health condition becomes an illness once the behavioral patterns become more consistent, affecting the person's ability to function.  Through the continuous study of human behavior, clinical psychologists have determined four major warning signs that can help others spot the onset of mental illness. These warning signs typically occur concurrently and the greater one experiences various symptoms of each warning sign, the more urgent their situation becomes. There is a strong correlation between those who have a mental health condition and do not adhere to their medication and violent behavior that leads to incarceration.

  1. Emotional
    Individuals who experience mental distress are often sad or feel unlike themselves. Sudden sadness with little to no explanation for a period of more than two weeks is known as depression. People may also become irritable, moody, and angry without notice.  In addition, one should take caution when an individual experiences a range of emotions within a short period of time that are not consistent with each other. Sad one day and angry the next, or guilty one moment and lack emotions the next.

  2. Physical
    Physical signs of mental illnesses include feeling constant fatigue, drastic change in weight (can be weight gain or weight loss), or change in appearance due to lack of hygiene and unexplained aches and pains. Look for pattern changes in sleep, eating and overall energy, and if they tend to lean to one extreme, this could be a sign of a mental disorder. One last thing to consider is their physical interaction with others – becoming overly touchy, resistant to touch or violent outbursts. Some disorders may cause heart palpitations, increased sweating, headaches and nausea.

  3. Behavioral
    Changes in behavior are often one of the first signs people notice when loved ones are suffering from mental illness. Some withdraw from people, limiting interaction to an only as-needed basis, neglect personal responsibilities, and may turn to substances like drugs and alcohol to cope with new changes. Additionally, they may throw temper tantrums, burst out in sudden laughter or crying, and lose interest in their physical appearance.

  4. Psychological
    Those suffering from mental illness display varying psychological signs that can quickly worsen over time. These symptoms are often the catalyst for all of the other signs that come with mental disorders. Signs include pessimism, negative attitude about people and life, extremely self-critical, constant self-blame, and thoughts of death and suicide. Decrease in memory, inability to focus, and unnecessary worrying are also signs of psychological issues. Left untreated, these psychological issues can lead to severe cases of crime, like homicide.

It’s important to note that those experiencing mental illness often have a variety of these signs at the same time. They typically do not occur on their own and these signs do not tend to be isolated in nature. One symptom often sparks the symptom of another, for example, feeling sad often leads to fatigue. Being aware and spotting these four warnings signs can make a significant difference.

Unfortunately, many studies show that those who report mental illness often do not receive treatment. Mental hospital capacity has dwindled in recent years, while prison and jail capacity has vastly expanded. About 1.2 million people in state, local and federal custody reported some kind of mental health condition.

There is a crushing responsibility that weighs on professionals who lack resources to deal with those who are mentally ill. Working to educate those in the field can provide access to resources and create new career paths while assisting those who need help. A degree specializing in human behavior is instrumental, especially in the criminology field, to understand human behavior that can lead to crime.


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