The symptoms of mental health issues people often overlook

Mental health problems can manifest themselves in ways that are often overlooked. For example, men who are depressed may appear angry instead of sad, making it harder for family members and doctors to identify their depression. Being aware of the signs of mental health issues can help to spot them before they get worse. With this in mind, here are three symptoms of mental health issues people often overlook. 

Continuous low mood or sadness

Constant unhappiness is a sign of depression that many people fail to notice. Often, a continuous low mood is dismissed because people usually think a person suffering from depression is “just being grumpy”. For this reason, people who are depressed are often told to “cheer up” by well-meaning but uninformed friends, family, and colleagues. 

But simply “cheering up” is not so easy for people with depression. This is because depression leads to changes in the brain that alter how people respond to everyday situations. For example, the amygdala (the part of the brain typically associated with emotional processes such as anger, fear, and sorrow) becomes more active in depressed people. This change is so profound that increased activity continues in the amygdala even after the person has recovered from their depression. 

If you continually feel down in the dumps - or if someone you know seems constantly unhappy -  simply being aware of this depressive symptom may help to identify it and treat the depression before it gets any worse. Psychotherapy - especially cognitive behavioural therapy (also known as “talking therapy) - has been shown to be especially effective for treating depression. The Samaritans also offer a free, confidential phone-in service for those who need to talk to someone about their feelings right away. Being aware of the problem is the first step, which is why it is important not to overlook any prolonged feelings of sadness or low mood. 

Excessively worrying over things

Excessive worry, fear, and nervousness can all be signs of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be hard to spot because those with anxiety worry over things that others might find “trivial”. For example, people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) may have their anxiety triggered by ordinary, routine activities. Likewise, whereas some may see bus journeys as a standard part of their day, people affected by agoraphobia (the fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult) may avoid public transport altogether due to their anxiety. 

Since the signs of anxiety disorders are often overlooked, dismissed, or not noticed at all (as in the case of the agoraphobic, who may not even be seen due to their aversion to certain spaces), it is important to be aware of all the ways anxiety might manifest itself. Here is a quick list of anxiety disorders and the kinds of behaviour that characterise them:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD): Frequent and excessive anxiety about activities and events - even if they are ordinary and routine. The worry is usually out of proportion to the situation, and may also manifest itself physically. 
  • Agoraphobia: The fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or where help might not be available if things go wrong. People with agoraphobia may be scared of travelling on public transport, visiting crowded places, or leaving their home. 
  • Social anxiety disorder: Feeling anxious in social situations because of the fear of being embarrassed, judged, and feeling self-conscious

To learn more about anxiety disorders and how they are exhibited, check out Mayo Clinic’s page on anxiety.

Hair Loss 

A traumatic event or prolonged stress may cause a form of hair loss known as telogen effluvium. Although depression and anxiety do not cause hair loss themselves, the stress these conditions cause may trigger hair loss. Indeed, a study of 157 women found that hair loss was “associated with a greater prevalence of symptoms of depression”

This is because excessive stress can disrupt the hair growth cycle- the cycle through which hair naturally grows and falls out. If this happens, your hair may enter what is known as the “telogen phase”. During this phase hair is released from the scalp and falls out, which can make hair appear thinner.

Although it’s not fully understood how stress causes hair loss in humans, studies on mice have shown that stress increases the amount of dead cells generated in hair follicles and prevents keratinocytes (cells that produce keratin - an important structural protein for hair) from multiplying. 

Hair loss may be overlooked as a symptom of mental health problem in men because many men suffer from a common form of hair loss known as male pattern baldness (MPB). Unlike telogen effluvium, which is typically caused by stress, male pattern baldness is caused by a mixture of genetic and hormonal factors.

To determine whether you have telogen effluvium, you can conduct the “hair pull” test. Pinch 40 to 60 hairs between your thumb and index finger, and then pull slowly but firmly from the scalp. 

Usually, only 2 or 3 hairs are pulled out using this method. If there is excess shedding (telogen effluvium) then more than 10% of the hair will easily be pulled out (provided you haven’t shampooed in the last 24 hours)

If you have noticed hair loss, there are a variety of solutions available. In the case of telogen effluvium, hair may regrow by itself within six months. On the other hand, if hair loss has been caused by male pattern baldness, finasterideis an effective treatment that slows the rate of hair loss, and in some cases use of finasteride results in regrowth of impacted hair. However, it should be noted that one of the potential side effects of finasteride is depression. Therefore, it is important that you talk to your doctor before attempting to take any medication to ensure it is safe for you to take and does not conflict with any medication you may be taking. 

Keep up with the top stories from Reader’s Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.