Signs Of Mental Illness In Young Adults

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“One out of every five young adults is grappling with one or more mental illnesses.”

~ National Institute of Mental Health

Mental illness in young adults

You may think mental illness only affects the really young and the really old, but you are wrong. The truth is, mental illness is most common when a person is in his or her mid-twenties. In fact, people in their late teens and twenties are still developing their cognitive functions, which is why mental illnes in young adults is so prevalent. What are mental illnesses? They are neurological, biological, and psychological conditions that affect your thought processes, emotions, and behavior. Some mental illnesses even affect your mood and perception.

Sometimes it is temporary…

Moreover, in some cases, mental illnesses can prevent you from interacting with others in a healthy way, and/or attending to your basic needs. Mental illnesses can be mild, moderate, or severe. Sometimes mental illness is temporary and sometimes it is chronic or indefinite. Mental illness can also arise after a traumatic experience or a personal or family crisis. Furthermore, one thing may trigger mental illness or many things may trigger it. The true cause depends on the individual and the specific condition.

The stigma of mental illness in young adults

The stigma, commonly associated with “being mentally ill,” is beginning to diminish, mainly because more and more young adults are being diagnosed with a mental illness every year. If you would like to learn more about mental illness in young adults, you have come to the right place. This article will help you decide if you have a mental illness and provide you with steps you can take to ensure you live a long, healthy life.

Understanding it all

When you are a young adult, your cognitive development has not yet come to fruition. What does that mean? It means you may still experience the fluctuating and conflicting emotions of your childhood and teen years. You may also feel trauma, distress, and emotional pain much deeper than older adults. When you add in confusion, raging hormones, a quest for autonomy (independence), and everything else, it’s no wonder why mental illness arises or worsens during your twenties.

Understand that during your twenties, you are tasked with a lot of adult responsibilities like working full-time, paying bills, getting an apartment or house, and taking care of yourself – mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, and even spiritually. It all falls on your shoulders. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to be academically, financially, personally, and socially successful. This stress can, under certain circumstances, trigger mental illness in some young people. Some mental illnesses arise and are diagnosed during childhood, others may not be diagnosed until a person becomes a teen, young adult, or later in some cases.

Common mental illnesses in young adults

The most common mental illnesses in young adults are:

Mental health conditions are common in teens and young adults. Moreover, approximately 50% of mental illnesses are present by the age of 14, and approximately 75% of people develop mental illness by the time a person turns 24.

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Actionable Steps


Read the longer version

You can learn more about mental illness in young adults by reading the following articles: Young Adults and Their Mental Health from Very Well Mind, Substance Use + Mental Health in Teens and Young Adults from, and Why do more young people have mental health problems from The Guardian.


Don’t self-diagnose

The worst thing you can do if you think you may have a mental illness is to self-diagnose. The truth is, many young adults fall into the “Google trap” of looking up their symptoms online to figure out what is “wrong” with them. The problem is “Dr. Google” is often misleading and inaccurate.  
Just because you see something on Dr. Phil or on the Internet, doesn’t necessarily mean you also have the condition – even if you have similar symptoms. The only way you will receive an accurate diagnosis is if you see a physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist. 

If you are unable to stop yourself from “looking up your symptoms online,” make sure you choose reputable sites like the Mayo Clinic, Medline, Psych Central, Psychology Today, Healthline, etc. Avoid blogs and articles written by lay people (people without an education or professional experience in the area) and opt for ones written by medical doctors, psychologists, or psychiatrists. And, do not rely on what you find until you talk to a doctor about your symptoms.


Stay active and adopt a healthy lifestyle

Staying active and adopting a healthy lifestyle are things you can do until you can seek help with a mental health professional. Studies suggest that exercising on a regular basis can help ease depression, anxiety, and stress. When you exercise, your brain sends a message to your body to release endorphins, adrenaline, and serotonin (the “happy hormones”), which in turn improves your mood.
Exercise or movement may even offset some psychotropic medication side-effects, such as sudden and noticeable weight gain. So, until you can seek proper help, start exercising more by working out at a gym, playing tennis, swimming, joining a sports team, dancing, playing with your toddler, taking brisk evening walks around your neighborhood, bowling with friends, or even doing yardwork.
It doesn’t matter what you do – just as long as you do something. Even minimal exercise can improve your mood, attitude, and mental health. Also, you may want to consider adopting a healthier lifestyle. Start by consuming a healthy diet – i.e. fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, low-fat dairy, whole grains, water, etc. And, don’t forget to add in at least 8 hours of sleep each night.


Get help

If you think you may have a mental illness, it is important that you seek help as soon as possible. What should you do first? Make an appointment with your general practitioner or internist. During your appointment, explain to him or her how you have been feeling, what you have been thinking, and what you have been doing. Be as descriptive and detailed as possible.
Not sure you’ll remember everything? Start writing down your symptoms and any questions you have about mental illnesses in general, or about the mental illness you “think” you may have. Take the journal with you to your doctor’s appointment; this will help your doctor get a better idea of what you are experiencing. He or she will then be able to refer you to the appropriate medical professional and/or develop a treatment plan for you. You may also want to ask a friend or family member to go with you to the appointment to help you remember more things and to provide you with some much-needed support.

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About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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