General symptoms of mental illness may include:

  • Behaviour

A person experiencing symptoms of mental illness may behave in ways that seem bizarre or confusing to other people. These can include excessive hand washing after touching something, extreme low energy, or feelings of severe anxiety or sadness.

  • Thinking

Thinking may become confused, disorganized, illogical or irrational. A person may have difficulty following along with conversations, may say things that do not make sense or have difficulty remembering things.

  • Mood

Our moods can change throughout the day. We can feel excited, sad or anxious as we react to daily events. With mental illness, however, severe moods and mood changes often cause significant distress over time. They can reduce a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

  • Perception

A person may begin to experience the world through their senses – vision, taste, smell, touch and hearing – in unusual ways. One person might hear voices while someone else develops an exaggerated sensitivity to sound.

  • Social withdrawal

With some mental illnesses people begin to withdraw from family and friends. Social activities are dropped and they increase the amount of time they spend alone.
Adapted from: Living with Mental Illness: A Guide for Family and Friends. Halifax, NS: Capital District Health Authority; 2008

Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Initiative. Working together towards recovery: Consumers, families, caregivers and providers. Mississauga, ON: Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Initiative; February 2006.