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Understanding Behavioral & Mental Health

Trying to tell the difference between what expected behaviors are and what might be the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy. There’s no easy test that can let someone know if there is mental illness or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of a person or the result of a physical illness.

Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance

Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms in children may include the following:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Frequent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Where To Get Help

Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step. Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor or state/county mental health authority for more resources.


Major depression is a mood disorder that presents with either a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of pleasure, or both. By applying the criteria as well as using screening tools in at-risk patients, the primary care physician can establish the diagnosis of major depression. Preventive Care and Screening: Screening for Depression and Follow-Up Plan is important. Major depression is a serious mental illness affecting millions of adults and children each year with impacts on health outcomes, quality of life, and cost of care. Comprehensive screening in primary care may help clinicians identify undiagnosed depression, earlier in the course of depression, and initiate appropriate treatment (Source: OHA Guidance Document, 2014).

Depression screenings performed allow for follow-up plans for a positive initial screening and supports the ability of the clinician to provide high quality patient care and contribute to supporting the patient’s continuity of care.

What Type of Follow-Up?

Referral to a practitioner or program for further evaluation for depression, for example, referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, mental health counselor, or other mental health service such as family or group therapy, support group, depression management program, or other service for treatment of depression. This can be an internal or external referral in the healthcare organization.

Other interventions designed to treat depression such as psychotherapy, pharmacological interventions, or additional treatment options.

Pharmacologic treatment for depression is often indicated during pregnancy and/or lactation. Review and discussion of the risks of untreated versus treated depression is advised. This considers of each patient’s prior disease and treatment history, along with the risk profiles for individual pharmacologic agents, is important when selecting pharmacologic therapy with the greatest likelihood of treatment effect.

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