what is mental health?

Mental health is the emotional, psychological, and well-being that makes us human. It affects how we think, feel, and act toward ourselves and others and directly impacts the positive and negative choices we make.

Mental health issues can affect thinking, mood, behavior, self-esteem, and even our physical health.

factors that often contribute to mental health issues include:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, like trauma from physical, sexual, and verbal abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

mental health symptoms

common mental health symptoms

No two people are the same, and how you may experience depression, for example, may be different than another. The following are common symptoms patients experience for different mental illnesses. Some may experience more than one of these symptoms.

Note that this list is not comprehensive, nor should it be used to diagnose yourself or a loved one. Details on specific conditions can be seen in the mental health conditions section below.

  • Persistent sadness or feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt or low self-esteem
  • Increased or persistent irritability or nervousness (anxiety)
  • Feelings of impending doom or disaster
  • Racing heartbeat, hyperventilating, sweating, or trembling
  • Social withdrawal
  • Thoughts of self-harm, death, or suicide
  • Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Loss of impulse control
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Excessive fear or worry
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there
  • Extremely high and low moods
  • Aches, headaches, or digestive problems without a clear cause
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Indulging in overly risky behaviors

If you feel you or a loved one is experiencing an emergency, call 9-1-1 or seek immediate attention at an emergency care center.

putting a name to what you may be feeling

There are numerous mental health disorders. There are several that women experience more often than men, and there can be any number of contributing factors as to what you may be feeling the way you do.

This section of a focus on women is designed to inform you about different health disorders and common symptoms. The rest of the site is designed to help you learn why you may be experiencing a mental health issue.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information provided here is for informational purposes only and does not replace a diagnosis from a board-certified medical professional.

Diagnosing an addiction, such as substance use disorder, requires a thorough evaluation by a psychiatrist. While drugs and alcohol are the most commonly abused substances, food, shopping, and sex addictions are also common.

criteria for a substance abuse disorder

Substance use disorders are classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on how many of the diagnostic criteria a person meets, and may include:

  • Hazardous use: Using substances that are dangerous to yourself and/or others, i.e., overdosing, driving while impaired, consuming drugs or alcohol to the point of blacking out, endangering others.
  • Socializing issues: Substance abuse leads to relationship issues or conflicts with others.
  • Negligence: You begin or are failing to keep up with professional, personal, and/or family responsibilities, including withdrawing from activities you once enjoyed.
  • Withdrawal: Depending on the substance, you experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms and cravings you can’t control on your own.
  • High tolerance: You have to use more to get the same effect.
  • Repeated attempts to quit: When trying to reduce the amount you use or trying to quit entirely, you revert back to your previous level of use, or in even greater quantities and or frequency.
    Physical health deterioration: You begin experiencing chronic health issues, such as heart-related conditions, liver damage, or other organ-related issues.
  • The onset of mental health issues: Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and paranoia begin to take hold or get worse.

Getting an evaluation by a mental health care provider is the best course of action to take if you are suffering from a substance abuse disorder, so you can begin to tackle your addiction with the oversight of a medical professional. Plus, depending on the substance and the level of your addiction, quitting “cold turkey” may cause physical harm, including death.

Occasional anxiety or worry about health, money, or family problems are common. Anxiety disorders, however, involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety is persistent and can interfere with your daily activities and impact relationships.

anxiety disorders include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Symptoms can vary, and may include:

  • Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
  • Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
  • Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren’t
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Nervousness or easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Irritability

panic disorder

“Panic attacks” typically include intense fear, discomfort, or a sense of losing control even when there is no apparent danger or trigger. Not everyone who experiences a panic attack will develop panic disorder. Symptoms of a panic disorder can vary and may include:

  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Chest pain
  • Feelings of impending doom or being out of control
  • Worry about when the next attack will occur and avoid places or situations associated with an attack

social anxiety disorder

Symptoms can vary, and may include:

  • Intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others
  • Fear of social situations
  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling
  • Pounding or racing heart
  • Stomachaches
  • Not making eye contact
  • Speaking softly or mumbling
  • Extreme self-consciousness

seek help if you feel…

  • you’re worrying too much, and it’s interfering with your work, relationships, or other parts of your life
  • depressed or irritable, have trouble with drinking or drugs, or have other mental health concerns along with your anxiety
  • your worries are not going to go away on their own
  • disorientated, nauseous, your heart is racing, breathlessness, begin sweating or feeling dizziness (NOTE: While these symptoms are often attributed to a panic attack, these symptoms may also be related to something physical, such as a cardiac event. Either way, seek medical help immediately.)


Common treatments include but are not limited to talk therapy, and medications, such as anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, or beta-blockers.

NOTE: Caffeine, some over-the-counter cold medicines, illicit drugs, and herbal supplements may aggravate the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Talk to your doctor about these and other concerns.

Bipolar disorders are mental health conditions that lead to extreme mood swings, including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

Depression symptoms may include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in activities or projects after they have begun
  • Sleeping too much or not enough

When your mood shifts to mania or hypomania (less extreme than mania), you may feel:

  • Euphoric, full of energy, or highly irritable or agitated.

The length of the depressive and manic state can wildly vary, and mood swings may occur occasionally or multiple times a year. While most people experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any.

Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, you can manage your symptoms under the care of a medical professional. In most cases, bipolar disorder is treated with medications and therapy.

bipolar disorder types

There are several types of bipolar disorders, and only a mental health professional can diagnose the specific disorder you may be experiencing. The two most common forms of bipolar disorders are:

  • Bipolar I disorder: Common symptoms may include a highly manic episode followed by a major depressive episode. In some cases, the mania may trigger a break from reality (psychosis).
  • Bipolar II disorder: Common symptoms include experiencing at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but you’ve never had a manic episode.

Bipolar II disorder is not a milder form of bipolar I disorder. Type I manic episodes can be severe and dangerous, while individuals with Type II may include extended periods of depression. Bipolar disorders can appear at any age, but they are commonly diagnosed during the teen years or early adulthood.

Symptoms and their intensity can vary from person to person and may change over time.

symptoms defined

mania and hypomania

Mania and hypomania often present the same symptoms; however, mania is more severe than hypomania and causes more noticeable problems at work, school, and social activities, as well as relationship difficulties. Mania may also trigger a break from reality (psychosis) and require hospitalization.

Mania and hypomania likely include some or several of these symptoms:

    • Feeling abnormally upbeat or energetic
    • Increased activity, anxiousness, or agitation
    • An exaggerated sense of well-being (euphoria)
    • Decreased need for sleep
    • Highly communicative (chatty)
    • Racing thoughts
    • Easily distracted
    • Poor decision-making, such as over-spending, taking unusual risks sexually or physically
    • Becoming hyper-focused on a task or project

depressive episodes

Depressive episodes are typically severe enough to cause difficulties in daily activities, such as going to work, social gatherings, or the deterioration of a relationship, and they likely include several of these characteristics:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, worthless, emotional, or irritable for no apparent reason
  • Loss of interest in most activities
  • Weight loss or gain based on severe decreases or increases in appetite
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Restlessness
  • Chronic fatigue or loss of energy
  • Lack of focus or lower ability to concentrate
  • Indecisiveness
  • Suicidal thoughts or actually attempting suicide

when to seek medical assistance

Many who live with bipolar disorder don’t recognize they are in a manic or depressed state or how much their “mood swings” affect their lives and relationships. It can be challenging to encourage someone in a manic or depressive state to seek care, but if you recognize any symptoms of mania or depression, seek medical attention immediately. Bipolar disorders do not improve on their own, nor will they “just go away,” but there are several treatments that can help manage symptoms.

If you or a loved one is in a severe manic or depressive episode and you fear for their well-being, call 9-1-1 and seek emergency assistance immediately.

The word “depression” is used so commonly in everyday conversation, such as, “that’s depressing,” that we’ve become somewhat immune to the fact that depression is a medical condition that impacts tens of millions in the U.S. every year.

Depression can come about for any number of reasons, such as experiencing a traumatic event or abuse, even if it was a long time ago, loss of a loved one (or a job), difficulty in a relationship, such as infidelity, infertility, or any number of factors.

The good news is depression and related depressive disorders are usually treatable with a combination of medical oversight and talk therapy.

common symptoms of depression

Depression can include any number of symptoms, including:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, and loneliness even when around people
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Irritable or agitated
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Loss or increase in appetite (emotional eating)
  • Chronic intestinal issues
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Increased use of alcohol or other substances
  • Loss of concentration
  • Feeling anxious

when to seek medical assistance

Feelings of depression may result from an underlying physical condition, so do not delay seeking help from a medical care provider. Mental health care providers will work with you to determine the best course of treatment, which may include a combination of medication and/or therapy.

If your condition does not improve with treatment, several therapies are available for those experiencing “treatment-resistant depression.”

Dissociative disorders typically present as an “escape from reality” characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness, and memory. They usually develop as a response to a traumatic event, such as physical or sexual abuse, the sudden loss of a loved one, such as a child or spouse, or long-term exposure to trauma.

People from all age groups and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds can experience dissociative disorder, and women are far more likely to experience these types of disorders.

common symptoms of dissociative disorders

  • Memory loss of specific times, people, and events
  • Feeling as though you are watching a movie of yourself
  • Having a sense of being detached from your emotions, or “feeling numb”
  • A lack of self-identity – “who am I?”

There are different types of dissociative disorders, but there are two more commonly experienced by women:

  • Dissociative Amnesia is characterized by the lack of memory of information about one’s self. “Amnesia” is often related to a traumatic event, such as rape or physical abuse, or the sudden loss of a child. The amnesia typically occurs suddenly and can last minutes, hours, days, or years.
  • Dissociative Identity Disorder is often referred to as a“multiple personality disorder” where a person alternates between different identities. A person may feel like one or more “voices” are vying for control in their mind. Different identities may exhibit themselves outwardly by different names, voices, and even gender, and episodes of amnesia are common.

diagnosis & treatment

Diagnosing a dissociative disorder typically starts by ruling things out, such as a head injury, physical illness like brain tumors or lesions, sleep deprivation, or substance abuse.

If a dissociative disorder is diagnosed, therapies like CBT, DBT, and EMDR can be helpful in discovering the cause of the disorder, so a path to wellness can be created with medical or therapeutic oversight.

OCD is a mental health condition that makes a person have thoughts (obsessions) and rituals (compulsions) over and over that are typically uncontrollable. People with OCD often also have anxiety and depression, and if gone untreated for an extended period of time, it can lead to debilitating consequences.


OCD symptoms vary from person to person, such as becoming fixated and/or having obsessive thoughts regarding a number of topics, and manifestations of OCD may include:

  • A fixation on germs and contamination of one’s environment
  • Repetitive concerns, such as turning the stove off, locking doors, and turning lights on or off repeatedly
  • A need for an order of specific things
  • Excessively cleaning one’s self or environment
  • Ruminating thoughts about hurting someone or violence
  • Fixating on counting items or counting in one’s head
  • Following rigid rules of order
  • Undesirable thoughts focused on “taboo topics” like religion or sex

diagnosis & treatment

A mental health provider typically relies on the patient to be honest about her experiences surrounding OCD, and other factors, such as thyroid function and substance abuse may be explored as contributing factors.

Medications typically used to treat depression and anxiety may be prescribed as they have proven successful in helping patients manage their OCD symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) therapy also has proven benefits in assisting patients to better manage their symptoms.

As if the physical symptoms of perimenopause and menopause (fatigue, night sweats, insomnia, hot flashes, memory loss, and weight gain) weren’t enough, many women also face mental health issues during this life phase.

The time period before menopause, known as perimenopause, represents the passage from being reproductive to non-reproductive. Changes in mood, feelings of sadness, irritability, reduced motivation, lack of focus, and stress, are more likely to occur during this phase as the fluctuation of hormones and declining estrogen levels appear to lead to increased emotional instability.

Some situations put women at a higher risk for adverse symptoms:

  • Women who experienced severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and/or postpartum depression after childbirth often experience more profound emotional challenges, such as mood swings and depression, during perimenopause.
  • Women living with a bipolar disorder tend to be more sensitive to the hormonal changes brought on by menopause and may experience more profound bouts of depression than other women.
  • If you have a pre-existing mental health issue or have experienced one in the past, it is not uncommon for the effects of menopause to cause a relapse.
  • Cognitive decline is typical during the transition into menopause, including forgetfulness, reduced verbal processing speed, and impaired learning.
  • While there does not seem to be a direct link to menopause causing depression, approximately 10% of women experience extended bouts of depression during this life stage.
  • Other life changes occurring during perimenopause and menopause, such as the end of domestic partnerships, grown children leaving (or not leaving) the home, caring for aging parents, getting older in a world that values youth, weight gain brought on by the physiological effects of menopause, and growing health concerns can all be contributing factors for women to experience depression.

getting a mental health evaluation

Perimenopause and menopause are physical changes that all women experience, but the mental health challenges that often occur at this time of life are not something that should be ignored.
A thorough mental health evaluation can help you discover ways to cope with the emotional challenges you may be experiencing. Connecting with a therapist can also be incredibly beneficial to your overall well-being.

Perinatal depression is a mood disorder that many women during pregnancy and after childbirth and typically includes depression that begins during pregnancy (called prenatal depression), and depression that starts after the baby is born (called postpartum depression).

perinatal depression symptoms

You may experience some or several symptoms of perinatal depression. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Persistent sadness or anxiety
  • Overwhelming irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • An abnormal decrease in energy
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping (even when the baby is sleeping), awakening early in the morning, or oversleeping
  • Overeating, loss of appetite, excessive weight gain or loss
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not have a clear physical cause and do not ease with treatment
  • Trouble bonding or forming an emotional attachment with your baby
  • Persistent doubts about the ability to care for your baby
  • Thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or harming your baby

postpartum depression symptoms

Within a few days after the birth of a baby, many women experience the “baby blues” which may include mood swings, crying spells, feeling overwhelmed, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms typically end within two weeks.

Postpartum depression may be mistaken for the “baby blues,” at first, but after the first few weeks, symptoms may become more intense and begin interfering with your ability to care of your baby and yourself.

Symptoms typically develop within the first few weeks after giving birth but can also happen months after giving birth.

symptoms may include:

  • Feelings of depression
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Frequent uncontrollable crying
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Fear of not being a good mother
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, or inadequacy
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Frequent thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or harming your baby

getting a mental health evaluation

Seek medical attention if:

  • you don’t see your emotional health improving after two weeks
  • your symptoms worsen
  • you feel challenged to properly care for your baby

If you find yourself in crisis, call 9-1-1 and seek emergency assistance immediately.

Women who experience sexual abuse, violence, or witness a horrendous event, such as a serious crime, accident, or violence inflicted on another, experience trauma. Unfortunately, this trauma is often experienced at a young age, and its effects, if left untreated, often lead to any number of mental health disorders later in life, such as depression, anxiety, difficulty forming lasting relationships, substance abuse, and more.

specific trauma-related disorders include:

  • Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
  • Adjustment Disorders
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

trauma disorders

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 10% of women have PTSD sometime in their lives compared to 4% of men. Symptoms of PTSD may begin within days following a traumatic event, but it is not uncommon for symptoms to appear months or even years later.

Typical symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive thoughts about the event, including nightmares and flashbacks
  • Avoidance of anything that acts as a reminder of the trauma
  • Behavior changes, such as insomnia, withdrawing from loved ones and engaging in reckless or self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse
  • Cognitive disturbances like irritability, negative thoughts about one’s self or others, anxiety, or fear/paranoia

When children or adults are exposed to repeated or prolonged trauma, such as repeated sexual, physical, or verbal abuse, or domestic violence, they may develop a slightly different condition known as Complex-PTSD (C-PTSD).

While similar to PTSD, there are additional effects that are troubling, such as:

  • Poor emotional regulation, which manifests as outbursts of extreme emotions like rage and depression
  • Poor self-image
  • Difficulty forming healthy relationships
  • Behavioral difficulties like substance abuse, impulsivity, and self-destructive actions
  • Detaching from self (depersonalization) or reality (derealization)
  • Forgetting the trauma

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)

Acute stress disorder is similar to PTSD but is shorter in duration. ASD symptoms develop immediately after a traumatic event, lasting from three to six weeks. If symptoms persist
beyond that, PTSD is likely.

secondhand trauma

Secondhand trauma is also known as “trauma exposure response” or “secondary traumatic stress disorder.” It results from exposure to the trauma of other people.

Symptoms of secondary traumatic stress include:

  • A sense of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Feeling like you can never do enough to help
  • Guilt, fear, anger, or cynicism
  • Chronic fatigue

adjustment disorders

Adjustment disorders are usually temporary and triggered by stressful life events such as divorce, job loss, a severe illness diagnosis, or losing a loved one. Some can cope with the stress of these situations on their own, but others may need help.

Symptoms of an adjustment disorder may include:

  • Frequent sadness or hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep changes (too much, or too little)
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home or work
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty functioning in daily life
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Substance abuse


If you are experiencing trauma-related mental health symptoms, do not lose hope! It may take a combination of different things, including traditional talk therapy, holistic therapies, and medications, but you can get through it and realize a happier, healthier life!

There are numerous mental health disorders that women may experience that are not listed here. That does not mean they are unimportant or that you may be suffering. If you live near Winston-Salem or Raleigh, contact Certus Psychiatry & Integrated Care and schedule a mental health evaluation. New patients are typically seen within five business days.

Click here to learn more, or call 833-701-3111.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE: Millions of women suffer poor mental health in silence. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is the exact opposite.

signs that you need to seek help

  • Marked changes in your personality
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Strange ideas or delusions
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Prolonged feeling of sadness
  • Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Thinking or talking about suicide
  • Extreme highs and lows
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Excessive anger or hostility towards others
  • Violent behavior
  • Irrational fears

If you are in crisis, call 9-1-1, or visit an emergency care provider.

find recovery & balance here