May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Facts, Signs and Symptoms, Where to Find Help

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and reducing the shame and stigma that currently surrounds mental illnesses. Below you will find facts about mental illness, signs and symptoms, where to go for more information and help, as well as some of my favorite mental health infographics. 

Did you know?

  • 17-28% of risk for mental illnesses can be accounted for by variations in common genes.
  • Much stronger links were found in twin and family studies. Estimates for total heritability, or how much a disease is tied to genetics, are:
    • Schizophrenia: 81%
    • Bipolar disorder: 75%
    • ADHD: 75%
    • Depression: 37%
  • In one study, head injury between the ages of 11-15 was the strongest predictor for development of schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder.
  • Brain changes like building a “tolerance” or reward response to stress, or abnormalities in the prefrontal and frontal cortex, and irregularities in the function of the neurotransmitter glutamate are also risk factors for mental illness and substance use.
  • People who are exposed to adverse childhood events including abuse, neglect, divorce, witnessing domestic violence and having parents who have substance use issues, mental illnesses or are in jail are:
    • 2.6 times more likely to have depression
    • 5 times more likely to have serious alcohol problems
    • 17 times more likely to have learning or behavioral problems.
    • 3 times more likely to have serious job problems.
  • Substance use can increase chances of developing a mental illness and having a mental illness can increase risk of using substances. People with any mental illness are:
    • 2.3 times as likely to develop nicotine dependence
    • 3 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence
    • 30 times more likely to develop illicit drug dependence.
  • Mental and substance use disorders are major risk factors for suicide.
  • Mental illnesses do not discriminate. Populations that should not be ignored include the aging and elderly, active duty military, military veterans, incarcerated individuals, and children in the welfare system.

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness

Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the particular disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Examples of signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries
  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Extreme feelings of guilt
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major changes in eating habits
  • Sex drive changes
  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence
  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as abdominal pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains.

Where to go for more information and help

  • To learn additional information about mental illnesses, including: causes, risk factors, prevention and so on, visit and
  • To get mental health or substance abuse resources, visit and
  • For mental health or substance abuse treatment services nearby, call 1-800-662-HELP or visit, and visit
  • If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • For information about eating disorders or to receive a treatment referral, call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 or visit their website.

Some of my favorite mental health infographics


Please help in spreading the awareness about mental illnesses. The fact is that everyone knows somebody who is suffering with mental illness, whether you are aware of it or not. It is up to all of us to know the signs of mental health issues and lend a hand to those who are struggling. Shame and stigma too often leave people feeling like there is no place to turn. We need to make sure they know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below.




Mayo Clinic. (2012). Mental Illness: Symptoms. Retrieved online here.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2012).Mental Health, United States, 2010. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4681. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


Cross-Disorder Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. Genetic relationship between five psychiatric disorders estimated from genome-wide SNPs. Nature Genetics, August 11, 2013.

Orlovska, S., Pedersen, M. S., Benros, M. E., Mortensen, P. B., Agerbo, E., & Nordentoft, M. (2014). Head injury as risk factor for psychiatric disorders: a nationwide register-based follow-up study of 113,906 persons with head injury.

Burke, N. J., Hellman, J. L., Scott, B. G., Weems, C. F., & Carrion, V. G. (2011). The impact of adverse childhood experiences on an urban pediatric population. Child abuse & neglect, 35(6), 408-413.

Brady, K. T., & Sinha, R. (2014). Co-occurring mental and substance use disorders: the neurobiological effects of chronic stress.

Swendsen, J., Conway, K. P., Degenhardt, L., Glantz, M., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Kessler, R. C. (2010). Mental disorders as risk factors for substance use, abuse and dependence: results from the 10‐year follow‐up of the National Comorbidity Survey. Addiction, 105(6), 1117-1128.