20 Distinctive Traits of a Mentally Unstable Person

Understanding mental instability is important if we want to provide the people we care for proper support and guidance. To help with this, we’ve listed 20 distinctive traits that may indicate someone is struggling mentally. By recognizing these signs, we’ll be able to become more empathetic toward them, effectively encouraging them to seek professional help when needed. When in doubt, remember that the first step to helping someone is learning more about their condition!

Withdrawing From Family and Friends

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When someone is mentally unstable or going through depression, they have a strong urge to pull away from people and shut down. They start to keep to themselves, refusing to reach out or meet with people they love. Though it could be a sign of many things, such as bullying or peer pressure, take note that it’s one of the tell-tale signs of one’s declining mental health.

Having Persistent Feelings of Sadness or Irritability

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It’s normal to feel sad, lonely, or irritable occasionally. However, if you notice yourself or someone close to feeling down persistently and constantly, then it should be a red flag. After all, depression, one of the most common mental illnesses and mood disorders, causes one to have a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest.

Having Extreme and Persistent Fear or Worry

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Though this can be considered one of the signs that point to depression, having extreme and persistent fear or worry can also be a sign of its very own mental illness or disorder. For example, a person can have generalized anxiety disorder—a condition wherein a person has a persistent and intense fear and worry of being watched and judged by others. If you have this illness, you’ll feel like you’re in a constant state of fear, worry, and dread.

Having Thoughts of Suicide

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According to the National Institutes of Health, “Mental ill-health is an established risk factor for suicide.” Some people feel stuck in a never-ending cycle of having low moods, negative thinking, anxiety, and more that can eventually lead to suicidal thoughts. Additionally, having PTSD, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and more can increase the chances of a mentally unstable person contemplating suicide.

Experiencing Extreme Mood Swings

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Having good days and bad days is normal. But if it reaches the point that your constant mood changes affect your daily life and the lives of the people around you, then something can be seriously amiss. After all, mood swings are a symptom of mental illness. Mental illnesses like borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, and more are all characterized by the patient having extreme mood swings.

Being Unable to Concentrate

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Sometimes, the inability to concentrate is caused by a lack of sleep or loud noises. However, it would be best if you also considered that it might be caused by certain medical conditions. For example, you might want to consider looking into ADHD. This disorder leads to a person being unable to concentrate.

Feeling Confused

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Feeling confused over certain things is normal. But if you start noticing yourself being unable to think clearly, feeling disoriented, or having difficulty making decisions and focusing, then your confusion might be a symptom of something more serious. In more ways than one, confusion is a decline in your cognitive or mental ability. Healthline shares, “Confusion is often associated with dementia, delirium, and other medical conditions.”

Feeling Disconnected

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A serious sign of having mental illness or mental health problems is feeling disconnected, or what is called derealization. When derealization happens, you’re stuck in a mental state wherein you feel detached or disconnected from your surroundings. It’s kind of a delusional state where the people or objects around you may seem unreal.

Having Frequent Emotional Outbursts

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When you have an emotional outburst, it’s a sign that you’re losing or have lost control of your emotions. This could be a sign of intermittent explosive disorder or IED—a mental health condition characterized by a person’s frequent emotional outbursts, usually shown through anger or aggression.

Having Trouble Sleeping

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Insomnia, in and of itself, isn’t a mental illness per se. However, it may be a sign that there’s something going on within you that needs medical attention. According to Montare Behavioral Health, “People with psychological disorders nearly always report not sleeping well. This suggests that sleep deficiency is a leading cause of mental illness.”

Being Lethargic or Having Low Energy

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Depression, one of the most common of all mental health issues, is usually characterized by lethargy or low energy. This is because when a patient is depressed, their energy levels go down significantly. Their feelings of loneliness and emptiness also further amplify this feeling of fatigue and lethargy.

Experiencing a Change in Eating Habits

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Multiple studies have already shown that what we eat is linked to our mental health. For example, food that’s too rich or high in refined sugars can be toxic to our brain function. However, beyond that, it’s crucial to understand that sudden and extreme changes in eating habits can also point to mental instability or mental health issues. After all, both overeating and food insecurity point to possible anxiety or mood disorders.

Being Apathetic or Unable to Be Compassionate Toward Others

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Patients suffering from mental illnesses can appear to be disconnected from reality. However, on the other side of the spectrum, they can also seem to be apathetic toward others. For example, people who have Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s usually lack the motivation to do things or interact with people around them. They just don’t care much about what’s going on, especially when they need to think or use their emotions.

Being Unable to Cope With Stress

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Stress is a normal part of life. However, people suffering from some kind of mental illness usually live with an excessive amount of mental or emotional pressure, making them think they’re unable to cope with what they’re going through. This leads to things such as a nervous breakdown, which prevents a patient from performing their usual or everyday activities.

Displaying Unusual Behavior

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People have a particular way of doing things. However, if you notice someone you know well suddenly changing—seemingly overnight—there might be something seriously wrong. This can manifest in different ways, such as delirium, hallucinations, mania, mood swings, and more.

Being Excessively Hostile or Angry

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Anger is a normal human emotion. However, if a person is stuck in a constant state of anger and hostility, it can damage their mental well-being, as well as their relationships with other people. Psych Central explains, “It is not wrong or bad to feel anger, but it is a negative emotion—meaning that it tends to bring a person’s mood down. Continued expressions of anger can damage your health as well as your relationships.”

Having Delusional Thoughts

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Delusion is a state of mind wherein a person cannot tell what’s real from what’s not or from what they’re imagining. Patients with delusional disorder or other types of psychotic disorders usually have unshakable beliefs in something that isn’t true. Being in a constant state of delusion may also lead to paranoia, leaving a patient in a continuous state of distress, anxiety, or fear.

Having Problems With Alcohol, Drug Use, or Other Substance Abuse

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Though some people suffering from substance abuse or mental illness don’t want to admit it, studies show that there is a link between the two. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “Over 60% of adolescents in community-based substance use disorder treatment programs also meet diagnostic criteria for another mental illness.”

Having Problems at Work or in School

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People suffering from mental health issues face problems at school or at work because of other symptoms, such as the inability to focus or wanting to withdraw from social settings. When this happens, there’s usually increased absenteeism, worsening of one’s performance, and volatile relationships with colleagues or peers.

Noticing Changes in Libido

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People with mental illness, especially depression, are usually characterized by having changed libido. Usually, those with depression have lower sexual desire than usual. Aside from having less inclination or energy to do the things you used to enjoy, people with depression also have decreased energy. They might also have a negative perception of themselves and feel like their partner doesn’t want to be with them anymore.

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Author: Karen Danao


Karen is a writer and also a marketing and advertising professional. Beyond the keyboard and the screen, she is someone who’s out to enjoy every bit that life has to offer!

Poetry, philosophy, history, and movies are all topics she loves writing about! However, her true passion is in traveling, photography, and finding common ground to which everyone from different cultures can relate.