How to spot mental health issues and what can you do about them?

This article is the third one of our January series about mental health. Its objective is to offer a very rough guideline on how to spot if something is not right with your mental health, or with someone that’s around you. However, even though this content relies on trusted sources, it was not written by a doctor. If you feel you need help, it’s important that you talk about it with a trusted adult or contact your doctor as soon as possible.

🗺 How do I know something’s wrong?

From dark thoughts to eating disorders to bursts of anger, there are many different ways in which your mental health can reveal issues. To help you with that, you can check your mental health vital signs by using the grid offered by Quebec’s physician health program. It is structured according to four levels of well-being: healthy, reacting, at risk, and critical.

How does it work?

It’s quite simple. To find out how your mental health is doing with regards to this continuum, there is a list of very clearly-stated signs such as “difficulty sleeping”, “physically inactive”, or “unable to concentrate”. Moreover, it lists the ways you can take care of your mental health according to your state, like “reaching out to peers” or “contacting a professional”.

The objective is to check in with yourself as soon as you feel down and seek the right strategy to keep yourself in, or get back to, the “healthy” zone.

📝 What are the most common mental health issues?

First of all, keep in mind that mental health issues are very common, hence there is no shame in encountering them, and the best way to address them is to talk about them. Why? Because that’s how you will find the right kind of help, as there are as many solutions as there are mental health issues, the most common ones being stress, anxiety, and depression.

Let’s start with stress.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stress is “physical, emotional or psychological strain, your body’s response to anything that requires attention or action.”

Stress is experienced by absolutely everyone, but we each respond to it in very different ways, and our responses depend on our context. The medical community designated three main types of stress based on how long, why, and when we are stressed.

Tell me more.

  • The most common one is acute stress. It’s short-term, caused by specific situations, and triggers “fight or flight” behavior. For example, you can sweat or get stomach aches during a school presentation.
  • Chronic stress symptoms can be harmful to your health because of how long they last. For example, it’s okay to have trouble sleeping on a couple of nights during exam week but not sleeping throughout the entire week is harmful.
  • Acute stress disorder emerges within a month after a traumatic event such as losing someone, witnessing an accident, or sexual assault. It’s different from acute stress because its symptoms are triggered by a specific event, more critical, and last longer. They include but are not limited to dissociation, anxiety, repetitive dark thoughts, or constant reminiscing of the traumatic event. If it lasts longer than a month, it’s important to go to a doctor as it could develop into PTSD.

Is there a silver lining?

Absolutely! Acute stress is typically harmless and you could even make it your best friend, notably thanks to this great video. Both chronic stress and acute stress disorder are usually successfully treated by therapy. Finally, don’t think that stress has to be part of your life. You can keep it at bay by talking about what freaks you out to someone you trust, getting your body moving every day thanks to walks or exercise, or breathing mindfully.

What about anxiety?

You can tell you are confronted with anxiety disorders if you feel unsafe when there is no real threat, to the point where your fears prevent you from going on with your life as per usual. For example, you might have social anxiety if you are terrified of social interactions and prefer staying home.

What are the other types of anxiety disorders?

  • Generalized anxiety consists of constantly and excessively worrying about daily matters such as school, our family’s health, or doing groceries. There can also be physical symptoms like restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, or sleep disturbances.


  • Panic disorder is a feeling of intense fear that causes recurrent panic attacks which combine physical and psychological distress. It can develop into heart attacks.


  • Specific phobias are unreasonable, excessive and persistent fears of specific situations or objects, among which agoraphobia, the fear of public spaces. Phobias are more or less severe depending on how scared you are and how often they force you to put your life on hold.


What can I do if I have anxiety?

You can start by sharing it with someone you trust, then go to a doctor that will know how to diagnose your mental health issues and offer you the right kind of professional support. In most cases, people heal from anxiety issues thanks to therapy (usually Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and sometimes medication. Again, exercising, maintaining healthy social relationships, and other self-care habits help a lot.

Tell me about depression.

Depression is a series of severe depressive episodes that result in various symptoms. It heavily impacts the life of the patient and those around him. About 1/5 of people have depression at least once. For now, researchers know it’s caused by a mix of socio-economic (e.g. war) and neurobiological factors (e.g. neurotransmitters not getting enough serotonin).

How do I know I am clinically depressed?

Here are some common examples of what people with depression can be going through: loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, fatigue, getting too much or not enough sleep, increased or reduced appetite, ruminating on your past mistakes (anxiety), thoughts of death.

How is depression treated?

Depression is effectively treated (for example, it’s cured in 70% of the treated cases in France!) thanks to biological treatments like antidepressants and therapy.

🌈 Anything else?

Yep, if you feel trapped by dark thoughts, you can find your national emergency number and discuss what you are going through with a professional. We also gave you a recap of the main kinds of therapy in our first article about mental health, as well as self-care ideas.

🧠 Recap

Mental health issues can take many forms, it’s important to regularly check in with yourself and watch for signals that could mean you need professional help. Issues can be more or less severe and there are therapies for everyone. There are also small ways to protect your mental well-being, like talking to a good friend, meditating, and exercising.

📢 We need you

Why do we need to hear from you?
  • From October, 14th to April 30th, young people (15-29yo) worldwide are invited to take part in Youth Talks, a massive collective intelligence consultation.
  • The Higher Education for Good Foundation, which is launching this initiative, is expecting tens of thousands of respondents, hopefully including you!
Why should you participate?
  • The results of the consultation will help the Foundation imagine new higher education models to grow future generations into empowered individuals able to overcome the challenges of their times.
  • Thanks to an online platform and offline activities, you can share your ideas, concerns, dreams, and expectations for the future.
Any other reason?
  • Plenty! First, we believe that asking yourself such questions will help you better understand who you are and what you want for the future.
  • Second, participating in the consultation means your answers will co-construct the educational policies of tomorrow: they will nourish a white paper that will be read by the OECD, the European Commission, and other major youth organizations.
  • Third, thanks to the online open data platform we will publish thanks to your answers, it’s the occasion to show the rest of the world what young people want.
  • Finally, it helps plant trees as for every 10 people responding to Youth Talks, we will finance the planting of 1 tree to help restore forests, create habitat for biodiversity, and make a positive social impact around the world.
Image : Photo de Priscilla Du Preez sur Unsplash