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Understanding mental health and substance use conditions will help you help others or yourself.

Mental health and substance use conditions are manageable, just like any other disease. The more you understand what's happening, the earlier you can seek treatment or talk to a loved one about getting help. The condition will get worse the longer you wait to seek treatment.

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Depression and being sad are not the same. Sadness is an emotion that passes. Depression is a condition that lasts longer than two weeks. Depression happens when chemicals in the brain are out of balance. It can be brought on by a combination of stress or trauma, and a family history of depression. Many people experience depression as long periods of sadness, grief, low energy, hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide.

Depression and getting older: 
As we age, the changes we go through can sometimes bring on depression. The loss of a spouse, or having to move away from home, can be traumatic. Older people may not be as active or interact with people as much, which can bring on depression. Medication for other issues or alcohol abuse can make depression worse. Older people may experience depression as: Feeling confused or forgetful, not wanting to spend time with people, lack of appetite, and trouble sleeping.

Depression and disability:
Becoming disabled because of an illness or injury is a major life change. The change might cause grief, frustration, embarassment, or stress about employment. A disabled person may not be as active as they were, or feel like they can't hang out with friends or date like they used to. They may experience their depression as: Withdrawing from people, mood swings, changes in sleep patterns or appetite, feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of dealth or suicide.  

Depression and chronic illness or pain:
Managing a chronic illness or chronic pain can feel overwhelming and difficult. It may cause people to feel trapped and unable to live their lives the way they want. They may worry about paying for long-term treatment. Their medication may cause some feelings of depression. They may be less active, alone more often, and scared. They may experience their depression as: Withdrawing from people, mood swings, changes in sleep patterns or appetite, feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of dealth or suicide.

Depression and pregnancy:
Carrying a child is a major stress on a woman's body and can cause her hormones to shift rapidly. Hormones can bring on depression, as well as not having enough support at home, not getting enough sleep, and having a sick or colicky baby. Women can have depression after childbirth, miscarriage, or stillbirth, which is called postpartum depression. They may experience their depression as: Trouble bonding with the baby, and feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger, and worthlessness.

Anxiety Disorder

Some anxiety is normal, and even helpful. It can warn us of danger and trigger physical responses to help keep us safe. Anxiety disorder is when the physical and emotional feelings of anxiety often build to a point where it becomes hard to live our lives. 

Some symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling doomed
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder can be caused by a combination of family history, brain chemicals being out of balance, and a stressful living situation. It causes extreme mood swings between mania and depression.

Some symptoms of mania are:

  • Very high energy 
  • Not needing to sleep 
  • Edginess
  • Risky behavior
  • Extreme self-confidence

Some symptoms of depression are:

  • Trouble making decisions
  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoy
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Thoughts of suicide

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

If you experience a traumatic or life-threatening event, you could develop PTSD. PTSD may make you feel scared, panicked, angry, or jumpy. You may have nightmares or flashbacks to your trauma. PTSD can lead to drug or alcohol abuse, depression, isolation, and thoughts of suicide.


Schizophrenia may be caused by different brain structures, and is more likely if your family members have had schizophrenia. If you have schizophrenia, you will usually start to have symptoms in your late teens to early twenties.

Early symptoms may look a lot like depression and include:

  • Not taking care of yourself
  • Troubling expressing your thoughts and feelings
  • Getting angry at strangers for no reason

Later symptoms include:

  • Seeing or hearing things that aren't there
  • Believing things that aren't real
  • Thinking someone is trying to hurt you

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

May be caused by not enough of certain brain chemicals or problems with how your brain sends information. It causes repeated unwanted thoughts. People with OCD think that by repeating certain behaviors, they can keep bad things from happening. 

Symptoms include:

  • Extreme worry
  • Repeated thoughts of bad things 
  • Hoarding 
  • Counting the number of times you repeat something 
  • Washing over and over 
  • Constant praying

Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Most adults with ADHD have had it since they were kids. It may cause you to have trouble maintaining relationships or jobs, lose your temper easily, take risks, and have trouble concentrating.

Other symptoms include:

  • Constant fidgeting
  • Talking excessively
  • Difficulty focusing on or completing tasks you don't find interesting
  • Hyper-focusing on things you do find interesting
  • An inability to relax until you are exhausted

Substance Use Issues

This is when you use alcohol, chemicals, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or tobacco in a way that harms you or your friends and family. All of these substances are addictive, and you could get to a point where you need to use the substance, even if you don't want to. Problems with substances can make you sick, cause you to do things you regret, have problems with your relationships, job, school, or the law, and could lead to accidentally overdosing.

Self Evaluation: Do I have a problem with drinking?