Learn how to recognize the 3Ds of mental illness 

March 24, 2021

Your to-do list is growing by the minute. Everyone seems to want something from you. You keep snapping at people, and worry is keeping you up most nights. "It's just stress," you reassure yourself. "It will pass." But what if you are at the tipping point for mental illness? 

The easiest way to answer that question is to look for the three D's of mental illness: distress (i.e., problems with your mood, thinking or behaviour), duration of your distress (i.e., have these problems been present longer than a couple of weeks), and disruption in everyday activities (i.e., are you suddenly avoiding friends or struggling to finish your assignments).

Here are the questions you could ask yourself to find out if you have the three D's of mental illness:

1. Do I have any of the following symptoms? (Distress)

  • feeling irritable
  • feeling sad
  • feeling worthless
  • feeling hopeless
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • change in appetite (eating more or eating less than before)
  • having problems concentrating
  • avoiding things I used to enjoy
  • taking risks I never used to 
  • suicidal thinking or feeling that life isn't worth living
  • losing interest in friends and activities
  • feeling unusually tired 
2. Do these symptoms last most of the day, most days of the week, and have I had them for more than three weeks? (Duration)

Feeling sad for a few days in a row or even a week is not necessarily a sign of mental illness. However, any distress that is persistent and lasts for more than a couple of weeks is a redflag that you may be experiencing a mental illness. 

3. Are the problems I am experiencing making it hard to enjoy or participate in daily activities, such as going to school, working or hanging out with friends? (Disruption)

If your distress lasts for a couple of weeks and has a negative impact on your schoolwork, your relationships with family, friends, or the way you feel about yourself, then you have the three Ds of mental illness (Distress, Duration, Disruption). That means your stress is more than just everyday stress, and it's time to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional (e.g., a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker). You could also visit your school counselor, call a local or national crisis helpline, or ask an adult you trust to help you connect with the right professional.

Just remember, whatever kind of problem you are facing, you aren't alone. As many as 20% of people worldwide experience mental health difficulties, such as sad moods, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, difficulty paying attention or drug and alcohol addiction. Unfortunately, more than 50% of people do not seek help for mental health problems. When they do, more than two thirds of them start feeling better after about 4 to 6 weeks of treatment. 


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