The indicators of mental and emotional illness throughout the lifespan is next up in our ASWB exam content outline tour. Let's take it a milestone at a time and then look at how this topic may look on the social work exam.

Lifespan Specifics

Mental and emotional illnesses can manifest differently across the lifespan, and recognizing the indicators is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Your mileage--or your clients' mileage--may vary. That said, here are some common indicators of mental and emotional illness at different stages of life:

  • Infancy and Early Childhood:

    • Indicators:
      • Excessive crying, difficulty in soothing
      • Developmental delays
      • Difficulty bonding with caregivers
      • Poor appetite
      • Extreme tantrums, aggression
    • Looking out for:
      • Attachment disorders
      • Developmental disorders (e.g., autism spectrum disorder)
      • Reactive attachment disorder
      • Adjustment disorders
      • Behavioral disorders (e.g., oppositional defiant disorder)
  • Childhood:

    • Indicators:
      • Behavioral problems
      • Difficulty concentrating
      • Nightmares, sleep disturbances
      • Persistent fears, anxieties
      • Physical complaints
      • Changes in eating habits
      • Withdrawal from social activities
    • Looking out for:
      • ADHD
      • Anxiety disorders (e.g., generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder)
      • Depressive disorders (e.g., major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder)
      • Conduct disorder
      • Learning disorders (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia)
  • Adolescence:

    • Indicators:
      • Mood swings, irritability
      • Self-harm behaviors
      • Substance abuse
      • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
      • Academic problems
      • Social isolation
      • Suicidal thoughts
    • Looking out for:
      • Mood disorders (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder)
      • Anxiety disorders (e.g., social anxiety disorder, panic disorder)
      • Eating disorders (e.g., anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa)
      • Substance use disorders
  • Adulthood:

    • Indicators:
      • Persistent sadness, hopelessness
      • Difficulty coping
      • Changes in appetite or weight
      • Substance abuse
      • Relationship problems
      • Extreme mood swings
      • Suicidal thoughts
    • Looking out for:
      • Major depressive disorder
      • Generalized anxiety disorder
      • Bipolar disorder
      • PTSD
      • OCD
      • Schizophrenia spectrum disorders
      • Personality disorders (e.g., borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder)
      • Substance use disorders
  • Older Adults:

    • Indicators:
      • Memory problems, cognitive decline
      • Loneliness
      • Loss of interest in activities
      • Changes in sleep patterns
      • Physical complaints
      • Increased reliance on alcohol or medication
    • Looking out for:
      • Dementia (e.g., Alzheimer's disease)
      • Late-life depression
      • Anxiety disorders
      • Substance use disorders
      • Adjustment disorders

This is a very partial list. Also, the presence of one or more of these indicators does not necessarily mean a person has an illness--symptoms have to persist or significantly impact daily functioning to warrant exploring a diagnosis and treatment.

On the Exam

The ASWB exam may throw diagnostic-style questions at you to see how well versed you are in this material. Something like this:

  • Which of the following symptoms is most indicative of a possible depressive disorder in adolescents?
  • In assessing a child for possible ADHD, which behavior would be most concerning?
  • Which of the following behaviors in an older adult is most suggestive of a possible late-life depression?

You get the idea. Want real practice with realistic questions? Check out SWTP's full-length practice tests. You'll be glad you did.

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April 10, 2024
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