Warning Signs for Mental Health

It's not always easy to distinguish between expected behaviors and symptoms of mental illness. There's no easy test that can let someone know if there is mental illness, whether certain behaviors or thoughts are typical, or the result of a physical illness.

Each mental health condition has its own set of symptoms, but there are common signs that indicate the presence of mental illness. It is crucial to become knowledgeable about the early warning signs or developing symptoms and take proactive steps to seek help and ensure proper treatment. By intervening early, one can effectively reduce the severity of an illness, minimize disruptions to the quality of life and daily functioning, and even potentially delay or prevent the onset of a major mental illness.

If you or someone you know is going through a tough time or experiencing a crisis, remember that support is accessible around the clock. You can call or text 988, or engage in a chat at 988lifeline.org. Don't hesitate to reach out for the help you need.

 Adults and Adolescents  

In adults, young adults, and adolescents, there are identifiable warning signs that may indicate the presence of mental illness. These signs can include the following:

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior, or personality (“lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance” (NAMI, California, 2020)

 Older Children and Pre-Adolescents 

 In older children and pre-adolescents, there are certain warning signs that may suggest the presence of mental illness. These signs can include the following:

  • Substance use 
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Changes in ability to manage responsibilities - at home and/or at school
  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
  • Intense fear
  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger (Mental Health America, 2019)

 Younger Children 

Mental health conditions can also emerge in young children as they are still in the process of learning how to recognize and express their thoughts and emotions. Consequently, the most apparent symptoms in children are often behavioral. Some common symptoms observed in children may include the following:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums” (Mental Health America, 2019)

 Talking to a Friend or Family Member about Mental Health 

 Talking about mental health can be tough, especially when it involves our loved ones, like family members or friends. It's important to remember that almost half of all adults in the United States will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. This means that you or someone in your family or friend group might face a mental health challenge. Unfortunately, due to the stigma surrounding mental health, they might feel ashamed to open up about their struggles, and you might not know how to respond. However, even though it can be challenging and uncomfortable, having conversations about mental health with your family and friends is crucial. As the person closest to them, you have the opportunity to break down barriers and become a valuable resource for their mental health support and treatment. Don't underestimate the impact your support and understanding can have on their well-being. 

Remember, your family member or friend may not feel ready to discuss their mental health at this moment, and that's completely alright. The key is to avoid pressuring them and respect their pace. Reassure them that whenever they're prepared to talk, you'll be there to provide unwavering support. However, if they do express a willingness to open up, approach the conversation with confidence and a warm, friendly demeanor. Listen attentively, without any judgment, to their concerns and needs. Offer them emotional support and share valuable information about self-help strategies and professional resources. Above all, be a constant source of love, compassion, and patience for your loved one. Keep in mind that discussing mental health can be challenging, particularly if it's their first time acknowledging their struggles. Show them that you're there for them, standing by their side, as they embark on their journey of healing and personal growth.

 For more valuable insights on navigating uncomfortable conversations about mental health, I recommend checking out this video from the National Council for Mental Wellbein. It offers additional guidance and tips to help you navigate these discussions with confidence and empathy.