Being concerned about a friend or loved one’s mental health can be difficult, especially if you are unsure if they are simply going through a tough time, or dealing with a significant mental health issue. In these instances, knowing the early warning signs of mental illness is vital.
There are many different types of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and eating disorders. And each mental illness comes with it’s own distinctive pattern of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. It should be noted these behaviors, thoughts, and emotions do not just suddenly occur overnight. Instead, they tend to build over time, with some being subtler than others. These changes in behavior, thoughts, and emotions encompass what are considered the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Symptoms are the indicators a person with mental illness experiences internally, but cannot be directly observed by others. On the other hand, signs of mental illness are the things that others can see.
Of course, all individuals are different and may struggle with mental illness in differing degrees. Thus, the early warning signs can vary from person to person. Regardless, there are some early warning signs of mental illness common to most, including:
- Excessive anger or irritability – this can, for some, can evolve into hostility and even violence
- Decreased functioning – a drop in functioning is a common sign of mental illness. Decreased functioning may occur at work, school, and/or with household duties. A decline in functioning could also mean a diminished interest and engagement with previously enjoyed activities.
- Social withdrawal – withdrawing from friends, family, and other social connections is often an indicator of the presence of mental illness.
- Changes in sleep pattern – a change in sleep is typically one of the first signs of mental illness. Changes in sleep include substantial difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, or sleeping much more than usual.
- Changes in eating habits – mental illness can have a significant affect on appetite, causing a considerable change in ones eating habits (either eating much more or far less than usual)
- Substance use – those with mental illness often seek out drugs and/or alcohol as a way to cope with, or “numb out” from the discomfort associated with mental illness.
- Self-Harm – self-harm refers to the intentional harming of oneself, without the intent to commit suicide. Self-harm comes in many forms including cutting, burning, and scratching.
- Lack of self-care – while commonly associated with depression, a lack of self-care (showering, brushing teeth, etc.) may signify the presence of a range of mental illnesses.
To truly be warning signs to the presence of a mental illness, a person must exhibit them consistently, rather than occasionally.
Being aware of early warning signs of mental illness is important. The earlier a mental illness is detected, the sooner it can be treated. And early intervention is associated with increased treatment effectiveness and relapse prevention.
Want to learn more about specific mental illnesses? Check out our page here.