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Signs of mental illness and what to do if you spot them

11 Jan 2022
5 min read

There’s so much stigma around mental health at the moment and quite a lot of stereotyping. You might feel that you “should” feel a certain way or that, because of the way illnesses are portrayed in the media, your insomnia, mood changes, fluctuating eating habits or lack of motivation aren’t considered to be linked to mental health, nor a cause for concern. Unless you’re notably severely depressed or suicidal, you’re probably also thinking your issue isn’t bad enough to seek help, guidance or advice.

But mental illnesses can span a wide range of health conditions. Most people experience strains on their mental health from time to time, based upon individual circumstances and life events. But when these strains become ongoing and you begin to notice symptoms that regularly affect your ability to function on a day to day basis, that’s when a concern starts to become a mental illness and a reason to see advice.

Understanding the different symptoms and early warning signs means you can significantly reduce, or delay altogether, the risk of a serious mental health issue developing. Learning how to identify the early symptoms means that you’re able to seek formal treatment before allowing these issues to span out of control. And doing so will help you or a loved one feel more in control and able to manage and cope with life challenges and problems.

Early signs of mental illness include:

  • Extreme mood fluctuations including irritability, aggression to short temper
  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, worthlessness or guilt
  • Feeling sad or down or overwhelmed by things
  • Addictive behaviours including drug and alcohol use
  • Weight or appetite changes; under or overeating
  • Fatigue, low energy or difficulties sleeping
  • Memory changes, poor concentration or trouble with thinking logically
  • Feeling unable to cope with day to day tasks
  • Social withdrawal or lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself or those around you
  • Suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide or self-harm
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, dizzy spells or stomach pains

When to seek help:

Even if a person isn’t yet showing severe signs of a mental illness, decades of research has shown that early intervention can significantly reduce or delay symptoms from developing into severe conditions, whilst also increasing the prognosis of treatment.

Unlike other health conditions, there’s no accurate test or process to diagnose mental illness and it can therefore be difficult to determine if a person is suffering from a condition linked to their mental health. But early management, of the recognisable signs above, considerately decreases the emotional stress and impact these health conditions can have on a person’s daily life.

Whilst there’s no set way of completely preventing mental health illnesses from occurring, there are things you can do to increase self-esteem and resilience, control stress and anxiety levels and boost your overall attitude to life by focusing on your strengths and on the things that are going right. Although it can be difficult at first to admit that you need help, talking therapies can further help you identify your thought patterns, behaviours or the feelings you’re experiencing, to better understand the root cause of these and how they are contributing to areas for concern.

Everyone is different and MYNDUP recognises that there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” approach. Discussing your concerns with a trained health professional, either through counselling, therapy or mindfulness practices (read the differences between each here) allows you to gain a greater self-awareness and understanding of your emotional triggers, and the impacts these are having on your daily life. Through working with a trained professional, you can further explore the attitudes, limiting beliefs or behaviours you have that are contributing to a decline in your overall mental health and well-being, and develop a plan for coping going forwards. Admitting that you need help is an incredibly positive step towards improving your mental well-being, clarifying goals and strategies that will encourage you to thrive optimally, and also determining whether other treatment options, including mindfulness, self-care routines or medications are needed.