For many different reasons, it can be hard to make the first step to reach out and talk when you’re suffering from poor mental health. So, it’s important that we all learn to be vigilant about the subtle changes in character and/or temperament that could mean someone you love is struggling. Here are some of the symptoms to look out for…
Changes in Mood
Mental illness may cause individuals to have sudden and abnormal emotional outbursts. This may present as anger, frustration, sadness or anxiety. Of course, everyone experiences emotional fluctuations, but if you’ve noticed dramatic or significant changes in an individual's character this may be an indicator of mental illness.
Social withdrawal is a common response to many different mental illnesses. If you notice a friend or family member withdrawing from social gatherings or being difficult to contact, this may be a cause for concern. The key is to look for changes in social patterns, some people are just naturally more introverted and that’s ok. However, if you notice your fun-loving friend suddenly goes quiet and doesn’t want to socialise, then there might something going on and it’s a good idea to check-in and see if they need help.
Changes in eating/sleeping patterns
Appetite and sleep changes are a common side effect of mental illness. If you’ve noticed a friend or colleague looking overly tired recently or heard them complaining about a lack of sleep it might be worth checking to see if there is anything else going on for them. Skipping meals and having no appetite or overeating is another side effect of various different mental illnesses, including eating disorders. If you’re worried about someone might be suffering with an eating disorder, it is best to approach the subject from a place of love and compassion, asking more ‘general’ questions such as ‘how are you feeling’ rather than ‘have you got an eating disorder’. This will seem less daunting or accusative for these individuals.
Poor or reduced personal hygiene
People who are mentally unwell often lack the motivation to get in the shower first thing in the morning or last thing at night. These individuals may look a little more dishevelled than normal and appear to spend less time on their appearance. Frequently, this can stem from feelings of inadequacy, fatigue and little motivation. If you notice someone close to you taking little care of their personal hygiene, check-in with them and see if there is something else going on.
It’s totally normal to reach for a glass of red or a bottle of beer after a long day at work… let’s face it sometimes we need it! Getting a little jolly at a celebration or event is also completely ok and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, if you notice someone in your life is drinking larger volumes of alcohol or participating in continuous drug abuse then this is a sign for concern. Approaching an individual participating in substance abuse can be difficult, especially if they’re not in their right state of mind. Try gently questioning the individual about their drinking or drug habits or try getting them to engage in other, non-substance related activities. Coming from a place of anger or disappointment can often cause individuals to seek comfort in substances and subsequently worsen the problem.
It’s important to know that there is never a one shape fits all policy when it comes to mental illness. Some people are naturally more withdrawn than others. Appetite changes and changes in sleep patterns aren’t exclusively indicators of mental illness, and neither is having one too many drinks on the weekend. The key is to notice any extreme or considerable changes in behaviour. Frequently, individuals struggling with mental illness will show several signs at once, for example, showing signs of low mood, poor self-esteem, changes in personal hygiene and insomnia. That being said, if you are unsure or have any concern it’s best to seek help sooner rather than later. Talk to the person you’re concerned about; see how they are, ask if they’re really ok. If you’re worried that talking to them could make things worse, then try reaching out to someone closer to them or, if you’re really concerned, contact a healthcare professional.
It can be hard to see your loved ones going through periods of struggle and/or poor health but remember, to look after them, first and foremost you have to look after yourself.
For more information on depression and other mental illness, head to Mind's Website. This blogpost was written by Yoga Teacher, Neuroscience & Neuropsychiatry Student & Mental Health advocate, Ella Stanley.