Mental illness is something that still cloaks itself in a fair bit of mystery when it comes to the health of our friends and family. How will I know when to worry? Will I notice something clearly? These are all questions I hear from family members regularly, and they’re ones you might have asked yourself. Picking up when someone we love is physically unwell or injured is often far more simple — we can see it, hear it, and maybe smell it. But the same might not be true when it comes to symptoms of the mind. On top too are stigmas and stereotypes when it comes to mental illness that can keep loved ones quiet about what they’re going through.
So, how do we know when someone we love might be going through a tough time mentally? Whether it’s a friend, a colleague or a family member, are there signs, symptoms or red flags that we should be looking out for? Here are some common signs to keep an eye out for.
It’s not uncommon for family and friends to say that in retrospect they noticed things changing in the months or weeks before finding out that a loved one was really struggling. If these alarm bells are going off, and we notice signs of clear change from how someone normally acts or behaves, then they shouldn’t be ignored.
Common changes that might signal mental health struggles can include someone being more isolative than usual, or clearly more down, irritable, angry or tense than their usual. We all go through these times now and then, but if the changes are lasting a long time, then we should be asking how someone’s doing.
With significant mental struggles, physical signs often start to creep in more and more and these can act as signals we need to be aware of. Persistent changes to someone’s sleeping regime should always signal checking in. Depression can often change a person’s appetite — any significant change here needs a check up with a doctor. Other physical changes to watch out for might include someone slowing in their movements, their speech or energy levels.
Changes in someone’s usual routine, loss of enjoyment in things they usually love or lower motivation to engage in things they always have done are all clear signs that things might not be going so well.
It’s important to remember that as a caring friend or family member, your job is just that. People often feel an immense pressure when someone they love is moving through mental illness to fix or solve things. If you’ve noticed any changes that are concerning or feel your loved one needs more support, then reaching out to your doctor for advice should always be step number one.