Last week we posted an article on Good Mental Health, and how to acknowledge and build this. But what if you are concerned about a person close to you, and worried that they are dealing with a mental health issue? How do you know the difference between a rough patch that they are handling, a normal response to a stressful life situation, or something that they may need assistance with?
If you are pondering this, you may have observed some changes in their behaviour. Mental health issues often create a cluster of observable behaviours that you could look out for. If you want to look out for a friend, colleague or partner, and need to know what sort of changes to be concerned about, these are some of the possible warning signs…
Changes in Behaviour
Although this seems minor, if a person changes their behaviour or attitude it may be a sign of mental health struggles. In particular, you should look out for a person no longer enjoying the things that used to make them happy and positive, and more expressions of hopelessness or pessimism. You might also look for social withdrawal, and unwillingness or an inability to be around others who are happy and thriving.
Talking yourself down, or expressing feelings of guilt, shame, sadness and lack of worth are all worth noting. If someone is continually criticizing themselves, blaming themselves or putting themselves down they may be in need of assistance.
Inability to Control Emotions
When we are in emotional crisis – our feelings are heightened. It is more challenging to control our reactions to minor things. Something that may warrant a sigh or even a curse word, may provoke a much stronger reaction in a person who is genuinely struggling. Although these extreme behaviours may make us want to avoid a person, they could be a strong indicator that actually they need us more than ever.
Weight and Appetite Changes
Avoiding eating and over-eating can both be signifiers of a decreased mental state. Although these are also key indicators of an eating disorder, they may also be a response to poor self-esteem – either a desire to deprive oneself of good tasting food, or to comfort oneself with too much.
Like people’s use of food, drugs and alcohol may be used as a coping mechanism if stress and emotions are too much.
Rest is difficult for those combatting negative thought patterns, extreme emotions and worry. If someone isn’t sleeping, regularly complains about lack of sleep or is falling asleep in appropriate places due to exhaustion, there could be more to explore.
Inability to Concentrate
Although lack of sleep and lack of appetite may contribute to an inability to concentrate, so can emotional upheaval. It can be hard to function normally and complete day-to-day tasks when your feelings and thoughts threatened to overwhelm you at all times. This could be observable at school, at work, or even in not following a conversation around the dinner table.
When in doubt – it can be useful to simply ask the person. Although confronting, they may want to talk and not know how to bring up how they are feeling. You might start with an observation of what you have been observing. Then follow up with a question – even something as simple as “are you doing ok?”. Given them an opportunity to open up and talk may help you see exactly where they are coming from and determine more whether they are in need of assistance. You can always refer them to a helpline, and should feel free to call one yourself if you are unsure which steps to take.
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