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Identifying Mental Illness and How to Help

Mental illness can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere and the signs can vary greatly. On any given day your mood, thinking and behavior change, however, it crosses into a disorder and something to worry about when it persists for some time. If this sounds like you or someone close to you follow along for signs it is time to see professional help and how to have that conversation.

Signs and Symptoms to Watch for

  • Feeling sad or down for longer than usual.

  • Debilitating fears, worries or even extreme guilt.

  • Reduction in productivity, inability to think clearly and/or lack of concentration.

  • Withdrawing from friends, family and activities that are part of a normal routine.

  • Vacillating mood swings from extreme highs to extreme lows.

  • Constant fatigue, tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping.

  • Paranoia, hallucinations and delusions (seeing or feeling things that aren’t real).

  • Trouble coping with daily stress and problems.

  • Problems relating to people or situations, lack of empathy.

  • Excessive drug or alcohol use.

  • Short fuse—being angry, hostile or even violent.

  • Changes in daily habits such as exercise, eating, and sex drive.

  • Feeling or acting suicidal.

  • Chronic pain (stomach, back, and headaches are the most common).

Common Risk Factors for Mental Illness

Still not totally convinced what you are feeling or witnessing is the start of mental illness? There are a few indicators and red flags you can look for that may provide a better clue.

  • Family history of mental illness—if a parent or sibling has struggled with it in the past, you or your loved one may be at a higher risk of developing one too.

  • Major life events such as a death in the family, job/money struggles, or a divorce can increase someone’s risk of suffering from a mental disorder.

  • Chronic, poor physical health such as diabetes, cancer, or an auto-immune disease make mental illness more likely.

  • Trauma such as military combat, assault or serious head injuries can be another indicator of increased probably of mental illness.

  • Past history of abuse or neglect—specifically in childhood.

  • Pattern of excessive drug or alcohol use.

  • Troubled relationships that are few and far between.

  • Previous mental illness.

Ways to Help

It is important to remember that you (or someone else) cannot be forced to seek help. However, support is never a bad thing, even if whoever is not ready to really tackle the problem.

Being open and honest is the best place to start. It doesn’t matter if you are the confronter, or confrontee—the more forthcoming you can be, the more productive the conversation will be. Offer (or accept) encouragement and support where you can. If the next step (seeking professional help) is on the table, offer (or accept) help in finding the right person for your situation.

If the problem is a little deeper than simply not feeling “right” and self-harm and suicide are lurking in the background it is ok to jump the gun and force some help.

  • Immediately call 911 or your local equivalent.

  • Get in contact with your mental health specialist.

Suicide and self-harm go deeper than just “depression” and won’t go away on their own. Professional help is the only answer and it is ok to force it in this instance.

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