Mental Illness Warning Signs & How to Help

Unlike physical injury or illness, noticing the symptoms of a mental illness can be much more difficult. Your friend or family member may be struggling with mental health symptoms that aren’t obvious to an onlooker. Additionally, many mental health conditions prevent individuals from asking for help. For example, social anxiety disorder might hinder a person from seeking help due to their increased anxiousness in social interactions.

In general, being supportive and observant around the people you care about is the best way to notice signs of mental health troubles. Often, early detection can guide an individual to the necessary mental health services, which helps prevent symptoms from becoming severe. If you notice any of the following mental illness warning signs, start a conversation with that person about their mental health to determine if counseling might be the next step:

Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness In Adults

  • Excessive fear or worry
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Consistent irritability or sadness
  • Confused thinking or persistent distraction
  • Social isolation/withdrawal
  • Intense burst of anger
  • Hallucinations
  • Strange, illogical thoughts/delusions
  • Sleep changes
  • Appetite changes
  • Decreased day-to-day functioning
  • Heightened sensitivity to light, smells, or sounds
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or relationships
  • Substance abuse
  • Signs of self-harm, like inexplicable injuries
  • Thoughts of suicide

Early Warning Signs of Mental Illness In Children

Mental health issues tend to manifest differently in teens and children. Noticing the signs might be more difficult when dealing with young children who have trouble communicating, or with older teens who resist adult assistance. Keep an eye out for these symptoms of mental illness in youth:

  • Slipping grades/changes in academic performance
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Loss of appetite
  • Defiant acts, like skipping school or stealing
  • Frequent angry outbursts
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Demonstrated worry or fear of weight gain
  • Excessive complaints about physical illness or pain
  • Hyperactivity
  • Nightmares
  • Constant worry or anxiety
  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability, combined with thoughts of death

Just one or two of these symptoms may not indicate the presence of a mental illness. However, if you notice persistent symptoms or changes in their behavior, consider asking them about how they’ve felt lately. If the symptoms have been disrupting their daily life and relationships, it might be time to seek help through therapy or other mental health services.

mental illnessAlthough it may seem unusual to enroll children in counseling, about 10% of U.S. children ages 3 to 17 received professional mental health services in 2016. By taking action to help your friend, family member, or child, you can help them find recovery and relief from harmful mental health symptoms at any age.