Written by Savannah Heck
Half of American adults will experience mental illness in their lifetime. Chances are, someone in your life is struggling with mental illness right now. Having a strong support system is an important part of the coping process. To become part of a loved one’s support network, educate yourself on what it means to live with a mental illness.
Any person can experience mental health problems, though certain genetic and environmental factors can make an individual more susceptible to diagnosable mental illness. The most common forms of mental illness are anxiety disorders. An estimated 40 million U.S. adults suffer from anxiety disorders, or 18.1% of the population. While mental illness can affect someone at any age, those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder will often develop more severe symptoms during their late 20’s.
Recognizing the signs of an adult who may be experiencing mental health concerns is important. Early intervention is key, as certain risks factors, such as becoming homeless or unemployed affect populations with mental health problems at a higher rate.
When we notice the signs of someone struggling with their mental health sooner, treatment and therapy specialists can intervene and help that person avoid negative consequences sooner. Recognizing the signs of someone who may be struggling with their mental health can be difficult. Here is a starting block, and some of the more common signs that someone (or even you) may be experiencing mental health problems.
1. Emotional Outbursts
There are times when people need to let out their emotions—anger, sadness, and even happiness are all intense emotions that need to be expressed. A difference between healthy and unhealthy expression of emotion is how well that emotion matches the situation. If they begin to react to small matters with excessive anger, sadness, or joy, that don’t fit the situation, it can be a sign that they need mental health intervention.How individuals express their emotions differ—but watch out for severe and rapid changes in emotion.
2. Excessive Sleeping or Lack of Sleep
Sleep problems are not only a common symptom of mental health problems, but they can also cause them. Dramatic changes in an individual’s sleep patterns, whether they are neglecting to sleep or sleeping all day, can be a sign that someone is experiencing changes in their mental health. According to a 2009 study from Harvard, “chronic sleep problems affect 50% – 80% of patients in a typical psychiatric practice, compared with 10% to 18 % of adults in the general U.S. Population.” Populations with mental health problems have a higher prevalence of sleep difficulties.Every person has those days when you just can’t sleep or you sleep too much—but keep an eye out for strange sleeping habits that last for a prolonged amount of time.
3. Change in Physical Appearance
Some mental illnesses manifest in physical symptoms. One of the easiest physical changes to notice is an individual’s weight. Both extreme weight gain and weight loss can be indicative of mental illness. This is a difficult sign to monitor, as some individuals do pursue weight loss or weight gain in healthful ways. However, rapid changes or fluctuations can still be relevant signs that they are struggling.Changes in physical appearance do not always have to be weight related, either. Be aware of the individual not caring for their hygiene or appearance like they once did.
4. Social Withdrawal
Everyone needs alone time sometimes, but an individual who wants to be alone constantly may be struggling with their mental health. Canceling plans, displaying anti-social behaviors, and closing themselves off from others are often signs.
Overall, when there are dramatic changes in an individual’s life, it is important to keep conversations about mental health on the forefront. Though we all have tough days and stressful times, keep an eye out for a loved one who changes their behavior dramatically for prolonged amounts of time.
If you’re worried about a loved one, asking them if they need help is always a good first step. Connecting your loved one with counseling and treatment services is also an important step of the process.
And don’t forget, that while you’re an important part of their support network, you should always take care of yourself first.