In the past decade, reported mental health problems have been on the rise. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. Additionally, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week in England - information collated from the Mental Health Charity MIND (Mind.org.uk). It’s becoming increasingly important to know what to look out for so we can support people in need; whether they’re your friends, a family member, a colleague, an acquaintance, or even ourselves.
Mental health problems can present themselves in different ways. The following 5 signs are not the complete list of symptoms people can experience, however, they’re some of the most common ones.
If you feel that someone you know is going through a patch of mental health problems or is suffering from a mental illness, it is best to not confront them with information in a formal manner - an open conversation where they can take the lead is far superior. The symptoms listed below are more of a guide to determining whether you should start an open conversation with someone you care about.
I, by no means, am a mental health professional. I am merely an advocate who has experienced mental health problems and mental illness firsthand. Please take the information and advice provided in this post with a pinch of salt. If you have any serious concerns, your best port of call is still to seek professional help - either through your registered GP or a mental health organisation. Additionally, we have a support page on our website where you can find local helplines for over 100 countries.
Moods can fluctuate day to day from life’s stressors. We all have good and bad days. The difficulty starts when the bad days are coming in hard and fast, and the good days start feeling like a distant memory. Everyone can display their struggles differently. Some examples are as follows.
Some people become highly anxious and feel unable to cope with their relentless thoughts. These thoughts can take over your whole perception of the world and yourself, as if you’re stuck in a mirror maze with no exit. People may come across as constantly on edge, unable to unwind, nervous and jumpy, etc. In some cases, anxiety can present itself as being aloof and unable to concentrate.
Some people become so desperately low that they don’t know if they’ll get through that feeling. Sometimes, these feelings of intense sadness can be countered with euphoria. It feels like you’re high on life, but it’s like skydiving. You’re high and excited now, but you can feel it in the You feel like you’re hurtling towards the ground before you’re ready to come down. Clambering to deploy your parachute before you take too much damage.
Sometimes, people can display their despair through anger or irritability. Their temper is on a short fuse, they’re on the defence constantly. They can bite your head off without thinking of the consequences because they’re in fight or flight mode.
When someone is fighting through their demons, continuing with socialising or maintaining contact with the people in their life can just seem too much. If you notice a loved one withdrawing from their usual level of activity amongst their friends or peers - reaching out to see how they are can have a massive impact on their thoughts and feelings.
Occasionally, when someone is facing severe mental health problems, continuing on with any of their daily activities can seem like too much. Getting up out of bed, showering, and dressing can feel as daunting as climbing Mount Everest; and with the weight of the world seemingly on your shoulders, it’s too much to bear. If you realise you haven’t seen someone for an unusual amount of time, dropping them a message to start a conversation can be a lifeline for someone in distress.
Changes in Sleep Habits
We all know the feeling of not getting enough shut-eye the night before. Your day seems to drag on for a week, your energy levels are non-existent and your whole demeanour is of a low tone. For a lot of people, thankfully, this is an uncommon occurrence. For some, this sensation can be caused by other factors (young children keeping them awake, prescribed medications, or other health issues). For others, they can experience this as a side effect of a mental health problem. Either way, they can experience high levels of fatigue as a direct symptom of a mental health issue (for example, depression), alternatively, they can experience it from lack of sleep from being unable to calm the thoughts in their mind.
Keep an eye out for someone If their energy levels drastically change for an extended period of time, it could be a sign that they’re struggling.
Changes in Eating Habits
A common symptom of CMDs (Common Mental Disorders) is a change in appetite. This can be extreme at either end of the spectrum. Either:
- Their appetite decreases a significant amount, or they could even be deliberately restricting or depriving themselves of food.
- Their appetite increases drastically. It can seem like a never-ending hunger.
Appetites naturally vary; they can fluctuate reasonably regularly, but to have one extreme form of eating for an extended period of time isn’t natural. There’s normally an underlying cause for these prolonged changes to eating habits.
Overuse of Substances
In our current society, substances are easily obtained and can be used as a brief crutch from the worries and stress of day-to-day life. In a survey by Health Survey for England, they found that 54% of adults in England reported drinking alcohol in the last week. And alcohol consumption amongst adults in the UK only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s the most accessible drug, which you can purchase at any supermarket, off-license, petrol station, pub, restaurant, club, etc. Alcohol provides a temporary buzz, a lack of inhibitions, and tempts people with a momentary break from their minds. However, alcohol can cause so much damage to our bodies if used frequently in excess. Some of the long-term effects of overindulging include:
- Liver damage
- Immune system problems
- High blood pressure
- Nerve damage
- Permanent brain damage
- (Information sourced from priorygroup.com)
Not to say that having a couple of drinks from time to time will cause those effects. However, if your mate doesn’t know when to let the fun stop, and seems to rely on alcohol to keep them calm and above water, they might need your help staying afloat.
Alcohol isn’t the only substance people can turn to; other recreational drugs offer similar lapses in worry or provide a different state of mind. Although they may feel like they’re helping in the moment, they’re simply masking the underlying issue whilst creating an entirely new layer of problems.
These signs are not the only ones that will be displayed. Someone can be going through mental health problems with none of these symptoms on show. Mental health is not synonymous, it varies from person to person - but knowing some of the key factors to look out for can allow us to take care of the people we love in an open and understanding way.
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