Do I Need Help?
Recognizing Early Warning Signs of Mental Health Disorders
Mental health disorders rarely appear out of nowhere. Most often family, friends, teachers, or individuals themselves recognize that something is not quite right about their behavior, thinking or feelings, before one of these disorders appears in its full-blown form.
Being informed about developing symptoms or early warning signs can enable early intervention which can greatly enhance the outcome of the treatment.
What are the Concerning Signs and Symptoms?
- Social withdrawal and loss of interest in others.
- An unusual drop in functioning, especially at school or work.
- Problems with concentration, memory, logical thought and speech.
- Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations.
- Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity; apathy.
- A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality.
- Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings of, or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking, typical of childhood, in an adult.
- Fear or suspicious of others or a strong nervous feeling.
- Uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior.
- Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or deterioration in personal hygiene.
- Rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings or “mood swings”.
Suicidal thoughts or attempts and bizarrely violent or homicidal thoughts require immediate attention.
Shame, fear, denial, and other factors often prevent individuals or their families from seeking help. Mental illness is a real condition and is not caused by bad parenting even though symptoms can emerge even in children. Help is available and treatments for mental health disorders are more effective than ever before.
The earlier treatment begins the better. Even if a person’s problems have not reached the level of a clinical diagnosis, the “red flag” early warning symptoms can themselves be frightening and disruptive. Furthermore, research shows that early intervention greatly increases the effectiveness of treatment. There is minimal risk in early intervention, and it is outweighed by the degree of distress a person and their family may already be experiencing at the time they are referred for mental health screening.
- have a diagnostic evaluation by a trained professional
- be educated about mental health disorders and the signs and symptoms to watch for
- receive supportive counseling about daily life and strategies for stress management
- be monitored closely for conditions requiring more intensive care
Family members are valued partners and should be involved in treatment whenever possible. Ongoing family involvement may be essential when a person has not yet accepted the need for treatment.
Each individual’s situation must be assessed carefully and treatment should be individualized. Medication may be useful in reducing some symptoms. Oftentimes, the best treatment involves both medication and some form of therapy.