The warning signs of mental illness

“In a world full of people who couldn’t care less, be someone who cares more.”

Author Unknown

Recently the Veterans Administration and other organizations have began a campaign of recognition of the warning signs of mental illness; especially spurred on by the upswing of suicide events over the past year and the increase in mental illness.

The American Psychiatric Association relates that one half of all mental illness begins by age 14 and 75 percent begins by age 24. They further relate that “major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder rarely appear out of the blue.” The report goes on to state that “most often family, friends, teachers or individuals themselves begin to recognize small changes or a feeling that “something is not right” about their thinking, feelings or behavior before one of these illnesses appears in its full-blown form.

Learning about developing symptoms, or early warning signs, and taking action can help. Early intervention can help reduce the severity of an illness. It may be possible to delay or prevent a major mental illness altogether. “

The signs and symptoms of early warning of mental illness are:

* Withdrawal — Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in others.

* Drop in functioning — An unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks.

* Problems thinking — Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain.

* Increased sensitivity — Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, or touch, avoidance of over-stimulating situations.

* Apathy — Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity.

* Feeling disconnected — A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality.

* Illogical thinking — Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult.

* Nervousness — Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling.

* Unusual behavior — Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior.

* Sleep or appetite changes — Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or decline in personal care.

* Mood changes — Rapid or dramatic shift in feelings.

The American Psychiatric Association further tells us that one or two of these symptoms alone can’t predict a mental illness.

But if a person is experiencing several at one time and the symptoms are causing serious problems in the ability to study, work or relate to others, he/she should be seen by a mental health professional. People with suicidal thoughts or intent, or thoughts of harming others, need immediate attention.

Working in residential and out-patient mental health treatment facilities for many years, it was not uncommon for parents and other loved ones of the one entering treatment for mental illness to tell us that they should have done something sooner…they would often declare “Yes, we know that his behavior was getting worse, but we always thought he would just grow out of it,” “we did not believe that she was really going to try to kill herself until this recent suicide attempt,” “he always said that he was hearing voices, but we thought he was just making that up to get attention,” “yes, he would get very angry and violent sometimes but we always were able to deal with it,” etc, etc.

There were many coming into treatment with “full-blown” mental illness, and if only they entered treatment years earlier many would not have to endure the suffering and psychological pain of their illness to the extent they did. Early intervention on behalf of the individual experiencing the signs and symptoms, the warning signs of mental illness is very crucial.

In this fast pace, high technological society we now live in, it is easy to get caught up in the flow of it all; and quite often we may lose sight of the significance of stability in our lives. This holds so true with our loved ones and our friends…we often overlook their thoughts and feelings, and their manifested behaviors.

Changes in societal values and attitudes may also lead to a sense of disconnection, most commonly experienced by older generations who have difficulty comprehending it all, but also experienced by adolescents as they transition into adulthood.

As I pointed out in my previous article concerning needs, the belonging need is very important…a need to feel accepted, to have a feeling of self worth, and a need to be loved is most crucial in our psychological development and maintenance; and if unmet may hinder ones need to strive for self-actualization… to function at the pinnacle of one’s intellectual capabilities and potential. For the person with mental illness the belonging-love needs are generally not being well met, if being met at all as they are often ostracized persons.

We need to reach out empathetically to those in need for treatment of their mental illness, to do our upmost in assisting them having the treatment they so desperately need…be someone who cares.

Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!