The Early Indicators of Mental Illness

Early Indicators of Mental Illness | Cluff CounselingJust as with other medical illnesses, early intervention can make a crucial difference in preventing what could become a serious illness.  Learning about the developing symptoms of mental illness can lead to possible mitigation or prevention of a mental illness altogether.

Earlier this year, I could feel a cold coming on. My throat felt tight, itchy, and raw, and my nose was either stuffy or runny–depending on the time of day. And sure enough, by mid-week I had a full-on cold. There were warning signs that tipped me off so I knew to drink buckets of water, make sleep more of a priority, and take Airborne (oh, and have boxes of tissues on hand). Just as there were warning signs of my impending physical illness, there are also early indicators of mental illness. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75% begin by age 24. Are you paying attention to those around you who fall into that age category? Are you familiar with these early warning signs of a mental illnesses? My hope is that spreading the knowledge of these red-flags can increase awareness and therefore decrease the number of those suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness.

Major mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder do not show up out of the blue. Many of those diagnosed with mental illness report they noticed symptoms long before being diagnosed, but attributed those signs to other less severe illnesses. Mental illnesses are treatable, but they must first be recognized and diagnosed. The American Psychiatric Association shared the following list of early symptoms for mental illnesses to watch out for:

  • 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, especially those that one used to find pleasure in
  • 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 shifts in feelings

We all have “off-days” where we experience one or two of these emotions–this is no indication of a mental illness! The major difference between an “off-day” and a mental illness is that several of these symptoms will compound and be experienced at the same time, and for an extended period of time (instead of one or two experienced for a short period of time). The presence of multiple symptoms at one time will be reflected in the person’s ability to study, work and/or relate to others, and he or she may need help. If you or someone you care about is experiencing several of these symptoms at one time, he/she should be seen by a mental health professional.

Know the warning signs. Getting help for you or your loved ones early on will give them the tools they need to better understand their mental illness and feel joy again. Over a decade of research has been done by scientists, doctors, and therapists in order to better understand the intricacies of mental illness. While there is still much we do not fully understand, we have made leaps and bounds in our ability to aid those suffering from mental illnesses. There is hope and there is help. Being aware of these red-flags may allow you to help those suffering silently from an undiagnosed mental illness.

American Psychiatric Association: “Warning Signs of Mental Illness”

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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.