43 Mental Health Warning Signs to Recognize

Updated on February 20, 2018
Blake Flannery profile image

Blake has worked in mental health since 2002. He educates others on their paths toward resilience and recovery.

You're on thin ice when you start to notice these signs.
You're on thin ice when you start to notice these signs.

List of Mental Health Warning Signs

How do you know if you or someone you know is going to have a mental health crisis? There are recognizable signs that are often unique to each individual. As you read through this list, you can make note of those that occur leading up to a crisis.

Think back to the times that you have required the highest level of support due to a crisis. Some of these events may have happened before things totally fell apart for you. Categories include emotional, mental, and behavioral signs and symptoms.

  1. Anxiety and fear
  2. Appetite changes
  3. Arguing frequently
  4. Becoming obsessed with something trivial
  5. Being uncaring, aggressive, or pushy
  6. Difficulty concentrating
  7. Drinking or using drugs more than usual
  8. Eating too much or too little
  9. Feeling discouraged about the future
  10. Feeling guilty or ashamed
  11. Feeling needy
  12. Feeling unconnected to your body
  13. Feeling slowed down or sped up
  14. Feeling worthless, lost, or depressed
  15. Feeling too excited
  16. Feeling that others are trying to hurt you
  17. Frequent aches or pains
  18. Forgetfulness
  19. Having bad dreams
  20. Having trouble making decisions
  21. Inability to experience pleasure
  22. Irrational thought patterns
  23. Irritability
  24. Isolating or avoiding others
  25. Lack of motivation
  26. Loss of interest in appearance
  27. Losing interest in doing things
  28. Losing or gaining a lot of weight
  29. Missing appointments
  30. Mood changes
  31. Negativity
  32. Neglecting children or pets
  33. Nervousness
  34. People are telling you that they are concerned
  35. Preoccupation with sexual thoughts
  36. Problems with the police
  37. Racing thoughts
  38. Restlessness
  39. Seeing or hearing things others don’t
  40. Sleeping too much or too little
  41. Stop taking medications
  42. Thoughts of hurting yourself or others
  43. Unwanted thoughts

The Importance of Recognizing Warning Signs

Recognizing warning signs is one of the most important steps in managing mental wellness. Mental health can affect other aspects of a person's wellness and interfere with their goals.

Besides knowing what can trigger a mental crisis for you, knowing the specific signs and symptoms that lead up to your crisis gives you the best chance of stopping it before it gets unmanageable.

This knowledge could be the difference between managing your illness outside the hospital and having to be stabilized in the hospital. It could mean the difference between self-injuring and keeping yourself safe. It could be the difference between having a psychotic break and staying level. It could even be the difference between life and death.

The recovery process will include ups and downs, but wellness can be achieved by smoothing out the challenging times with coping strategies and supportive strengths.

Most people have several warning signs that alert them to possible, upcoming danger.
Most people have several warning signs that alert them to possible, upcoming danger.

Early Vs. Late Warning Signs

Picture a car coming up to a cliff with early and later warning signs. The warning must come early enough for the driver to have options to avoid the danger or minimize the damage. Some warning signs may come way before any real dangerous situations, while others happen just before a crisis event.

Think about the severity of the symptoms or behaviors. Usually, the more disruption an event causes, the later that warning sign will appear. The benefit of early warning signs is that, if caught early and acted upon, much of the distress of later warning signs can be avoided or managed more safely.

Get into the habit of checking in with a trusted friend or family member to help you notice any changes as early as possible. Sometimes, it's easier for others to notice when something is wrong. Make sure you give that person permission to give you feedback. Tell them what to do even if you don't want any help at that moment. Some of the symptoms might lead to paranoia or suspicion of others.

Another way to keep track of overall wellness is to keep a mood diary or rate how you feel each day. There are a number of ways to do this, but the simplest way is to use a scale of 1-10. Make a chart, and at the end of each day, rate how you felt that day. This information can be helpful when meeting with your therapist or psychiatrist and helps you see overall trends.

When early warning signs happen, keep alert to any unexpected changes.
When early warning signs happen, keep alert to any unexpected changes.


Early Warning Signs
Late Warning Signs
Problems with Police
Neglecting Children or Pets
Stop Taking Medicine
Think about the consequences of the early warning signs in contrast to the late warning signs.
You must have a plan in place to take you to a safe place when you can no longer manage yourself safely.
You must have a plan in place to take you to a safe place when you can no longer manage yourself safely.

Create a Safety Plan and Long-Term Strategy

Once you know the signs that lead up to a mental health crisis, the next step is to put a safety plan in place. Although a safety plan can sometimes be quickly created in an emergency, it helps to take time to write out a detailed plan and share it with people in your support circle.

Short-term Safety Plan

This safety plan should take into account your specific needs. It should involve getting help from at least one other trusted person. It should be very concrete and specific.

Choose from a long list of coping skills that can help with depression, anger, addiction, or other distressing and potentially crisis-producing mental health issues. Make a plan that can be executed in an emergency with only a few steps. Here's an example:

  1. Call my support person ___________.
  2. Arrange to get help with my daily responsibilities.
  3. Schedule an appointment with my doctor or therapist to report the changes I'm noticing and any issues with my medication.

Long-term Prevention Strategy

Once you have a short-term emergency plan in place. You can strategize for the long-term by building specific activities into your day that will help you maintain healthy thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This is called behavioral activation. It's a strategy to prevent negative thoughts and behaviors by introducing or increasing more positive experiences and feelings at regular intervals throughout days, weeks, and months.

Plan to help you learn more through mental health group education. Many group therapy topics such as improving communication through assertiveness can help you learn to manage stress. Learning to improve problem-solving skills and taking care of relationships with yourself and others improves quality of life. Navigating the complexities of these skills takes effort, insight, and time. When not experiencing interfering symptoms, these areas of life can be focused on in-depth with professional support.

Which Should You Focus on?

Which is more important to recognize?

See results

Questions & Answers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Blake Flannery profile image

        Blake Flannery 3 years ago from United States


        Thanks for the comment. I encourage people to share their warning signs and crisis plans with their support people as well. Those are the people who will help them notice the warning signs, and then they'll help them enact the crisis/safety plan. Having a supportive person can make a huge difference. This is an essential piece of the recovery process.

      • janshares profile image

        Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

        I like the self-help focus here, Blake. As a mental health provider, I am usually assessing the warning signs after-the-fact, to create an intervention or treatment plan. I like the concept of teaching the client to assess his/her own warning signs to begin addressing them sooner than later. It also helps them to have the language to report them to the doctor or therapist making them a partner in their treatment. Voted up, useful, and interesting. Thanks for this one.

      • profile image

        Charles 3 years ago

        I find the government much more responsible for this most of the mental breakdowns. This happens in most policies especially those that involve the minorities. You will find peoples problems started when they lost a job, a broken relationship due to losing a job. Either way mental illness has more to do with money or being asked to pay what you do not have or do not think it is fair.Like TV licence

      • Life Coach Cyndy profile image

        Cyndy Adeniyi 4 years ago from Georgia

        The list is helpful because it is so inclusive. I will be sharing this with my clients. I agree with carol7777 though. One needs to also examine if the symptoms are lasting and if they are interfering with daily life.

      • shanmarie profile image

        shanmarie 4 years ago

        Very useful information. If not for oneself, then for someone else.

      • Purpose Embraced profile image

        Yvette Stupart PhD 4 years ago from Jamaica

        Blake, thanks for the informative hub. People suffer from many types of mental health problems with a wide variety of signs and symptoms. It is important that they recognize the signs, and take steps to manage the problem, for example, through psychotherapy.

      • aparkhurst7 profile image

        aparkhurst7 4 years ago from Wilkes Barre, PA West Hartford, CT

        After Sandy Hook and Aurora, this information is really useful. The movie theater shooting could have easily been avoided if people opened their eyes.

      • EricDockett profile image

        Eric Dockett 5 years ago from USA

        The way the world moves these days I think we all tend to push aside these warning signs until things get far worse than they really ought to be. As you say, recognizing them for what they are when they present it a key to putting on the brakes before that car goes off the cliff.

      • gsidley profile image

        Dr. Gary L. Sidley 5 years ago from Lancashire, England

        I'm all for prevention of mental health problems and a focus on maintaining well-being.

        You provide a useful raft of early warning signs and, as you rightly say, it is about recognizing the indicators that apply to each of us.

      • carol7777 profile image

        carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

        This is quite a list and I think many of us have attested to several of these from time to time..however they are not lasting. Thanks for providing this list and hopefully others will ready and understand what is going on in their lives.

      • Blake Flannery profile image

        Blake Flannery 5 years ago from United States

        Conservative Lady,

        I would be very satisfied if someone can recognize warning signs without having to do it the hard way.

        Unfortunately, it can take a breakdown before a person can trace back what events contributed and lead to the crisis. That's part of the learning process that contributes to recovery.

      • Conservative Lady profile image

        Sheila 5 years ago from Surprise Arizona - formerly resided in Washington State

        This is useful information - I truly hope that it reaches even one person and helps them turn their crisis around before it is too late. Voted up and useful.