43 Mental Health Warning Signs to Recognize
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.
- Anxiety and fear
- Appetite changes
- Arguing frequently
- Becoming obsessed with something trivial
- Being uncaring, aggressive, or pushy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Drinking or using drugs more than usual
- Eating too much or too little
- Feeling discouraged about the future
- Feeling guilty or ashamed
- Feeling needy
- Feeling unconnected to your body
- Feeling slowed down or sped up
- Feeling worthless, lost, or depressed
- Feeling too excited
- Feeling that others are trying to hurt you
- Frequent aches or pains
- Having bad dreams
- Having trouble making decisions
- Inability to experience pleasure
- Irrational thought patterns
- Isolating or avoiding others
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of interest in appearance
- Losing interest in doing things
- Losing or gaining a lot of weight
- Missing appointments
- Mood changes
- Neglecting children or pets
- People are telling you that they are concerned
- Preoccupation with sexual thoughts
- Problems with the police
- Racing thoughts
- Seeing or hearing things others don’t
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Stop taking medications
- Thoughts of hurting yourself or others
- 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.
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.
Early Warning Signs
Late Warning Signs
Problems with Police
Neglecting Children or Pets
Stop Taking Medicine
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:
- Call my support person ___________.
- Arrange to get help with my daily responsibilities.
- 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.