HomeHealthcareRecognising Signs of Mental Illness in Loved Ones and Helping Them.

Recognising Signs of Mental Illness in Loved Ones and Helping Them.

Society has been unforgiving. Despite the man being a social animal, admitting any vulnerability doesn’t seem to be acceptable within this community of people. The phenomenon of the survival of only the fittest has ingrained itself into us so profoundly that we are afraid to admit any form of weakness to anyone. Sometimes even to the people, we are the closest too. And through centuries of toxic behaviour and misunderstanding, and maybe even a degree of fear of not being able to understand the problems that plague us, mental illness has persisted and grown into a demon that plagues millions of us today.

Mental illness was never something that was supposed to develop into what it has become today. Studies show that 1 in 5 people have a mild mental illness and 1 in 25 suffer from one that is more serious, possibly chronic. Our brain, the one responsible for these emotions and these disorders, is an organ like any other. And what it needs is care. People who have a mental illness undergo shame for admitting that they need help.

It is our duty as friends, family, and humans first to stop this. We need to help them understand that it’s not a weakness to suffer from a mental illness, and that it is not wrong to seek help, and that we shall be there every step of the way. But how do you recognize the markers of mental illness in your loved ones, when they do not find the strength to tell you? Observe.

What is a Mental Illness? Do they all affect you the same way?

Mental illnesses are any conditions that affect your emotions and thinking-processing capabilities. They are common, and a lot of people undergo a mental illness at least one time in their life. While all mental illnesses are quite different from each in both their basic definition and their effect on every person, they have some similar markers. All mental diseases change a person’s brain in ways that make them unable to function the way they want to. This may involve them processing stuff utterly different from the way they did before, or them trying to mask all their emotions and not being able to function ‘normally’ anymore. But how do we detect these warning signs, that is the question?

boards on a fence mental illness
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There are more than 200 forms of mental illnesses. And with psychology being a very new science, therapy to being something that is very recently considered whole-heartedly, there is a lot to mental disorders that we don’t know. Mental illnesses generally stem from certain kinds of trauma, stress, or even from a genetic condition that exists in the family. I’ll take this moment to emphasise on the fact that mental illnesses are just like any other disease a person can catch. They have specific causations, symptoms, a diagnosis, and a probably cure. And just like it is for all conditions, prevention is better than cure.

How Do We ‘Prevent’ Mental Illnesses? How Do We Recognize the Warning Signs?

As a person close to your loved one in question, it would help to know about their life. Their ups and downs, their strengths and fears. Any past trauma that they may have gone through is also very crucial to understand. However, make sure not to disrespect their wishes or push them aggressively for information. You intend to help them, not push them deeper into their problems.

Take time to observe. While these are not sudden, a person experiencing extreme stress of going through any trauma will show behaviour that is markedly different from their general mannerisms. It may not necessarily mean that they have a mental disorder and are going through some version of it. It could just be a coping mechanism for unforeseen issues and stress in their life. Either way, it is something that we must introspect. There is no fixed guidebook for understanding when a person needs help, for everyone reacts in their way. But we have found that most humans often have a gut instinct about people when they believe something is wrong, and it would do us well to listen to it.

For other definite markers for mental illnesses, you could observe for the following symptoms. If found exhibiting them, it is best to defer them to a medical or mental health professional.

Also read: All about Psychology: Importance, Branches, Scope

Markers for mental disorders in human beings.

For young children from the ages of 5 to 13 –

  • Changes in their academic performance.
  • Poor grades, despite putting in their best efforts.
  • Changes in their sleeping habits.
  • Loss of appetite or diminished appetite for long periods.
  • Persistent nightmares.
  • Frequent tantrums.
  • Excessive anxiety to either not go to bed or not go to school.

For teenagers from the ages 13 to 18 –

  • Changes in sleeping habits.
  • Frequent outbursts of anger.
  • Forms of substance abuse.
  • Forms of vandalism, theft or bringing harm to others.
  • Defiance of any form of authority.
  • Inability to cope with daily activities.
  • Intense fear and anxiety.
  • Excessive tiredness and complaints of physical ailments.

For adults, young adults and adolescents –

  • Prolonged depression.
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows at times.
  • Excessive fears and worries.
  • Extreme anxiety.
  • Changes in sleeping habits.
  • Delusions and paranoia.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviour.
  • Inability to cope with daily activity.

These primary symptoms are merely markers for an indication that a person might have a mental illness. When you do notice them, the best way to go about it is to ask them if they are alright, give them a helping hand and be supportive and non-judgemental towards them. After that, contact a medical professional or a therapist/counsellor to help your loved one out.

How do you cope with the possibility of your loved one suffering?

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We often talk about the person with the mental illness and the struggles that they go through, but neglect to talk about the people noticing them. An important thing to consider while looking out for your family and your loved ones are, whatever you go through, you go through together. And the same is with a mental illness. To help your family cope better, to help you cope better, there are some ways to stay prepared.

Have an open mind and understand your feelings.

We often notice that specific behavioural marker for illnesses in our loved ones, but we choose to deny them. It can be our ability to want to have the perfect semblance of a family. Or, this could be due to a fear of seeing your loved ones in distress.  Don’t fool yourself into denial. Confront these gut instincts of yours and follow them. Find out about their condition and talk to medical health professionals about it. Talk about it with others and do not stigmatize this.

Also read: Dealing by way of Peer Pressure

Handle Anger Outbursts and Anti-Social Behavior Calmly.

Most people who have a mental illness show anti-social behaviour up to a certain degree. They may have angry outbursts, periods of remaining silent, or simply turning away from any kind of social interaction. Do not get frustrated by this. Yes, it is difficult to endure, and yet you are the only one that can get them the help they need right now. Be patient and seek out a professional’s advice to figure out how to proceed.

Take Time Out.

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There is a concept that isn’t that widely known or considered. As a caregiver, you tend to give the patient as much care as they need for as long as they need it. What you don’t seem to consider is that you need time for yourself. You can’t drain yourself out in the process of giving. Schedule some time for yourself and do things that bring you peace. Make sure you are emotionally healthy enough to take on the brunt of their trauma.

Seek Professional Help.

While you could be the closest person to your loved one, the one they confide everything in, you need to understand that you are not a professional. Therapy is essential for both the patient and the family.  Mental health professionals are equipped to deal with unique cases and will learn from the patient, and help them in a way that caters specifically to them.

We hope we could help you get a perspective on helping your friend or your loved one overcome their mental illness. Or if not, we hope we could at least help you identify them.

If you know someone who’s going through a mental illness right now, please call 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357. Other Domestic helplines are –

  • Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508-828-865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Healthline – 0800-611-116.
  • Samaritans – 0800-726-666. …
  • Depression Helpline – 0800-111-757 or free text 4202 (to talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling or to ask any questions)
Author of Barbershop Shenanigans: The Story of How My Dad Became The Town's Thug. Writer, part time editor and content creator.


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