The Early Signs of Mental Illness
Before we delve into the early warning signs of mental illness, it is important understand that there are many different forms, manifestations and levels of severity when it involves psychological or behavioral concerns. The onset of the signs and symptoms may be slow or rapid and the clinical presentation of these diseases can be mild or severe. As a result, each mental illness must be discussed and evaluated individually by a qualified mental health professional.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, upwards of 50% of all mental illnesses begin by age 14 and 75% of mental illness occurs by the age of 24. While the onset of these diseases is not typically “overnight,” this still does not leave much time to identify them and make significant progress in treatment. Knowing these statistics can help parents, teachers and even individuals themselves look out for the signs of the mental health disorders; ultimately early detection allows for greater treatment options as well as more effective long-term treatment.
There are common symptoms between mental health disorders and onset, while not always predictable, is reasonably well understood by qualified clinicians. It is also critical to remember that some unusual behaviors exhibited by children and adults alike may be perfectly normal, so rushing to judgment about mental illness is not productive.
The Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness
Being that mental illness often begins in school-aged children and young adults, many of the symptoms we will discuss are not, in and of themselves, mental illness. Adolescents and young adults encounter hormonal changes, emotional maturation and other growth milestones that can cause similar changes in their personality. Understanding that the signs and symptoms mentioned below are a rough guide is very important here. Many times, mental illness is first identified by a gut feeling from parent or teacher at which point professional help is sought out. Of course, only advice from a qualified professional should be used to diagnose mental illness.
- The most general, but also most common early sign of mental illness is, simply, unusual behavior. This can manifest in many ways. Mood changes including wild shifts in emotions, anxious or depressive behavior, apathy toward people and activities or withdrawal from social or sports activities can signal that something is wrong.
- Difficulty with school or work functioning such as concentration and memory issues, irrational or illogical discussions or tangents, and any reduced function such as the ability to complete tasks or approach them in a methodical or rational way.
- Mental illness can also show up in physical form. Many who are experiencing one or more manifestations of a wide range of mental illnesses may suddenly have trouble sleeping or develop insomnia, they may lose their appetite or binge eat. They also may become obsessed with certain things, taking even positive activities to a harmful level. Sensitivity to stimuli such as sounds and sight can often signal the beginnings of mental illness.
Mental illness and Substance Abuse
Once a mental illness has been diagnosed, it is often prudent to screen for substance abuse issues. Substance abuse may be a result or the cause of some of the aforementioned changes in behavior and mental health issues. Oftentimes, we simply do not know. However, these dual disorders often occur simultaneously and require specialized treatment. Each of these disorders can increase the risk of serious harm or death and should be treated swiftly and aggressively.
What to do Next
If you suspect that a loved one may be suffering from mental illness, the first course of action is to seek appropriate treatment and care. This begins with a phone call to a licensed and experienced mental health counselor. If you believe substance abuse is also involved, be sure to speak to someone with extensive experience in dual diagnosis, called co-occurring disorders. In the early stages, the person who we suspect has the mental illness may be hostile toward any assistance that you offer. This is where the counselor can help immensely. Working with the counselor to develop an intervention plan – whether or not it includes a formal intervention –can take some of the strain and uncertainty out of the process.
No matter how hard it is to a) come to terms with and b) seek help for a loved one with mental illness, getting them help is the best way to avoid potentially serious or even catastrophic consequences of this destructive collection of diseases. The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center has extensive experience treating clients with psychological and behavioral disorders and even those with co-occurring substance abuse issues. We look forward to helping get your loved one on track with comprehensive mental health treatment.