Mental health problems rarely appear from nowhere. Illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and anxiety disorders usually take time to develop. Many people who have a loved one with a mental illness can look back and spot the tell-tale signs retrospectively. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that something catastrophic has to happen before anyone realises that something is wrong.
The trouble is that mental illness covers a wide spectrum of conditions and behaviours. If someone is drinking too much and crying, are they having a breakdown or simply coping with a relationship breakup in their own way? If someone becomes withdrawn are they worried about something or have a more complex mental health problem such as schizophrenia? Is someone sad about losing their job or are they contemplating suicide because they perceive their life has been ruined?
For your ordinary man or woman in the street it is difficult to separate the ordinary from the extraordinary and spot when there is a real problem.
Mental illness is defined by its effect on the individual, causing a damaging disturbance of thought or behaviour. In its severest form these individuals are unable to cope with everyday living but many people ‘soldier on’ without seeking the help that they really need.
If you think how often we come across a friend or family member who has one problem or another, it’s not surprising that we find it difficult to assess whether someone has the beginnings of a mental illness that requires more than just a bit of friendly advice and support.
A lot of the time there’s more than one warning side that someone is struggling with their mental health.
An adolescent who is staying out more and not coming in when they are supposed to might be just trying to push the boundaries. If their behaviour is changing in other ways, for example, they become more dishevelled or have difficulty concentrating it could mean that they are abusing substances such as alcohol or drugs.
A child who has a craving for certain types of food may be going through a phase but if they are also withdrawn and lacking in self-esteem they might also be developing an eating disorder.
A husband who is unusually stressed out and being secretive could also be battling a gambling addiction.
It’s difficult to tell for most of us. We may have to just trust our instincts.
People are far too often worried about getting the wrong end of the stick rather than confronting a situation. It could be as easy as sitting down with the individual and talking things through. They might be glad that someone is taking an interest and open up about the problem.