Spotting the signs of mental health issues

This year has been a challenging year for every one of us. With so much change and uncertainty it’s normal to feel anxious or low at times. However, it’s also true that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year. In these cases, getting the right support early is crucial for making a full recovery. 

So how do you know what falls within the ‘normal’ range of emotional reactions when adapting to challenging circumstances and what means it’s time to seek help for your mental health?

The importance of self-awareness

When it comes to monitoring our mental health, self-awareness is key. You can’t fix a problem unless you know there’s a problem. But unlike our physical health, where it is often more obvious when something’s wrong, the signs and symptoms of mental health problems can be less obvious and harder to detect. 

Another factor that can complicate things is that, while we talk about what’s normal and what’s not, everybody’s ‘normal’ is different. That’s why it’s so important to be self-aware when it comes to your mental health and regularly check in with yourself. You’re the expert on you and, as long as you’re practicing self-awareness, you’ll be in the best position to judge when the balance has tipped and you’re struggling with your mental health.

Common signs of mental health problems

To help you figure out when to reach out for help when it comes to your mental health, we’ve put together a list of common signs of mental health problems.

Feeling anxious or worried

If you find it hard to stop worrying, spend long periods of time worrying or have been worrying on most days for the last two weeks, this can be an indication that it’s time to seek help.
Having low mood or often feeling unhappy

Everybody feels sad sometimes and has days when they feel off or down. Usually, these feelings will pass within a short time. However, if you’re feeling sad, unhappy or down for longer periods. or if the feelings are more intense than usual and you’re having difficulty improving your mood, then this could be a sign of a mental health problem. 

Finding it difficult to concentrate or remember things

Common mental health problems like anxiety and depression can interfere with our ability to focus and process information. You might notice that you find it hard to pay attention at work or concentrate on tasks for longer periods, are easily distracted, or have trouble remembering recent events, situations, or future plans. 

Sleep problems

While issues with sleep are relatively common and can affect anyone, research has shown that either sleeping too much or too little is three times more likely in people who have a mental health problem.  

Changes in your mood

While it’s healthy to experience a range of emotions and for our moods to change throughout the day, more extreme changes shouldn’t be ignored. For example, if you notice that your moods are changing more frequently and dramatically than usual, or intense emotions like sadness, anger or euphoria, that don’t seem to fit what’s happening around you.

Changes in your weight or appetite 

Mental health problems can affect our appetite and weight in various ways. Look out for changes like loss of appetite, increased appetite, weight gain, weight loss, and behaviours like restricting your food intake, eating for comfort or binge eating.

Feeling teary

Look out for things like crying more often than usual, becoming easily upset or feeling tearful or crying without knowing why.

Becoming isolated and withdrawn 

Spending some time alone can be good for your mental health but if you’re actively avoiding contact with others, for example by making excuses not to connect with people or not replying to people’s messages or calls than this could be a sign of mental health problem. This is harder to gauge during lockdown as inevitably we are more restricted in how we interact with others. Ask yourself, “Is how I’m feeling getting in the way of connecting to others?”

Feeling guilty or worthless

These feelings can often show up as thoughts about being a bad person, not being good enough, or that other people deserve positive experiences more than you. You might also notice a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, worry about what other people think of you and that you are avoiding interactions with others.

Problems managing your money

Again, this can be harder to gauge in the current circumstances with many people’s financial security being affected by COVID-19. Think about how you’re managing your money more generally. For example, are you spending more than usual, spending impulsively or is how you’re feeling interfering with your ability to earn money?

Having suicidal thoughts

If you’re having thoughts about self-harm or ending your life, please reach out for help.

Putting it all into context

Now, experiencing some of these symptoms from time to time doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a mental health problem. 

When you’re deciding whether to seek help for your mental health it can be helpful to read through the list of common signs above and then ask yourself these questions:

How many of these symptoms am I experiencing?

How often and for how long have I been experiencing these symptoms?

Are these symptoms getting in the way of my ability to carry out normal daily activities?

If you’re experiencing several of the symptoms, have had them consistently for a period of two weeks or longer, or they’re getting in the way of daily activities like taking care of yourself, household tasks, work or the things you usually enjoy, then make an appointment to speak to your GP. Your GP will talk to you about how you’re feeling and advise you on the treatment and support options available, such as medication, self-help and talking therapies.