How to Spot the Early Warning Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

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The sudden onset of mental illness is frightening for both the sufferer and their loved ones. However, there are often warning signs of a crisis that can indicate a person needs help.

Intervention at the early stage presents the best outcome for treatment. However, it is not always easy to know when to reach out, what to say, or how to begin a conversation with someone you feel is struggling with their mental health.

 Many people who suffer from mental health symptoms are also unsure whether they really have a problem. They may write off their issues as unimportant or avoid getting help for fear of being a “burden” or being seen as “broken.”

Mental health can rapidly shift, and it is important to know that warning signs exist for a reason. Rather than perceiving them with shame or embarrassment, think about how they can benefit you in the long run.

 Education and awareness are the two strongest defenses people have in the face of mental health crises. By recognizing these early warning signs, you can get the help they need and deserve.

The Shifting Nature of Mental Illness

Mental health is not always persistent. In many cases, people experience highs and lows that can change how severe their symptoms manifest.

A person living with depression may feel more positive for months or years, only to experience a dark, downward spiral that lasts for months.

Because it can be so unpredictable, recognizing one’s own symptoms, triggers, and warning signs is an important part of self-care.

Preventative mental health care allows people to pinpoint when they are at risk; it can also help their loved ones become more perceptive, offering support and guidance when they recognize signs of an impending crisis.

Warning Signs of a Mental Health Crises

The warning signs of a mental health crisis can vary in both presence and severity. Some people may express all of these symptoms while others only have a few. What matters most is recognizing when these signs arise and what they may indicate for each individual.

Consider someone who is naturally reserved vs. someone who is naturally outgoing. While a reserved person may enjoy spending long periods of time alone without any crises, social withdrawal and isolation can be considered warning signs among a more extroverted person.

 If you are worried about yourself, then these signs should be taken seriously. If you believe that you are struggling, that is always more than enough reason to reach out for help.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm or suicide, contact emergency services.

1. Sleep or Appetite Changes

Mental health is not solely isolated in the mind. It is a neurological and biological process that affects the entire body. As a result, people in the early stages of crises may experience changes to their usual sleeping and eating patterns.

Someone may struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, or they could find themselves not needing sleep for long periods of time.

Their sleep schedule may change as well; someone who used to sleep 8 hours every night may suddenly be up until the early morning and sleeping through the day.

Appetite changes may include avoiding food or reporting never feeling hungry; on the other hand, someone may eat much more than usual.

Many people struggling with depression crave carbohydrates and high-sugar foods, so they may stop eating as healthy as they used to.

2. Loss of Interest in Activities

Everyone experiences periods of apathy, especially if they are going through a difficult experience.

Loss of a family member or pet, unemployment, and high-stress situations can cause people to lose interest in things they once found enjoyable.

 However, if a person’s loss of interest persists or does not have any definable cause, there may be a deeper issue at play.

 Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities is a key marker of depression. Unfortunately, not participating in activities can also fuel mental health issues.

Without healthy distraction and positive interactions, low moods and negative thinking persist.

3. Excessive Worry or Anxiety

Someone may begin to worry almost constantly about things ranging from their character and morale to personal safety and work performance.

Anxiety disorders can manifest in many ways, and they can include generalized anxiety or specific anxieties.

In some cases, people develop obsessions that provoke anxiety. These can lead to the development of compulsive behaviors to “neutralize” the anxiety-inducing thoughts. This lays the basis for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 While it is normal for people to worry about pressing issues in their lives, excessive worry that leads to ongoing distress, changing in sleeping or eating patterns, or social withdrawal may need professional intervention.

4. Drop in Performance at Work/School

People struggling with mental health often experience a noticeable decline in work or school performance. This can be linked to a number of factors, including fear, anxiety, and depression.

It is also not uncommon for someone to make excuses for their behavior, start claiming an excessive number of sick days, or withdraw from colleagues and peers.

When someone is coping with their mental health, it can be difficult for them to put effort into any other area of their lives.

Their disorder may actively be telling them that they do not matter, so they lose any interest in applying themselves.

5. Changes in Alcohol Consumption or Drug Use

People who previously drank in moderation may begin drinking more heavily before a mental health crisis.

 Someone may also begin experimenting with drugs recreationally, trying new substances that they never expressed interest in before.

Many mental health disorders are associated with a higher risk of substance use and substance use disorder (SUD).

Any changes to a person’s drinking habits or drug consumption can signal deeper emotional distress.

6. Exaggerated or Illogical Beliefs

The onset of some mental health crises is marked by beliefs about oneself or others that may be strange, nonsensical, or illogical.

Some adults may exhibit inflated self-confidence and beliefs that seem almost childlike; they may not respond to any disagreement or listen to evidence that contradicts their opinion.

An inflated sense of self, more energy, and risk-taking can indicate an impending or active crisis.

Likewise, beliefs that one is being watched, people are spying on them, or they are in danger can also signal the need for professional support.

People who believe things that are not true, despite any lack of evidence or proof to the contrary, are known as delusions.

Seeing and/or hearing things that are not there are hallucinations. Both of these symptoms indicate a mental disorder, and they are worth seeking treatment for.

7. Talking More About Death

Someone who may be considering self-harm or suicide might begin talking about death more frequently.

These comments could appear casual, or they could directly express their desire to be dead, go to sleep and never wake up, or end their lives.

If someone begins talking about death or self-harm, be open to their feelings. People wrestling with these thoughts often carry a great deal of shame.

To encourage them to seek help, it is best to listen without judgment and recognize the pain they are experiencing.

If you personally struggle with these thoughts, know you are not alone, and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

There are many people, including professionals, who will listen, care and support you as you overcome these feelings.

Many suicidal thoughts can be intrusive and frightening. A person may hide them for fear of being judged or rejected by others.

But these thoughts may not be personal desires — they can stem from a treatable mental health condition.

Help Is Out There

At Tikvah Recovery, we are open to helping anyone who is struggling with their mental health receive the care and support they deserve.

Our individualized treatment programs treat mental health disorders, behavioral addiction, and substance use disorders.

We also offer comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment for individuals struggling with both addiction and mental health.

Please do not delay getting the help and healing you deserve. We are always available to listen, answer questions, and help you find the right treatment plan for you. Contact us today to learn more.

About Adam Nesenoff

Adam Nesenoff has been working in recovery for over ten years.

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