Mental Health Awareness Month Part 1: Mental Illness Warning Signs

Hi all,

In honor of mental health awareness month, I want to provide some helpful information for families to help you all identify warning signs that someone you know may be struggling with a mental illness. In my next post, I will add some helpful resources to give guidance in knowing what to do next. 

Here are some teen/adolescent focused red flags/warning signs that may indicate that your son/daughter/brother/sister/friend/family member may be struggling with a mental illness:

  • Changes in school performance- For students, major changes in their school performance can be an indicator that they may be struggling with a mental illness, especially if this change was sudden. Dramatic decrease in grades, refusal to go to school/poor attendance may be indicators that a student struggling mentally and/or emotionally. Often times students struggling with anxiety or depression will make physical complaints i.e. upset stomach, nausea, headache ect. as there is a close connection between physical and mental health. If these physical complaints occur regularly, and it is difficult to trace a distinct cause, they may be manifestations of emotional or mental struggles.
  • Isolation/Withdrawal- For individuals struggling with mental illness, going out and interacting socially can be really difficult because the mental illness takes up so much psychic and physical energy. Thus, someone struggling may be keeping to themselves more than they used to or forgoing opportunities to interact with others. Again, it can be important to note whether this isolation is a departure from the person's normal interactions; we all have different levels of comfort engaging socially, and just because someone likes to keep to themselves more does not necessarily mean they are struggling with mental illness, but if this person used to be a social butterfly and there has been a significant change in their social interactions, it may be something to pay attention to. 
  • Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits. Like I mentioned before, there is a close connection between physical health and mental health, so changes in physical functions such as eating or sleeping can indicate changes in mental/emotional health and functioning as well. 
  • Frequent disobedience/angry outbursts- We all have heard about and probably have experienced the "attitude" and rebellion teens often display. These responses are part of the human development process as the adolescent brain and body are going through drastic changes, and the result of these changes brings about a "moody" teenager. However, if there is a marked change outside the bounds of normal adolescent development, mental/emotional struggles may be indicated. Depression in children and in adolescents often presents as irritability rather than or in addition to sadness.

*Visit https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs for more warning signs and more information 

Stay tuned for my next post: Mental Health Awareness Month Part 2: Next Steps to learn more about what you can do when you believe someone is struggling with mental illness. 

san ramon teen counselor