Mental health problems – early signs

What are mental health problems?

Mental health problems include a wide range of experiences: some problems may be quite mild or moderate, while others may take on a more severe form, affecting a person’s ability to cope with day-to-day living. You may have heard about some of the more commonly discussed problems, such as depressionanxietyself-harmeating disorders, schizophreniapsychosisstress and bipolar disorder.

According to some estimates, 1 person in 4 may have some form of mental health problem each year. For as many as 1 person in 50 this problem will be serious enough to affect their ability to work or to form and maintain personal relationships.

Although figures and definitions vary, what is clear is that millions of people in the UK will encounter problems themselves, or know someone else who does.

What are the signs?

The first signs of mental health problems will differ from person to person and are not always easy to spot. In many cases of moderate depression or anxiety – the most common mental health problems – the person becoming distressed may not display symptoms, or may seek to hide them because they worry about what others will say or think about them. The signs can often be more noticeable to other people first: for instance, if your mood starts changing it may take some time for you to become aware of it but other people may be much more conscious of the difference.

Some common early signs of a mental health problem are:

  • Losing interest in activities and tasks that were previously enjoyed.
  • Poor performance at work.
  • Mood swings that are very extreme or fast and out of character for you.
  • Self-harming behaviour, such as cutting yourself.
  • Changes in eating habits and/or appetite: over-eating, bingeing, not eating.
  • Loss of, or increase in, sexual desire.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Increased anxiety, looking or feeling ‘jumpy’ or agitated, sometimes including panic attacks.
  • Feeling tired and lacking energy.
  • Isolating yourself, socialising less; spending too much time in bed.
  • Wanting to go out a lot more, needing very little sleep, feeling highly energetic, creative and sociable, making new friends rapidly, trusting strangers or spending excessively – this may signal that you are becoming ‘high’.
  • Hearing and seeing things that others don’t.
  • Other differences in perception; for example, mistakenly believing that someone is trying to harm you, is laughing at you, or trying to take over your body.

All of these signs can vary in severity. Often they can be relatively minor or pass quickly. However, if they are particularly severe or distressing, or continue for more than a short while, you may want to seek support.


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