Sue has three sisters. They are close and grew up a few years apart from each other. One summer, Sue’s elder sister Sally would often skip taking bath or brushing her teeth. The sisters would joke about it and pull her leg. Everyone was busy meeting friends, going out, and having fun. Sally would complain of general laziness and stay at home instead of joining everyone else.
By the end of that summer, Sue noticed that Sally was in a visibly unhygienic state and slept for hours at end. Soon Sally would be off to college. How would she cope with her academic workload and social life if she was lazy and sloppy?
Sue voiced her concerns to a few of her friends. One of them said, “your sister is struggling with their mental health. A relative of mine had similar behavior. She was later diagnosed with depression. Take her to see a professional.”
That night when Sue came home, she hauled Sally to one room and told her what her friend had said. Sally ignored the conversation and defended that nothing is wrong with her.
It was months before Sally decided to get help. Some days are good and some are bad.
Mental disorders creep in from all corners of our lives. Unless you are aware, you can often miss the signs. Getting timely help for yourself or your loved ones can reduce significant distress, and improve the quality of life of the person and that of the people around them.
There is a gap between expected and unexpected behavior that points to the possibility of a mental disorder.
Here is how DSM - 5 defines mental disorders.
“A mental disorder is a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or development processes underlying mental functioning.” (Singh & Sinnot-Armstrong, 2015, #) (Stein et al. #)
The Lancet Psychiatry (GBD 2019 Mental Disorders Collaborators #) has published an article on the global, regional, and national burden of 12 mental disorders in 204 countries in January 2022. The report finds that mental disorders continue to pose a significant challenge worldwide.
The spectrum of mental disorders is wide and often overlapping. You have anxiety and panic disorders, depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, ADHD, eating disorders, personality disorders, and many others in between.
Why you should read this post?
The signs will tell you how to detect if someone close to you is struggling with the onset of a mental disorder. These are not definitive elements but enough to indicate that something is not quite right.
If you are aware of some of these tell-tale signs, you can help them seek professional help and manage to live a better life with their disorder. Kind to Mind strives to normalize mental health challenges, raise awareness, and enable you to help people seek treatment.
The Indicative Signs of Mental Disorders
Mental disorders are usually not from birth. The period of onset is mid-teens to the early twenties. If you are attentive, you won’t miss the signs of a gradual change and deviation from expected behavior. Often the changes are extreme - either too high or too low.
#1 Changes in Sleep Pattern
A person struggling with their mental health may either sleep too much or become an insomniac. It is difficult to note if someone is sleeping less because you are getting a good night’s sleep but if you are attentive like Sue you won’t miss the signs of Sally sleeping through the day.
Changes in the quantity of food intake are a precursor to eating disorders. At times, this variation in appetite may be due to drug or alcohol usage.
#3 Social Withdrawal
Compared to all other signs, social withdrawal is instantly visible. The changes begin with a loss of interest in everyday life backing out of social engagements, and missing work or school. Soon the person going through the changes starts neglecting people around them and stops venturing out.
#4 Personal Hygiene
Sally would go without taking a shower for days. She would not wash her clothes or make her bed. She and her entire room would be unkempt. You can miss out on hygiene when you are struggling with mental health. The continuously declining state of personal hygiene can be a red flag.
#5 Lethargy, Dullness, Apathy
You may observe that the person around you is struggling to fulfill basic tasks at home, school, or work. Someone who was earlier taking initiative in activities is remaining aloof. They are unable to concentrate for long and become less productive.
If you see these signs, be sure to check why as most people are dull or lethargic when they have a cold or fever.
#6 Mood Swings, Sex Drive, Anger
Increased sex drive is not always a great sign. You know that mental disorder has to do with emotions and mental functioning. It is a no-brainer. So mood swings and phases of excessive anger may be manifestations of that altered mental state. How will you know what is excessive? Only if you are generally attentive to know what was the benchmark behavior. So pay attention if you want to help others.
What Can I Do to Help?
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, an estimated quarter of Americans aged 18 or above suffer from some kind of diagnosable mental disorder. It is common and can affect anyone around us.
This list of signs will enable you as a layperson to detect that something is off. It is not exhaustive. Only a trained clinician or therapist can assess and determine the nature and extent of the experience in a person through extensive in-person sessions.
People struggling with their mental health might sometimes experience anosognosia. It is the inability to see or accept sharp changes in oneself. You can help by being informed, attentive, and communicative with people around you. Our life and work often come in the way of our relationships and friendship. We all have too much going on in our lives and fail to notice if someone is struggling.
Suicidal thoughts also plague some individuals but it is difficult to guess. There are often no apparent signs. The only way you can make a difference is by checking in. Try and block 10 minutes on your calendar to just check in with people that matter. A simple “How are you doing today?” can be a life-changer for many. Make that effort. Every step counts.