Mental health problems can affect the way you think, feel and behave. They affect around one in four people in Britain, and range from common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, to more rare problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A mental health problem can feel just as bad, or worse, as any other physical illness – only you cannot see it.
Some people think that there is an automatic link between mental health problems and being a danger to others. This is an idea that is largely reinforced by sensationalised stories in the media. However, the most common mental health problems have no significant link to violent behaviour. The proportion of people living with a mental health problem who commit a violent crime is extremely small. There are lots of reasons someone might commit a violent crime, and factors like drug and alcohol misuse are far more likely to be the cause of violent behaviour than mental health problems.
There are over 200 classified forms of mental illness so its clearly very important to be aware of the warning signs. Mental Illness has no clear victim. It affects people of all ages, young and old, of all races and cultures and from all walks of life. Mental illness, like physical illnesses, is on a continuum of severity ranging from mild to moderate to severe. More than 7 million people from the UK have a mental illness in any given year. Mental illness affects one in four adults and one in five children. Very few people, however actually seek treatment for mental illness. Many aren’t even aware of the different types of mental health problems and struggle to spot the signs.
So what ARE the warning signs of mental illness?
In an adult:
- Marked personality change
- Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
- Drop in functioning – an unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Strange or grandiose ideas (impulsive, boastful, exaggerated, dreams and fantasies)
- Excessive anxieties
- Neurotic or repetitive behaviour (rocking, biting, hitting, head banging, pinching)
- Prolonged depression and apathy
- Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Extreme highs and lows
- Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
- jumpy/nervous behaviour, easily startled
- problems with concentration, memory and speech
- disconnected from self or surroundings
- withdrawal and a lack of interaction with others
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Excessive anger, hostility, or violent behaviour
A person who is thinking or talking about suicide or homicide should seek help immediately.
In a child:
Having only one or two of the problems listed below is not necessarily cause for alarm. They may simply indicate that a practical solution is called for, such as more consistent discipline or a visit with the child’s teachers to see whether there is anything out of the ordinary going on at school. A combination of symptoms, however, is a signal for professional intervention.
- The child seems overwhelmed and troubled by his or her feelings, unable to cope with them
- The child cries a lot
- The child frequently asks or hints for help
- The child seems constantly preoccupied, worried, anxious, and intense. Some children develop a fear of a variety of things–rain, barking dogs, burglars, their parents’ getting killed when out of sight, and so on–while other children simply wear their anxiety on their faces.
- The child has fears or phobias that are unreasonable or interfere with normal activities.
- The child can’t seem to concentrate on school work and other age-appropriate tasks.
- The child’s school performance declines and doesn’t pick up again.
- The child loses interest in playing.
- The child tries to stimulate himself or herself in various ways. Examples of this kind of behaviour include excessive thumb sucking or hair pulling, rocking of the body, head banging to the point of hurting himself, and masturbating often or in public.
- The child isolates himself or herself from other people.
- The child regularly talks about death and dying.
- The child appears to have low self-esteem and little self-confidence. Over and over the child may make such comments as: “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m so stupid.” “I don’t see why anyone would love me.” “I know you [or someone else] hates me.” “Nobody likes me.” “I’m ugly. . . too big. . . too small. . . too fat. . . too skinny. . . too tall. . . too short, etc.”
- Sleep difficulties don’t appear to be resolving. They include refusing to be separated from one or both parents at bedtime, inability to sleep, sleeping too much, sleeping on the parent’s or parents’ bed, nightmares, and night terrors.
If you spot any of these warning signs in yourself or in another person please speak concerns to a health professional such as a GP or a charity that can help with advice such as childline or samaritans.
For more information on mental illness: