A mental illness causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and/or behaviour. Mental illness can make it incredibly challenging, or even impossible to cope with life’s ordinary ‘ups and downs’. Often these problems occur with high levels of stress.
There are a number of warning signs that a person may be struggling with mental health problems. It’s important you don’t ignore these as early support and treatment can lead to better outcomes. You could make a real difference by helping them with some basic knowledge and the right attitude.
The outward signs of mental illness often show in a person’s behaviour. They may become extremely quiet and anti-social, or in contrast have outbursts of anger, exhibit great anxiety or burst into tears easily. This behaviour can be just as difficult for the person struggling with a disorder to deal with, as it is for you. So be patient and open up conversation by asking questions, listening with an open mind, and offering support.
As a general guide, the following indicate that your family member or friend may need to speak to a professional:
Even if you observe these symptoms, it can be difficult to know for sure it's due to mental illness. You might see a change in their behaviour, yet attribute it to another cause, or the person might disguise their symptoms. In some cases the symptoms may have been there so long that they now seem ‘normal’. Additionally, the onset of a mental illness is often gradual, further complicating warning signs.
We recommend that if you feel something's not right, trust your intuition and speak with the person encouraging them to get help. You could suggest they take an anonymous online test which identifies common disorders like depression and anxiety, and indicate the need to chat to a health care professional. Remember, this test is just a guide and only a health professional can make a mental health diagnosis.
The symptoms of each mental illness can vary from person to person. Information, including symptoms and possible treatments can be obtained from the SANE and beyondblue websites. These organisations provide information on epression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, postnatal depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and eating disorders. Other illnesses and of other valuable information can be found in easy to read factsheets prepared by SANE Australia and Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia: