Recognizing The Warning Signs Of Mental Illness

Updated: Feb 1

Most people believe that mental health conditions are rare. In fact, mental health conditions are common and widespread. An estimated 44 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year.

Most families are not prepared to cope with learning their loved one has a mental illness. It can be physically and emotionally trying and can make us feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others.

If you think you or someone you know may have a mental or emotional problem, it is important to remember there is hope and help. Warning Signs And Symptoms To learn more about symptoms that are specific to a particular mental illness, search under Mental Health Information. The following are signs that your loved one may want to speak to a medical or mental health professional.

It is especially important to pay attention to sudden changes in thoughts and behaviors. Also keep in mind that the onset of several of the symptoms below, and not just anyone change, indicates a problem that should be assessed. The symptoms below should not be due to recent substance use or another medical condition.

If you or someone you know is in crisis now, seek help immediately. Call 211 to reach a 24-hour crisis center.

In Adults, Young Adults, And Adolescents:

  • Confused thinking

  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)

  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows

  • Excessive fears, worries, and anxieties

  • Social withdrawal

  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits

  • Strong feelings of anger

  • Strange thoughts (delusions)

  • Seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations)

  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments

  • Substance use

In Older Children And Pre-Adolescents:

  • Substance use

  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities

  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits

  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments

  • Changes in ability to manage responsibilities - at home and/or at school

  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism

  • Intense fear

  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death

  • Frequent outbursts of anger

In Younger Children:

  • Changes in school performance

  • Poor grades despite strong efforts

  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits

  • Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)

  • Hyperactivity

  • Persistent nightmares

  • Persistent disobedience or aggression

  • Frequent temper tantrums

How To Cope with Day-To-Day Accept Your Feelings Despite the different symptoms and types of mental illnesses, many families who have a loved one with mental illness, share similar experiences. You may find yourself denying the warning signs, worrying what other people will think because of the stigma, or wondering what caused your loved one to become ill. Accept that these feelings are normal and common among families going through similar situations. Find out all you can about your loved one’s condition by reading and talking with mental health professionals. Share what you have learned with others.

Handling Unusual Behavior The outward signs of a mental illness are often behavioral. A person may be extremely quiet or withdrawn. Conversely, they may burst into tears, have great anxiety, or have outbursts of anger. Even after treatment has started, some individuals with a mental illness can exhibit anti-social behaviors. When in public, these behaviors can be disruptive and difficult to accept. The next time you and your family member visit your doctor or mental health professional, discuss these behaviors, and develop a strategy for coping.

The individual's behavior may be as dismaying to them as it is to you. Ask questions, listen with an open mind, and be there to support them.

Establishing A Support Network Whenever possible, seek support from friends and family members. If you feel you cannot discuss your situation with friends or other family members, find a self-help or support group. These groups provide an opportunity for you to talk to other people who are experiencing the same type of problems. They can listen and offer valuable advice.

Seeking Counseling Therapy can be beneficial for both the individual with mental illness and other family members. A mental health professional at Wellmore can suggest ways to cope and better understand your loved one’s illness. We offer an array of outpatient and intensive in-home programs for children, teens, and adults to treat ADHD, depression, anxiety as well as other behavioral health issues.


Call us at 203-756-7287 (Children & Adolescents), 203-755-1143 (Adults), or visit