You can help yourself, your family and friends by knowing some of the warning signs that may indicate problems that warrant a mental health evaluation. If you recognize these signs in yourself, schedule an appointment with your personal physician or a mental health specialist. If you recognize these signs in others, tell them you are concerned about them, help them make an appointment with their physician or a mental health specialist, and offer to accompany them to that appointment.
Undue, Prolonged Anxiety
This is an anxiety out of proportion to any identifiable reason or cause. A state of constant tension and fear, fastening upon first one cause and then another is a signal that help is needed.
Prolonged or Severe Depression
The “blues” is a natural reaction to life’s ups and downs. Depression, however, causes persistent changes in a person’s mood, behavior and feelings. Five or more of the following symptoms indicate a need for professional evaluation: feelings of sadness or irritability; loss of interest in sex and activities once enjoyed; changes in weight or appetite; changes in sleeping patterns; feeling guilty, worthless or hopeless; inability to concentrate, remember things or make decisions; fatigue or loss of energy; restlessness or decreased activity noticed by others; and thoughts of suicide or death.
Abrupt Changes in Mood or Behavior
Unlike changes a person adopts for self-improvement, these changes reflect serious alterations in a person’s normal habits or way of thinking. The exceptionally frugal person, for example, who suddenly begins gambling away large sums of money, may be experiencing emotional problems.
Tension-Caused Physical Problems
Physical complaints that arise from stress range from headaches to nausea to muscle spasms. These symptoms, including pain, are very real; only a physician can determine their origin. Because medical tests may reveal an organic cause, a doctor should check any persistent physical ailment.
Adapted from Mental Illness: Basic Facts, Mental Health Association in Milwaukee County