Long before I became a nurse I realized I had a sensitivity to changes in mood, in myself and others. Believe it or not, this made things worse for me because I had an unrealistic expectation that everyone would be able to see when I needed help, reassurance, or someone to talk to. They didn’t.

Last week I discussed mental illness and that it (spoiler alert) affects men whether we want to acknowledge it or not. But for discussion’s sake, let’s say we’re not familiar with the classic signs of mental illness. Recognition of these changes in behavior can allow us to seek or offer help. 

So what are these mental illnesses? I am going to talk to you about some classic symptoms first and allow some time for personal reflection to see if you’ve noticed these in yourself, loved ones, co-workers, or anyone else.

  • Withdrawal – from social interests and people in general, isolating behavior.
  • Drop in function – this could be a drop in performance at work, inability to maintain a relationship, lack of hygiene, dirty clothes or living environment, etc.
  • Problems thinking – difficulty with concentration, memory, thought, or speech.
  • Apathy – basically, no longer wanting to engage in something we usually enjoy.
  • Feeling disconnected – a vague feeling of being disconnected from one’s self and others.
  • Increase sensitivity – easily overwhelmed or irritated by light, sound, too many people, overstimulation.
  • Illogical Thinking – unusual or exaggerated beliefs (delusions of grandeur), child-like thoughts in an adult (magical thinking).
  • Nervousness – Fear, suspiciousness of others, strong nervous feelings.
  • Unusual behavior – uncharacteristic behavior from person’s baseline.
  • Sleep & appetite changes – problems sleeping at night, fatigue and desire to sleep during the day, lack of appetite, increased appetite (gorging eating habit).
  • Mood changes – feeling too high, feeling too low, changing quickly between the two.

I am willing to believe we’ve all had one or two of these warning signs at some point. Take heart, having these symptoms is not an indication of mental illness. We all struggle with short-term conditions that are alleviated once the stressors are removed. It can be helpful to seek out people who have shared these struggles for support.

However, if we are struggling with multiple symptoms AND they are starting to have a negative effect on our employment, our relationships, or our ability to function (bathe, feed ourselves, properly dress, etc) the next step is to seek a health professional. Schedule an appointment with your physician and allow them to share resources and treatment options.

Should we be having thoughts or intent on harming ourselves or others, the next step is to seek immediate medical attention. In the States, we can call 9-1-1, have someone take us to the nearest emergency department (Psych ED if possible), or contact the local hotlines like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

We only get one life (that I know of), it is best when lived well. That means realizing that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Also, it means recognizing when others need help and offering to support them with a friendly ear or sharing useful resources.

-Nurse David