An adolescent girl talking to a mental health professional about warning signs of mental health issues.

How to Recognize the Early Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems — and What to Do When You Spot Them

Your mental health is important, and so is the mental health of your loved ones

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 20% of US adults live with a mental illness. Mental health disorders can severely impact a person’s daily life and well-being. But, the good news is that support from loved ones combined with professional treatment can lessen the impact of a mental health condition

Know the warning signs of mental health issues so that you can find the care you or your family members need as soon as possible. 

Spot the Early Warning Signs

Early warning signs of mental health problems can vary between conditions and individuals. However, some of the common early warning signs listed below could indicate a developing mental health condition:

  • Loss of interest in daily activities and hobbies
  • Prolonged periods of sadness or low energy
  • Loss of concentration
  • Rapid mood changes from high to low
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Changes in appetite and diet
  • Substance abuse
  • Social isolation or withdrawal from loved ones
  • Avoiding social activities and canceling plans
  • Excessive anxious feelings or fear
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Increased anger and irritability
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Detachment from reality
  • Paranoia
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Detached emotions
  • Hyperactive behavior or an inability to sit still
  • Rapid or slowed speech
  • Missing work or school
  • Violent outbursts
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts

*If you or a family member are in crisis, call 9-1-1.

[Free Download] Depression can be hard to recognize, but there are some telltale signs that you should look out for. Don’t ignore the signs; download our guide!

If one or more of these warning signs of mental illness is present, it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional. Getting the right healthcare for you or a loved one when facing a mental health disorder is essential to reducing the severity of its impact.

Suicidal Thoughts and Self-Harm

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or think you may hurt yourself, help is available.

    • Contact a suicide hotline. Dail 9-8-8 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). This helpline is available 24/7. You can also text 9-8-8 to speak with a crisis counselor. All conversations are secure and confidential.
    • Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number.
    • Reach out to a loved one.

Different Types of Mental Illnesses

If you or a loved one are showing symptoms of a mental health disorder, only a mental health professional can provide a diagnosis. Many types of behavioral health issues can impact your daily life.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often develops during childhood, but some may not receive a diagnosis until adulthood. Common symptoms include an inability to pay attention, disorganization, and fast-talking.

Bipolar Disorder

Previously known as manic depressive disorder, those with bipolar disorder suffer from severe mood swings. There are two types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II. People with bipolar I experience more extreme changes in mood, while bipolar II is categorized by milder mood swings that may last longer. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience depressive episodes, as well.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are behavioral health issues characterized by extreme changes or disturbances in eating patterns. Anyone can suffer from an eating disorder, but adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable.


Depression is one of the most common mental health issues. Those who suffer from major depression experience long-term feelings of sadness, low energy, and social aversion. Depression can worsen if left untreated, sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. There are many different types of depression, including major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and postpartum depression.

*If you’re experiencing an emergency situation, call 9-1-1. 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

After a traumatic event, a person may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This disorder is commonly associated with veterans, but anyone can have PTSD after a trauma. This disorder is characterized by flashbacks, nightmares, and severe panic or anxiety that may interfere with daily life. Traumatic events can be either major one-time incidents or experienced over an extended period of time.

Anxiety Disorders

Those who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear and dread during daily activities. Elevated heart rates, excessive sweating, trembling, and hyperventilating are common physical symptoms of an anxiety disorder. While everyone experiences stress and anxiety from time to time, it becomes a mental health problem when it begins to cause physical symptoms and affect daily life.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a long-lasting anxiety disorder featuring intrusive, reoccurring thoughts and compulsive behaviors that are repeated. Excessive cleaning and handwashing, repetitive counting, or a need to order and arrange things are common symptoms of OCD.


Schizophrenia is a major mental health disorder characterized by hallucinations and delusions. Those who suffer from schizophrenia may experience breaks from reality and disordered thoughts that can be debilitating when it comes to daily activities. With the help of a mental health professional,  schizophrenia can be treated and managed successfully.

Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a disease that involves an unavoidable desire to use substances despite any negative consequences they may cause. It’s important to understand that there are biological, psychological, and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of addiction. SUD commonly co-occurs with other mental health problems, so treatment for substance abuse must also address other underlying mental health issues.

Mental Health Support

Finding appropriate mental health care and support can allow you or your loved ones to get back to enjoying your daily life. The first step is finding a mental health professional in your area that can give you an assessment, a diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan. They can also provide accessibility to appropriate support groups to discuss your experiences with people in similar situations.

Find Help at Meridian HealthCare

If you’re worried that you or a loved one may be suffering from a mental health disorder, you don’t need to go through it alone. Meridian HealthCare has experienced mental health professionals that can provide the diagnosis, treatment, and support needed to manage mental health issues. Hope is available; the first step is to reach out.