Mental illnesses are often isolating and lonely. They can make social situations difficult to navigate. Self-confidence takes a hit. Expectations of normality jump out of the window. When everything seems totally futile, why bother showering? We’re all going to die so it doesn’t matter if your bills don’t get paid, does it? These are things we are taught to notice in those around us. If one of your work colleagues starts turning up in the same, unwashed clothes, with a distinct odour of whiskey and cheese, you can probably assume something is not quite right. If your friend stops speaking for days at a time and just cries, they are probably working through some stuff. But not all signs of people struggling to cope are so clear-cut.
Here are a few to look out for:
- Small time: Sometimes, when people are feeling high levels of anxiety, they lose perspective and can become fixated on small details which seem insignificant to other people. They may go over and over the same thing or talk about a topic which the conversation has moved on from.
- Grumpy: Anger or irritability often signal someone under a lot of stress or unable to cope with the intensity of their emotions. Of course, some people are just grumpy in general, but keep an eye out if this explosiveness or intolerance is a new development. They might seem like they’ve lost their sense of humour, too.
- Shopaholic: Feeling depressed can spark a desire to fill your life with, well, anything. A sudden urge to buy expensive knickknacks might be a sign. Keep an eye out for anyone with a crystal pineapple – they probably need help.
- Drink me: Alcohol and substance abuse is often part and parcel of mental illness, used to escape painful feelings. This can be difficult to spot if the person is drinking or taking drugs alone, but don’t ignore your instincts.
- Hideout: Becoming socially withdrawn, whether refusing invitations or talking less (or less openly) than usual is common for people struggling with depression or anxiety. They can often get trapped inside their own head, which is, more often than not, their own worst enemy.
- Sleepless nights: Depression may be a mental illness but it shows itself in many physical ways. Changes in sleeping patterns (i.e. sleeping a lot more or a lot less) and eating habits/ fluctuations in weight can suggest stress.
Remember panic/ anxiety attacks can manifest in lots of different ways:
- Sieve brain: The person might be unable to retain any information; they can seem confused and inattentive.
- Space cadet: Being totally zoned out or in their own world. Not seeming to be engaged with their surroundings.
- Fisticuffs: Physical tension may seem like a fairly obvious example, but this can be very subtle, including jaw-clenching, teeth grinding or small repeated movements like rubbing hands together or cracking knuckles.
- Too much: Sensory overload can be very distressing. Exposure to too many stimuli can be overwhelming – too much noise, heat or light can increase levels of anxiety.
- Sweat, sick and tears: Sweating palms, nausea and crying are all common during panic attacks.
Keep an eye out. Letting someone know that you care is sometimes the only, and best, thing you can do to help!