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World mental health day

On Sunday, 10th October people around the globe will mark World Mental Health Day with many countries raising awareness throughout the subsequent week by campaigning, fundraising and signposting where to get more support.

Although World Mental Health Day was first introduced by the World Federation for Mental Health in 1992 as a way to educate the public on relevant issues and push for better care, it feels as though we are still a long way off having the perfect balance. Poor mental health remains an invisible illness and for a number of reasons, many people are still reluctant to admit when they’re suffering.

Should we fall and break a leg, for example, our colleagues, families and friends would rally around us to make sure we were well catered for and supported. However, if anxiety was eating at the pit of our stomach, or depression prevented us from wanting to get out of bed, would there be as many people on hand to help and would we be as comfortable to talk about it with others?

In this post we take a look at recognising the signs and symptoms in friends and loved ones, how to promote better conversations about mental health and how to support those around us.

Spotting the signs

Mental illness, just like physical illness, is a term that can denote a variety of mental health illnesses and symptoms, which makes recognising signs much more difficult. The traits of a mental health condition could vary depending on the severity or type of illness that the individual is encountering. However, here are some broad symptoms to look out for:

  • Withdrawal

Some people are naturally more prone to an introverted lifestyle, whilst others relish in a busy, social environment. However, if you know a person well you should be able to recognise changes in their activity should withdrawal be one of their key signs. They may stop answering messages, where they have always been good at replying previously, or their replies are cut short and to the point with little conversation. You may find they are turning down invitations on a regular basis or making excuses to get out of a previously arranged function. If depression or anxiety has taken hold it can be incredibly difficult to want to socialise, or the idea of it may cause too much stress to make it worth their while.

  • Distraction

The ability to concentrate is often diminished in cases of mental health issues. If you notice that a friend or colleague seems easily distracted, has little interest in their work and can’t motivate themselves to take part in activities, they may be suffering from longer-term problems. Likewise, general conversation may prove difficult. They may muddle words or confuse easily, making little sense.

  • Mood changes

This may seem obvious, but depression, for example, doesn’t have to present itself through sadness. Although sadness is a sign to watch for, other changes in mood are equally important. Look out for increased irritability, they may have little patience and ‘snap’ at the smallest thing, often reacting with violence. Or perhaps their mood changes are far more extreme, going from one end of the spectrum (total joy) to the other (anger/sadness) rapidly, without cause.

  • Behavioural changes

Alongside mood changes you may notice your friend or family member is showing other signs such as worrying excessively. Perhaps they are worrying about work, what people think of them, over-analysing plans or actions. They may seem paranoid, or anxious about everyday activities. These signs need to be taken seriously.

  • Lethargy

Often people with mental illness will find they are unable to sleep, or if they are sleeping, they sleep too much and are unable to wake in time for work. Should someone you know seem abnormally fatigued perhaps ask them if something may be bothering them, are they sleeping well, are they feeling well? Remember fatigue can be a sign of many different health conditions and is always one to check up on.

  • Delusion

Perhaps one of the more obvious signs, delusion can be a detachment from reality, believing they are something that they are not, or can do something that they have never been able to do before. It could present itself as simply as the person believing they have a profession that they have never mentioned before. If you do have concerns about delusion, seek help from a professional.

  • Changes in habits

Anxiety and depression are perhaps the most talked-about forms of mental illness but are not the only ones. Eating disorders and addiction also fall under the mental illness category. Noticing a change in eating habits can be cause for concern. Should your friend or family member refuse meals often, or if they seem to be eating all the time, take note. Likewise, if the trips to the bar, betting shop online gambling sites have become more commonplace it is definitely worth keeping an eye on and opening up the conversation gently with that person.


What to do next?

You may recognise traits of mental health issues in a friend, colleague or family member, but you are not sure what to do next?

This is the stage when your support is most valuable and it comes, simply, in the form of conversation. Understandably, particularly if you have little experience with mental illnesses, it may be daunting to know where to begin. Here are some suggestions that could offer a friend the helping hand they require.

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How can I help?

Wellbeing and self-care are invaluable in the fight against depression or anxiety so suggesting some wellbeing activities within a conversation may be a good starting point. Perhaps suggest trying a yoga class together or recommend an app with beginners’ meditations. A simple walk or healthy meal can also do the world of good. Perhaps organise a walk together or try a new health food store.

If you feel a conversation about mental health is required then make sure you encourage the conversation gently. Set aside a time when neither of you will be distracted, turn off mobile phones, close doors. Then let them talk as much or as little as they want. Once you have voiced your worry for them, they will know that you are there for them and this can be hugely reassuring, even if they are not ready to talk about it just yet. Likewise, don’t bombard them with questions, applying pressure will only make things worse.

You may not be a health professional, but you can gently encourage your friend to see someone or to seek help online, however, never force someone to make that move. Simply suggest how a GP or therapist might be able to help. Instigating the idea without appearing domineering within the situation is much more reassuring. However, if you ever feel out of your depth it is important you seek help. Should a person obviously be harming themselves or you feel they require immediate medical assistance then do not hesitate to speak to a professional yourself. There are also some amazing helplines, such as The Samaritans, that can offer expert advice.

And of course all of this information relates to you too. If you recognise any of these symptoms or changes to your mood and behaviours, then open up to someone you trust or look for some advice and suggestions online. Your GP is a great place to start, but if you aren’t ready for that step yet then take a look at some of our articles and audio sessions on the Mind section of the Wellbeing Centre or visit The Samaritans or the Mental Health Foundation for more information and support.