Know the Five Signs: Increasing Awareness of Mental Health Problems


Know the Five Signs:  Increasing Awareness of Mental Health Problems
Healthy Living – September 15, 2015
David Prescott, PhD

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that last year 40% of people with schizophrenia and 51% of people with bipolar disorder received no formal treatment.  For people with major depression, the news is a little better; about 30% of people with major depression receive no treatment in any given year. 
Why Don’t People Recognize Mental Health Problems?  
One of the reasons that people with mental health problems don’t get treatment is that they fail to recognize when their emotions, behaviors, or thoughts suggest that they have a mental disorder.  The newest version of the psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-V) lists over 150 different mental disorders.  Knowing the signs and symptoms of even a fraction of that number of disorders is unrealistic.
Yet, about one of every five adults in the United States has a diagnosable mental health condition.  In an effort to help connect more people with mental health conditions to treatment, the Campaign to Change Direction has identified five signs that a person is in emotional pain, and may need help.
The Five Signs:
  1. Personality Change:  You may notice sudden or gradual changes in the way that someone typically behaves. He or she may behave in ways that don’t seem to fit the person’s values, or the person may just seem different.
  2. Agitation: You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down. People in more extreme situations of this kind may be unable to sleep or may explode in anger at a minor problem.
  3. Social Withdrawal: Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities he or she used to enjoy. In more severe cases the person may start failing to make it to work or school. Not to be confused with the behavior of someone who is more introverted, this sign is marked by a change in someone’s typical sociability, as when someone pulls away from the social support he or she typically has.
  4. Poor Self-Care: You may notice a change in the person’s level of personal care or an act of poor judgment on his or her part. For instance, someone may let his or her personal hygiene deteriorate, or the person may start abusing alcohol or illicit substances or engaging in other self-destructive behavior that may alienate loved ones.
  5. Hopelessness: Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.
What Is The Next Step? 
If you know someone that you think may be struggling with a mental health disorder, show compassion, and let them know that help is available.  They may not accept help the first time you have the discussion, and you may need support in linking them with professional help.  Making an offer to help them find the names of mental health treatment professionals, or driving someone to an appointment, are concrete steps you can take to help.
Many primary care doctors know of reputable mental health professionals in their community; the same is true of clergy or school guidance counselors.  Often they can provide people with options for professional treatment.
To Learn More:
The Campaign to Change Direction:
American Psychological Association Help Center:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Help Line:
State of  Maine:  Dial 2-1-1