Identifying Mental Illness and Providing Support

05 September | By

One in four people are affected by mental health problems and it’s estimated that worldwide, as many as 450 million people are experiencing mental health issues.

There are currently more than 200 mental health conditions diagnosed, these can be categorised as: dementia, mood disorders, eating disorders, psychotic disorders and schizophrenia.  Many people are commonly diagnosed with depression, and over the next three years, it has been predicted by the World Health Organisation that after heart disease, depression will be the second leading cause of disability.

Other commonly diagnosed conditions in the UK include bipolar disorder and general anxiety, but the prevalence of mental health conditions varies across the globe; for instance, Japan has increased rates of schizophrenia while Latin America has 30% more people diagnosed with OCD.

There is  no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to recognising the signs of a mental health disorder; there are several signs to look out for from someone who may be experiencing a challenge with their mental health. Commonly, it’s not one single or defining change that you will notice, but a combination.


Emotional outbursts

Dramatic and sudden changes in emotions and moods such as anger or distress, or erratic behaviour could be a sign of depression.


Stress and anxiety are often felt by many of us from time to time, but prolonged feelings of anxiousness could be a sign of a mental health problem. Symptoms of anxiety include shortness of breath, heart palpitations and restlessness.



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A close-up of a man and woman holding a pen and documents

Feeling depressed

If you observe feelings of sadness or irritability, or that your loved one is suddenly lacking in motivation or energy; they might be struggling with depression.

Problems sleeping

Persistent changes in sleeping habits and patterns are often a clear indication of mental health problems. Insomnia is often linked to anxiety and depression.

Changes in weight

Symptoms of mental health are frequently related to appetite. Rapid weight loss or weight gain could be a warning sign, especially when coupled with another symptom.


Becoming quiet

For some, our own company is welcomed and we all need some quiet time alone every now and then.  If someone suddenly becomes very quiet or withdrawn where previously you hadn’t noticed this trait, and they refuse social offers then this may too, be a sign that they are suffering from a mental health disorder.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse can be one of the symptoms that are perhaps easiest to spot and recognise as a warning sign. If you notice that your friend or relative has increased the amount that they drink, begun smoking or their behaviour indicates they may be using drugs you should seek professional advice.


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There are conflicting views over what causes mental illness; there are reports of genetic risk factors for some conditions, social factors and the nature vs nurture argument. There is also evidence that suggests people that have experienced trauma, significant life changes or physical illness are more likely to experience a mental health problem.

Despite the increase of people, including those with a high-profile, speaking out about mental health in a bid to lessen the taboo that surrounds it around 60% of people who are suffering do not seek help for fear of stigma and discrimination.

So how can you support someone suffering from a mental illness? It can be worrying to decide how it is best to broach the subject of mental health with someone that you suspect is experiencing it, but it’s very important not to wait because the chances are, the way that they are feeling will worsen in the interim.

Strive to undertake the conversation in a place that is distraction free, with a relaxed or comforting environment. Explained that you are concerned about them and want to be there to support them in any way that you can.

It’s important to remain non-judgemental, ignore any preconceived ideas that you may have about mental health. It’s also imperative that you restrain yourself from any assumptions with regards to how they are feeling and the condition that they may be suffering from.


Emotional support is incredibly significant; encourage them to lead the conversation and strive to understand everything that they are explaining to you by asking open ended questions. Offer them help in seeking professional support; if they seem reluctant or refuse to seek help, ask them what they feel is stopping them and offer to accompany them.

It can, at times, become difficult to support someone struggling with mental health because the behaviours can be confusing to you – you may have trouble understanding their thoughts or actions. For instance, well-being is critical to all of us, especially when dealing with mental health problems. Staying active, mentally agile and eating well can improve our moods and ease side effects.

Setting ‘rules’ and boundaries can be effective, as routines have proved to be successful. These can include, the latest that they can remain in bed, or go unwashed or undressed, carry out small errands (both in and out of the house, depending on the condition or symptoms).

Accompanying them on short trips out of the house, or for walks or exercise classes can be helpful. It’s imperative that you remember that to someone suffering from mental health problems, something that is part of ‘everyday life’, can become magnified – offer encouragement and compassion every step of the way.

Caring for someone with a mental health disorder can take its toll on your own mental and emotional health which in turn can slowly impact your physical health too. You must remember that it’s also important to look after yourself by taking care of yourself in the same way that you are advising others.

There are a number of mental health charities that offer excellent advice and support. You are also able to speak to your GP who will be able to advise you of local support available.

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