Recognizing Early Signs of Psychosis & Other Mental Illnesses

woman wearing scarf sitting next to water at sunset

How to Recognize Early Signs of Psychosis and Other Mental Illnesses

Note: if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health and need help immediately, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911. 

Life has its ups and downs and we all experience a wide range of emotions, but at what point is it time to consider that you or a loved one may have a serious mental health problem? This article examines some red flags that may indicate someone is experiencing a deeper mental health issue that requires professional treatment. Warning signs can vary from person to person, so we outlined some of the symptoms that are most outwardly visible and commonly experienced.

Early Warning Signs of Psychosis

Psychosis is, “a symptom, not an illness” and should not be taken lightly — if left untreated, the affected individual could become a danger to themselves as well as to others. Some signs of early onset or first-episode psychosis are:

  • increased isolation
  • inability or outright refusal to practice proper hygiene
  • changes in perception and speech patterns; odd word usage
  • slight auditory or visual hallucinations
  • paranoia and delusions (e.g. believing insignificant events have deeper meaning or that an external force controls them)
  • laughing at inappropriate times
  • memory problems and inability to concentrate or think clearly
  • deterioration of personal relationships and social life
  • sleep pattern changes

Recognizable Signs of Depression

When people struggle with their mental health, they often withdraw from friends or family and isolate themselves. Individuals experiencing a depressive episode display poor hygiene or an inability to perform other basic daily tasks due to lack of executive function. Those who experience depression may exhibit either rapid weight gain or loss as a result. Other reported effects from those suffering from an array of mental illnesses include feelings of low energy, being constantly tired or sleeping a lot, insomnia, reduced appetite, trouble concentrating, and crying jags.

Signs of Long-Term Mental Illness

With serious or more long-term mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or PTSD, people may self-medicate to attempt to relieve their symptoms. This can include relying heavily on prescription drugs, alcohol, and illegal drugs such as marijuana or opiates. If you or a loved one regularly abuse or binge substances to distract from problems, it may be a sign that treatment is necessary — not just for the addictive tendencies, but for an underlying mental health issue.

Oftentimes those who suffer from mental illness will exhibit marked changes in their mood. These may manifest as severe mood swings from high or manic feelings to depressive lows, as is common with bipolar disorder. It may also include long periods of extreme sadness, worry, or fear. Other times the symptoms appear more nuanced; irritability, anger, or a decrease in sex drive are common to some sufferers. The individual may act distant, or describe feelings of dissociation or unreality while interacting with others. Other times, these emotions are accompanied by suicidal thoughts or impulses, whether or not they are acted upon.

Signs of Mental Illness in Children

Mental illness can impact people of all ages, but the signs and symptoms can differ significantly, especially among youth. Children are often unable to vocalize complex thoughts or emotions, so many times the more obvious symptoms will usually be observed in their behavior. Things like hyperactivity, drastic changes in school performance, chronic nightmares, extreme aggression or disobedience, changes in sleep patterns, bedwetting, and extreme fear or worrying may all be indicative of a mental health problem in children and adolescents. 

If you or someone you care about seems to be experiencing these symptoms, there are many resources available to help. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is a great online resource for learning more about mental illnesses and support. You can also reach out to your health insurance, primary care physician, and/or your state or county health services for assistance on how to get treatment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health and needs help immediately, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911.