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Nine signs of mental health issues

4-minute read

Drinking too much, being a party pooper, crying all the time or any other ongoing, significant change in a person’s behaviours, thoughts or feelings could be tell-tale signs of a mental illness.

Learn the signs that could prompt you to think that a friend or family member is among the 1 in 5 Australians dealing with a mental health disorder.

Often it's not a single change but a combination. The following 9 signs are not to help you diagnose a mental health disorder, but instead to reassure you that there might be good reason to seek more information about your concerns.

If you’re concerned a friend or loved one is at immediate risk of suicide or self-harm, dial triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

9 signs of mental illness - infographic

Can you spot the difference between a bad mood and something more serious?

This infographic could point to a mental health issue in someone you love.

1. Feeling anxious or worried

We all get worried or stressed from time to time. But anxiety could be the sign of a mental health disorder if the worry is constant and interferes all the time. Other symptoms of anxiety may include heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, sweating, trembling, feeling dizzy, restlessness, diarrhoea or a racing mind.

2. Feeling depressed or unhappy

Signs of depression include being sad or irritable for the last few weeks or more, lacking in motivation and energy, losing interest in a hobby or being teary all the time.

3. Emotional outbursts

Everyone has different moods, but sudden and dramatic changes in mood, such as extreme distress or anger, can be a symptom of mental illness.

4. Sleep problems

Lasting changes to a person’s sleep patterns could be a symptom of a mental health disorder. For example, insomnia could be a sign of anxiety or substance abuse. Sleeping too much or too little could indicate depression or an sleeping disorder.

5. Weight or appetite changes

For some people, fluctuating weight or rapid weight loss could be one of the warning signs of a mental health disorder, such as depression or an eating disorder.

6. Quiet or withdrawn

Withdrawing from life, especially if this is a major change, could indicate a mental health disorder. If a friend or loved one is regularly isolating themselves, they may have depression, bipolar disorder, a psychotic disorder, or another mental health disorder. Refusing to join in social activities may be a sign they need help.

7. Substance abuse

Using substances to cope, such as alcohol or drugs, can be a sign of mental health conditions. Using substances can also contribute to mental illness.

8. Feeling guilty or worthless

Thoughts like ‘I’m a failure’, ‘It’s my fault’ or ‘I’m worthless’ are all possible signs of a mental health disorder, such as depression. Your friend or loved one may need help if they’re frequently criticising or blaming themselves. When severe, a person may express a feeling to hurt or kill themselves. This feeling could mean the person is suicidal and urgent help is needed. Call Triple zero (000) for an ambulance immediately.

9. Changes in behaviour or feelings

A mental health disorder may start out as subtle changes to a person’s feelings, thinking and behaviour. Ongoing and significant changes could be a sign that they have or are developing a mental health disorder. If something doesn’t seem ‘quite right’, it’s important to start the conversation about getting help.

Where to get help

If you’re concerned about a friend or loved one, ask them how you can help. The first step for a person with symptoms of a mental health disorder is to see a doctor or other healthcare professional.

If you need more information and support, visit Head to Health or Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIFA) for resources, helplines, apps, online programs and forums.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


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