Nine signs of mental health issues
One in 5 Australians will experience a mental health disorder. Learn the signs that could indicate a friend or family member struggling with their mental health.
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 Quiet or withdrawn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.
- Beyond Blue - call 1300 22 4636
- ReachOut (mental health support for young people online) - online help
- SANE Australia - call 1800 18 7263
- Head to Health - for advice, assessment and referral into local mental health services - call 1800 595 212 from 8:30am to 5pm on weekdays (public holidays excluded)
If you need more information and support, visit Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIFA) for resources, helplines, apps, online programs and forums.
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Last reviewed: March 2021