Mental illness: How to look out for early warning signs

Research shows that major mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia hardly appear out of nowhere.

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Often in Ghana, when a person show any signs of mental illness, these signs are either ignored or viewed as a one way street to complete insanity. Research, however, shows that major mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia hardly appear out of nowhere.

More often than not, the individual or someone close to them recognizes small changes about their behaviour or thinking. Sometimes there is just a feeling that something is not quite okay before a major mental illness appear in its full-blown form. 

According to research, one half of all mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% begins by age 24.

If a person is experiencing several of the symptoms below at the same time he/she should be seen by a mental health professional. Especially if the symptoms are causing serious problems in the ability to study, work or relate to others.

Are you or anyone you know experiencing any of these symptoms? 

  • Drop in functioning — An unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks

  • Withdrawal — Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in others

  • Problems thinking — Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain

  • Increased sensitivity — Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations

  • Apathy — Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity

  • Feeling disconnected — A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality

  • Illogical thinking — Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult

  • Nervousness — Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling

  • Unusual behaviour – Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behaviour

  • Sleep or appetite changes — Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or decline in personal care

  • Mood changes — Rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings

One or two of these symptoms alone can’t predict a mental illness. People with suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming others need immediate attention. Even if a person does not yet show clear signs of a diagnosable mental illness, these “red flag” early warning symptoms can be frightening and disruptive.

Just as with other medical illnesses, noticing early warning signs of mental illness and taking action can help reduce the severity of it. It may even be possible to delay or prevent a major mental illness altogether.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or know someone who is, encourage the person to:

  • Have an evaluation by a mental health or other health care professional.

  • Learn about mental illness, including signs and symptoms.

  • Receive supportive counselling about daily life and strategies for stress management.

  • Be monitored closely for conditions requiring more intensive care.

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