“I’m fine”: How to spot if a loved one’s mental health has taken a dip

Sometimes it’s clear when someone you love is going through a hard time. Particularly if they’ve recently experienced a traumatic life event like a car accident or negligent medical treatment.

While it may be obvious that they have suffered physically, it’s not always easy to spot the signs of mental health issues. There’s no quick test to diagnose mental health issues, but there are some common behaviours and symptoms that may indicate your loved one’s wellbeing has taken a dip.

Change of mood

You might notice that they are not their “usual self”. They may not feel like socialising or chatting, they may be quiet, withdrawn, tearful or generally unhappy. You may have also noticed emotional outbursts or dramatic mood swings, for instance extreme distress or anger. These are all signs that your loved one’s mental health may be suffering.

Low confidence

Those experiencing mental health issues may display signs of low confidence. For example, they may tell you that they are worthless or repeatedly criticise or blame themselves. If they are frequently expressing these thoughts, you may need to seek additional support for them.

Loss of appetite

It’s normal for people to drop a few pounds every now and again to improve their health and wellbeing. However, if your loved one doesn’t want to eat or you’ve noticed rapid weight loss, it could be a sign of mental health issues. Anxiety, depression and stress trigger emotional and physical symptoms, which can include a loss of appetite.

Extreme tiredness

Depression, stress and anxiety have many physical symptoms, including making people feel drained of energy and unable to sleep. This chronic fatigue can make it hard to complete simple tasks or simply get out of bed. Even if your loved one appears to be getting enough sleep, they may not wake up refreshed if their quality of sleep is poor due to depression.

Increased irritability

You may have noticed that they are easily irritated. Stress in particular can reduce the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain and increase the amount of cortisol – otherwise known as the ‘stress hormone’. When these hormone levels are affected, the likelihood of developing a mental health issue such as depression is much higher. Stressful life events such as accidental injuries can be a major trigger for this.

Substance abuse

Has your loved one started to drink too much alcohol? Have they become reliant on painkillers or other medication? It’s normal after an accident to take painkillers to ease any physical symptoms. However, if they are taking more than the recommended dose or have continued to take the medication after they have physically recovered, then it might be a sign of mental health issues.

Other changes in behaviour

These are just some of the symptoms of mental health problems that you should look out for. It’s important to remember that while these warning signs are common, no two people are the same. Your loved one may have very different symptoms and behavioural changes to others, so it’s important to look out for anything that you think is unusual for them as an individual.

How you can help

It can be tricky to know what to do in this situation. Many people worry about how to talk about mental health issues and the right things to say – but the important thing to do is act. Delaying help and support for your loved one may lead to further deterioration in their mental health.

Simply talking to them about how they’re feeling is the first step. Try to dedicate some time for them with no other distractions so they can chat to you openly. It’s important not to pressure them to tell you everything as they may not feel ready – especially if you are the first person they have told.

Instead, let them control the conversation at a pace that is right for them. Simply talking about their mental health is the first step to getting them the support they need. You might want to offer your help in arranging for them to speak to a professional or go to counselling, particularly if they are suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after their accident.

If they have suffered physical injuries due to their accident, then you could offer to help with everyday tasks they may be struggling with. Whether that involves doing food shopping or carrying out household chores – the simple things will take away some of the stress and pressure they are feeling.

Want to understand more about the impact of accidental injuries on mental health? Take a look at our Make It Right campaign to find out more.

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