Early signs that your mental health needs attention

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Many people with disability face challenges in life that impact their mental health and can lead to mental health disorders if not recognised early enough.

Key points

  • The earlier you recognise signs that your mental health may need attention, the less likely you are to reach a crisis point
  • Although there are many different ways that your mental health might be affected there are some common signs that something is not right
  • Once you know these signs you are better placed to seek help you need to address the problem early on and prevent further struggles

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in three adults with disability experience a high level of psychological distress, so it is a common issue.

Knowing what the early signs and symptoms of mental ill-health are and understanding what to do when you notice them can help you to look after your mental health, or to look after a family member’s mental health and prevent it from reaching a crisis point.

There are many mental health services, qualified professionals, support groups and a range of other services that can support you if you, or a loved one, are struggling, and the earlier you access these services, the better.

Early signs

As there are many different ways in which your mental health might be impacted and everyone struggles with different challenges in their lives, it can be hard to know what to look for and when to get help.

But it’s still important to have an idea of the range of ways that you might be able to notice changes in your mental health or that of your family member.

Common signs that you may need to focus on your mental health or seek support include:

  • Confusion, disorientation or unusual thinking
  • Significant changes in mood or emotional outbursts
  • Feeling guilty or worthless, restless, agitated, or sad for long periods of time
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in behaviour, including destructive, high-risk or disorganised behaviour, changes in eating or sleeping habits and social withdrawal
  • Weight or appetite changes
  • Delusions or hallucinations (believing or sensing things that you think are real but they are not)
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities, including significant changes in personal care
  • Suicidal thoughts or acts of self-harm
  • Substance abuse, for example, of alcohol or drugs

The signs that something is not right with your mental health may also be called ‘warning signs’ of mental illness, but try not to feel overwhelmed or upset if you notice them.

You can get help to work on whatever it is you are struggling with. To learn more about supports you may be able to access for your mental health, read out article, ‘Mental health and the NDIS‘.

What happens when you notice these signs?

It is important not to diagnose yourself or anyone else with a mental health condition, but to seek professional help when you notice these signs.

This is because a person experiencing these conditions does not necessarily mean they have a mental health condition and it could be a sign of something larger at play.

A good first step is to visit your General Practitioner (GP) and tell them how you are feeling, then discuss what steps you can take to improve your mental health.

As you might be noticing these signs for a number of reasons, it could be possible to make changes in your life that address these feelings and prevent you from reaching a stage where you need a formal diagnosis of a mental health disorder. You can learn more about positive mental health steps in our article, ‘Taking care of your mental health when living with a disability‘.

After speaking with your doctor, they may help you to set up a mental health treatment plan so you can set goals to improve your mental health, if that is what you need, and organise referrals to other health professionals such as psychologists or counsellors.

For other advice and support, you might like to contact the following services:

  • Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
  • SANE Australia 1800 18 7263
  • Head to Health – for advice, assessment and referral into local mental health services – 1800 595 212 from 8:30 am to 5 pm on weekdays (public holidays excluded)

In a crisis, such as if you are having suicidal thoughts, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, and in an emergency when someone’s life is in danger, call Triple 000.

Early intervention

Whether you do end up with a mental health diagnosis after seeking help or not, early intervention can be an important part of your journey.

Early intervention is defined as specialist support and treatment for a person who is experiencing or demonstrating early symptoms of mental illness.

It is important because it can lead to a better diagnosis and treatment, as well as quicker and more appropriate referrals to specialist services.

Early intervention can include any of the services and supports you access after noticing the early signs of mental ill-health.

For example, if you have have been feeling anxious and decided the best option for you is to visit a counsellor, they may be able to teach you stress management techniques so that you feel less anxious going about your daily life or in overwhelming situations.

Learning to manage your stress might then prevent you becoming more anxious and experiencing an episode of mental illness.

What else would you like to know about the important topic of mental health? Tell us in the comments below. To receive news and industry updates about relevant disability topics, subscribe to the newsletter. 

Related content:
Tips for accessing mental health treatment plans
Mental health and the NDIS
Taking care of your mental health when living with a disability
What is a psychosocial recovery coach?