Recognizing Changes in Mental Health

How do you know when someone close to you is experiencing a mental health challenge? You may not recognize a friend is experiencing a challenge until they show noticeable symptoms like crying excessively or having a panic attack. A co-worker’s worsening mental health may go unnoticed for a long time. We may not recognize signs of worsening mental health because the person hides them. Still, we are more likely to miss signs because we do not recognize subtle signs of changing mental health.

We can become more aware of these subtle signs of mental health changes by sharpening our noticing skills. Here are some signs to notice:

  • Changes in appearance– seeming unusually tired, beginning to wear wrinkled clothes, or having unkempt hair
  • Changes in attendance– showing up to work later than normal, skipping meetings or lunch/coffee breaks. Canceling or skipping social outings.
  • Changes in thoughts- expressing more worry, fear, or anger than is normal for them. Saying things “don’t matter” or feeling hopeless.
  • Changes in concentration- unable to focus on work, very forgetful at home, extremely indecisive.

If you notice any of these signs in a co-worker or friend, think about when the changes began. Being tired for one day is not unusual, but appearing tired for three or more days might indicate difficulty sleeping because of anxiety or stress. A friend who skips one get-together might have had a simple change of plans, but repeatedly skipping (especially if they enjoyed them in the past) might be a sign that they are experiencing depression. When you notice a pattern, it is time to speak up!

Find the time and place to have a private conversation so the person doesn’t feel overwhelmed or embarrassed. Be tactful as you tell them what you’ve noticed, using “I” statements (“I have noticed,” “I am worried,” etc.) and open-ended questions to encourage them to share. Finally, don’t pressure your friend or co-worker to share information they don’t want to share. Let them know you will be available to listen or help in the future.

Pay attention to small signs of changing mental health and tell the person what you’ve noticed. Your actions just might be the help and support they need to address their mental health.

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