Recognizing Mental Illness in a Loved One

Recognizing a Mental Illness in a Loved One

It can be difficult to witness a change in your loved one’s mood or behavior and understand if the change is a sign of a mental illness. There is no easy test that can confirm your loved one is living with a mental illness, but don’t wait to bring up your concerns. It’s best to approach your loved one before his or her emotional distress becomes an emergency. Below are signs that may show your loved one should consider speaking with a mental health professional or taking a mental health screening.

Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of mental illnesses in adults and adolescents can include the following:1

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking, or problems concentrating or learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and having low energy
  • Changes in eating habits, such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality, delusions, or hallucinations in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior, or personality (“lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes, such as headaches, stomach aches, and/or vague and ongoing “aches and pains”
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance


If you or a loved one is having a mental health crisis, know that there is help. Go to the nearest hospital, emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to reach someone live. You can also call 911 for immediate assistance. If you are living outside of the U.S., see a full list of country-specific suicide hotlines here.

1Gamble, Catherine, and Geoff Brennan. Working with Serious Mental Illness: A Manual for Clinical Practice. Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007.