I’ve written about mental illness and the importance of treatment and support, but what about early signs of illness and relapse? That is an important factor.
If you missed my previous posts on mental health, you can find them here:
There are a range of mental illnesses, so today’s post is a general discussion of ideas and suggestions. Some things will be helpful, some will not. If you are reading this and experiencing issues, please seek help IMMEDIATELY.
Having a mental illness can be hard. On a good day, it’s almost easy to think the demons we fight are gone. We can breathe a bit easier, laugh, enjoy the day. Some days, however, it is close to, if not impossible to get out of bed. It’s hard to get the motivation to even brush our teeth and take a shower.
Many of us have learned the signs of ourselves going back into the dark world that we don’t really want to be in. Those around us don’t always see them, maybe because they are small enough to be missed, lack of awareness, or other factors.
This is just a short list of clues that you can look for in yourself or others around you, either in looking for signs of a relapse or first onset.
What are the signs?
- Withdrawal. There are many reasons for this, but it’s a huge thing to watch for.
- Problems with thinking- concentration, shorter attention span, etc.
- Decreased functioning- not attending school, calling in to work, etc.
- Mood, sleep and/or appetite changes. These can happen day by day in some cases and should be watched closely.
- Apathy/feeling disconnected.
- Unusual behavior.
There can be other signs, but these are usually the ones that are most concerning.
Why do relapses occur?
This is a hard question to answer. I don’t think there’s just one main factor, it’s multiple factors that come together. Everyone’s got their own opinions on this, I have formed mine after years of work in the mental health field.
The main factors:
- Medication. I mentioned in a previous post that many people with mental illnesses have compliance issues, meaning they don’t always take their medications as they should. The dosages can be off, side effects are pretty bad sometimes, or the person just doesn’t want to take it. Meds don’t cure these issues, but they certainly help.
- Poor understanding of a diagnosis. This can happen for a variety of reasons. This can also lead to or make stigmas about mental health issues worse.
- Stress. This is a huge factor in many relapses, including substance abuse. While working with opiate addicts, I was told by most of my patients this was one of their main reasons for relapse. When you’re stressed, you tend to go to what works, in that case. Unfortunately, sometimes that means not caring for your mental well-being as you usually would.
- Poor physical health. Physical issues make it hard for you to care for your mental health. Sometimes it takes a backseat.
How can you try to prevent a relapse?
- Lots of support. This helps a lot. Everyone needs support. Even if this means lots of Netflix and food. Just being there helps.
- Therapy. Don’t stop therapy if you’re going without letting your therapist know.
- Meds. If you take them, great. Stay on them. Don’t stop them without talking to the prescribing doctor- the withdrawals can be awful. If you don’t, that’s great, too.
- Check in with yourself. Are you doing the basics? Showering? Eating? If not, it may be time to reach out, use coping skills, etc.
- Develop and use healthy coping skills. My biggest one? Coloring books. I’m 35, but it helps my anxiety immensely. My therapist suggested it and I have been coloring since.
The signs of early mental illness can be pretty scary. Many people have a first episode in their late teens or early 20s, if they have a more severe illness. Most with anxiety and depression exhibit signs as early as childhood. My daughter is 9 and we are working through her issues with severe anxiety.
What can you do if someone around you is having issues with their mental health?
- Talk to them as gently as possible about the topic.
- Ask them if they want to talk to you or someone else, like their doctor or therapist, about what is going on.
- Ask them if they want to have an evaluation done. Many area hospitals have emergency psychiatric units for this purpose if someone is in crisis.
- Learn about their diagnosis. If needed, help them learn about it.
If the person is actively aggressive and/or suicidal, that is a whole different arena. Please call 911 immediately or get them to a safe place (like a mental health facility or ER) so that everyone involved stays safe.
There is hope for those that live with mental illness. We just have to get through the bad parts.