The only good side of this is that we can learn to recognise the early warning signs, which has lots of benefits. No one is delighted to feel themselves sliding into another ‘dark patch’, but at least we know what it is. “Why am I feeling and acting like this? Of course! This happened the last time I was unwell!” Part of the distress of poor mental health is anxiety from wondering what is happening to us; if we recognize the early symptoms, that myster at least, is solved. We know what we are dealing with.
Earlier treatment usually means we can reduce the severity and duration of an episode. With prompt attention to early warning signs we can sometimes ‘head it off at the pass’, and halt the slide into a full-blown bout of poor mental health. Maybe reducing stress, increasing social support, and paying attention to sleep and other routines will be enough to get our life back on to an even keel.
If you or a loved one has mental health issues, it is a brilliant idea to have a strategy already worked out and ready to go at the first signs of a relapse. Support workers are usually very keen to help you work one out. If we bring family, friends and employers in on our plans ahead of time then they will be prepared to play their part if needed. Childcare, extra support, a safe environment and the help we need to best recover can all be primed and ready. It makes it much easier for the helpers, and it will be much less stressful for us at a time when we definitely don’t need extra stress.
Early warning signs differ from person to person but a few typical ones are:
- Trying to think, or solving problems, feels confusing and hard work
- Suspicious, nervous and ‘twitchy’ about people
- Poor personal hygiene and grooming
- Isolation from others
- Work performance takes a dive
- Feeling depressed
- Emotions that are ‘over the top’ … or no emotions at all.
- Sleeping and eating change a lot; maybe too much, maybe too little
- Memory problems
- Unusual behaviour
- Moods that change dramatically
- Strangely sensitive to smells, sights, sounds or touch
- A feeling of being disconnected from the world
- Ideas and beliefs about oneself or the world that just don’t line up with what others think is real
This list is just for your interest – your own early warning signs might be completely different. Do make a list of your own early warning signs, and take the time to make a plan to activate if those signs happen. At the very least, have a clear idea of whom to call if that ‘unwelcome visitor’ of poor mental health turns up at your place again.