With today’s pressures that surround us, from global pandemics to stressful work environments, no time for self-care, and insecurities borne from social media platforms, anyone can develop poor mental health, at any time. Identifying the early warning signs of mental ill-health can be tricky. And as each person’s mental health journey is different, and unique to them, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

But here are some early warning signs that may indicate a change in a person’s mental health.

It is important to note that individuals displaying some of these symptoms may not be suffering from mental ill-health , and so it is best to obtain a thorough assessment with a GP or medical practitioner before taking further action.

Possible Early Warning Signs of Mental Ill-Health:


1. Mood swings or consistent low mood

Lots of things can make our moods swing: missing our morning coffee; our sports team losing; hormonal changes to name a few. However if a person previously with a happy or positive outlook suddenly becomes frequently negative, argumentative and irritable, or withdrawn and lethargic, this could be an early warning sign of poor or declining mental health. 

2. Lack of care for appearance or responsibilities

When we look good, we feel good, and when we feel good about ourselves we can gain confidence and resilience.

A lack of care for personal appearance or personal responsibilities could be a sign of someone’s apathy towards themselves or their life. If someone is no longer interested in how they appear, this may be a warning sign that they may be struggling.

3. Excess

Sometimes we can all relax with a glass of our favourite drink, sitting down to a box set, shopping, playing onlines games etc. All of which are enjoyable in moderation.

However, excess, or bingeing, in any form, can be debilitating and may be an early warning sign of mental ill-health.

Someone who has severely increased activity or the use of a stimulant to unhealthy, obsessive levels, could be displaying signs of escapism and self-destruction. 

Alcohol, although socially acceptable, can become a problem if usage and quantities become out of control. This can then lead to worsening issues, as alcohol is a depressant. When people stop using alcohol after long term use, it can also trigger anxiety. If someone has started to use drugs, they may become secretive or defensive over their behaviour.

4. Loss of interest 

When we don’t feel well mentally it can be hard for us to find enthusiasm to take part in the things we love, like socialising with our friends or participating in hobbies.

A low mood can also make us feel physically tired too. Someone with general apathy towards things they used to enjoy, like withdrawing from social activities, neglecting outdoor activities or even spending less time with family and friends, could be suffering from a change in their mental health.

5. Sleep changes

Our sleep is often one of the first things to suffer when we’re stressed or anxious.

But regular changes in sleep, like disturbed sleep, not getting enough sleep or even sleeping too much could be causes for concern where our mental health is concerned. A person sleeping too much could be using it as an avoidance technique, and broken sleep or not getting enough sleep could be indicative of stress or anxiety. 

Whilst we’re easily able to identify sleep changes in ourselves, it can be hard to spot in other people. Physical signs of sleep pattern disruptions could be tired eyes, yawning more frequently or failing to concentrate. Someone who sleeps too much may miss appointments, arrive late to work, or even be less responsive with general communication like phone calls or messages.

6. Changes in appetite

Just like sleep, our appetite quite often suffers depending on how we are feeling: comfort eating and skipping meals are both linked to stress and anxiety.

Changes may include an increase or decrease in appetite. Or a sudden change in diet – consistently reaching for junk food or takeaways in place of fresh and wholefoods. Someone who has experienced changes in their appetite may also be displaying changes in their weight or appearance.

7. Reduced productivity

There are points where we have all experienced dips in our productivity. Sometimes these are due to external factors, and sometimes we’re just in need of a break.

Someone who displays a sudden drop in work performance, may be struggling with their mental health.

Burnout is a serious condition that can affect anyone at any time in their work life. If left untreated, burnout can manifest into more serious mental ill-health symptoms and exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. 

This is where workplace Mental Health First Aiders can play a vital role.

Mental Health First Aiders can save businesses time and money every year just by providing mental health and wellbeing support to staff. Mental Health First Aiders can help an employee take the steps necessary to improve that person’s mental wellbeing. To find out more click here. 

Related reading: Workplaces don’t have to be stressful. Find out how to promote positive mental health in your workplace.

8. Being irritable, over-sensitive or aggressive

We can all experience periods of irritability when we are under stress. But the key thing to watch out for is how long these periods last or how regularly they happen. It’s easy to misinterpret certain behaviour as nonchalant and disinterested, but it’s worth considering if something else might be happening

If someone’s behaviour has altered dramatically, the change is consistent, and the person’s behaviour is increasingly unpredictable, their mental health may be suffering.

9. Recurring physical symptoms

Declining mental health can also manifest itself physically. Sometimes mental and physical symptoms can be interlinked. While we are often more aware of our physical symptoms, we need to ask ourselves how we are feeling too. How is your mood?

To find out more, and to equip yourself, your team, your employees or your line managers with the skills and knowledge to approach and assist someone suffering from poor mental health, book a Mental Health First Aid course