Recognizing Early Warning Signs of Mental Illnesses in Young Adults
Major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder often develop during late adolescence and early adulthood and rarely appear “out of the blue.” Most often family, friends, teachers, or individuals themselves recognize that “something is not quite right” about their thinking, feelings, or behavior before one of these illnesses appears in its full blown form. Being informed about developing symptoms, or early warning signs, can lead to intervention that can help reduce the severity of an illness.
What are the Signs and Symptoms to be concerned about?
If several of the following are occurring, a serious condition may be developing.
- Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in others.
- An unusual drop in functioning, especially at school or work, or difficulty performing familiar tasks.
- Problems with concentration, memory, or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain.
- Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations.
- Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity; apathy.
- A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality.
- Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult.
- Fear or suspicious of others or a strong nervous feeling.
- Uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior.
- Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or deterioration in personal hygiene.
- Rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings or “mood swings.”
One or two of these symptoms can’t predict a mental illness. But a person experiencing several together that are causing serious problems in his or her ability to study, work, or relate to others should be seen by a mental health professional. Room-mates, co-workers and people young people interact with everyday are often the first to notice symptoms.
Untreated, these early symptoms may progress to a psychotic episode. Where the young person may develop irrational beliefs (delusions), serious disturbances in perception (hallucinations), and disordered thoughts and speech, or begin to feel out of touch with reality. A psychotic episode can develop very gradually and may go untreated for extended periods of time.
Shame, fear, denial, and other factors often prevent individuals or their families from seeking help for symptoms such as those listed above. But help is available and treatments for major mental illnesses are more effective than ever before.