How to Recognize Mental Health Warning Signs to Keep Yourself and Loved Ones Safe

mental health warning signs

Article At a Glance

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in mental health problems for people of all ages.
  • Untreated mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and trauma increase risk for substance use, suicide, and other health problems.
  • Recognizing the warning signs of mental health issues in yourself and your loved ones can save lives.

Why Mental Health Is So Important

Mental health refers to our emotional and psychological well-being. Being in a mentally healthy state not only helps you feel better on a day-to-day basis, but it can have profound effects on other aspects of health as well. Poor mental health increases your risk for substance use, heart problems, diabetes, stroke, and other medical problems. It also leads to relationship problems, difficulties at work, and an increased risk of suicide.

Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health and Substance Use

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted mental health, a reality still unfolding as we navigate its long-term effects. Initially marked by lockdowns, many people experienced sudden shifts to remote work, job losses, and a loss of childcare resources. This brought about heightened social isolation—a significant trigger for mental health challenges.

Recent studies continue to reflect significant mental health issues. As of late, data suggests that mental health concerns, initially amplified during the early pandemic stages, persist as ongoing issues. Anxiety, depression, and stress-related symptoms remain elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels. Importantly, thoughts of suicide, though slightly reduced from the peak early pandemic figures, continue to be alarmingly high.

Continued Mental Health Challenges

In a 2021 study, nearly half of Americans surveyed reported recent symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder, a stark increase since the pandemic’s outset. Furthermore, 10% of respondents felt their mental health needs were not being met, underscoring a significant gap in mental health care accessibility and effectiveness.

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Substance Use and Mental Health

The interconnection between mental health issues and substance use has also been underscored during the pandemic. Reports indicate that the initial increase in substance use has not fully receded. Many individuals turned to substances like alcohol, opiates, and other drugs as a form of coping with untreated mental and emotional distress, leading to risks of dependence, addiction, and overdose. Rates of anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder have seen a notable rise since the pandemic began. Current interventions and support systems are crucial to address these intertwined public health crises, emphasizing the need for accessible mental health services and substance abuse programs.

Identifying Mental Health Warning Signs in Children and Adults

Introduction to Mental Health Awareness

The perception of a mental health crisis is widespread in the United States today, with significant concern across all age groups. A 2022 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and CNN revealed that 90% of Americans believe there is a mental health crisis, with half of young adults and one-third of all adults feeling anxious frequently over the past year. Many find it challenging to access needed mental health services due to various barriers.

Key Warning Signs in Adults

To support loved ones effectively, it is vital to recognize these common indicators of mental health issues in adults:

  • Persistent sadness or depressive states
  • Withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed
  • Repetitive behaviors, such as excessive checking of locks
  • Signs of paranoia or irrational beliefs
  • High levels of worry or fear that disrupt daily life
  • Noticeable changes in behavior, like apathy or loss of sexual interest
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Speaking about or fixation on death
  • Extreme mood swings, including episodes of euphoria
  • Escalation in substance use
  • Deteriorating job performance
  • Frequent irritability affecting relationships

Recognizing Mental Health Signs in Children

Children’s mental health symptoms may differ from adults, making vigilance essential:

  • Avoiding or withdrawing from social interactions
  • Regular expressions of sadness or mood fluctuations
  • Preoccupation with death or excessive questions about mortality
  • Uncontrollable behavior, including frequent outbursts or tantrums
  • Recurrent physical complaints like headaches or stomachaches without a medical basis
  • A noticeable drop in school performance or school avoidance
  • Seeming distracted or difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained injuries, possibly indicative of self-harm
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns, including significant weight changes

Challenges and Innovations in Mental Health Care

Despite high demand, 33% of individuals reported an inability to access mental health services, with cost, shame, stigma, and provider availability being the major obstacles. As many as 60% of psychologists report no capacity to take new patients, highlighting a critical shortage of available mental health providers.

However, there is a growing push among mental health professionals to develop new approaches that accommodate the urgent need for services. Innovative strategies now being explored include brief group therapy interventions and digital solutions that offer flexibility and reduce time commitment. These new models are proving effective in community clinics and college campuses, where there is a strong commitment to serving a diverse patient base and tackling the equity issues in mental health care access.

Recognizing the warning signs of mental health issues is a crucial first step in addressing the broader crisis. By understanding these signs and the challenges in accessing care, we can better support our loved ones and advocate for more accessible and innovative mental health services.

Support and Resources for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

Urgent Help and Initial Steps

Experiencing a mental health crisis can feel overwhelming, but remember, you are not alone. Immediate help is available, and reaching out is the first step towards recovery. Consider contacting your primary care physician, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. Even discussing your concerns with a trusted friend or family member can initiate your journey toward healing.

Key Online Mental Health Resources

  • Mental Health America: Unsure if you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues? Access free online screening tools here to determine if your symptoms might indicate a mental health condition.
  • Healthline Mental Health Resources: Explore a comprehensive list of symptoms and connect with helpful resources at Healthline.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): As a leading voice in mental health advocacy, NAMI provides valuable information on suicide prevention, wellness, and resources, available here.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, immediate confidential support is available at 1-800-273-8255.
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: Find online resources and community support events by visiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.


Do not hesitate to seek help if you or someone you know is facing mental health challenges. Early intervention is critical to prevent more severe issues, including risks of substance abuse, suicide, and other health complications. Recognize the warning signs and take proactive steps to protect your well-being and that of your loved ones.

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Written by Aurora Harklute
Aurora is a neuropsychologist and freelance writer with more than ten years of experience with a bachelor’s degree in human physiology, a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Aurora writes for a variety of industries within the substance abuse and medical fields. She also specializes in the impact of substance use on mood and cognition.

Partially updated and re-written by Clare Waismann, M-RAS, SUDCC II, Founder of Waismann Method Advanced Treatment for Opiate Dependence. This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or a recommendation. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance and treatment options. While we strive to maintain high editorial standards, please be aware that information may become outdated. Waismann Method, its employees, agents, and associated individuals are not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences resulting from the use of the information provided.