By Caitlin B.
One of the toughest parts of being diagnosed with mental illness is adjusting to life with a chronic illness. It’s true that some people suffer from mental health issues for only a brief period of time, like after a job loss or the death of a loved one. But for most of us, our mental illness is a chronic condition.
As with all chronic conditions, relapses are a part of life. Identifying when a relapse is happening and taking swift action to get help is crucial for long-term recovery. But figuring out when you’ve relapsed can be tricky.
I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression for nearly two decades, so you might expect that I’m great at reading the danger signs. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! I’m always amazed by how long it takes for me to notice that I’m headed toward a relapse. Too often, I don’t realize I’m backsliding until someone else points it out.
The truth is that mental illness can distort your perception. This can make it hard to realize when your thinking patterns have become unhealthy. If you struggle with mental illness — or if you have a loved one with mental health issues — keep an eye on these five warning signs.
You’ve gotten lax about your personal hygiene
I usually enjoy primping and pampering myself: I love nothing better than manicuring my nails and slathering on face masks. But when my mental health is not good, this goes right out the window. In fact, when I’m feeling especially depressed or anxious, I sometimes find it hard to muster up the energy to even take a shower.
Poor hygiene is a symptom of many mental health conditions. If you find yourself putting off basic self-care tasks like washing your hair or brushing your teeth, it’s time to do a check-in with your mental health.
You’re isolating yourself
Ducking phone calls from friends? Skipping family get-togethers or work-related events? Do you spend most (or all!) of your free time alone? Most important of all, is this a change from your usual behavior? Red flag!
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some time to yourself. But if you’re avoiding everyone, you need to ask yourself why. Ask yourself whether this is a healthy pattern of behavior.
It’s hard for you to find things you enjoy
Developing new interests or changing activities is a natural part of life. Old hobbies might sometimes fall by the wayside. But most of us have at least one activity that we consistently enjoy and look forward to.
Mental illness can sap your ability to find pleasure in even your most beloved hobbies. If you find it tough to think of anything that brings you joy, pay attention. This could be a sign that you’re suffering from a relapse or that your treatment isn’t working the way it should.
You’re feeling (or acting) “flat”
Here’s an area where friends and family members can provide valuable insight and support! My family has told me that they can always tell when I’m not doing well. The tip-off? My voice becomes flat and monotone and I don’t show much in the way of facial expression.
It can be tough to notice this sort of thing on your own. But if the people around you mention that you always seem tired, sad, bored, or distant, consider whether they might be onto something.
You’re wishing you weren’t alive
Thinking about suicide means it’s time to get some help…now. But many people who suffer from mental illness — myself included — find it hard to tell when they’re truly in crisis. Suicidal behavior is not one-size-fits-all.
You may not be actively planning to harm yourself, but do you find yourself wishing that you would experience some sort of accident or injury? Are you thinking about how much easier things would be if you weren’t alive anymore? Even if you don’t have a plan to hurt yourself, these are important signs that it’s time to get some professional support.
Managing your mental health can be a real challenge. That’s why it’s so important to reach out for support from trusted doctors, family members, and friends. Building a community of people who will support your journey toward mental health can help keep you grounded during the tough times.
What “red flags” do you look for when it comes to monitoring your own mental health? Share your thoughts in the comments below!