Family Member or Friend

Encouraging Loved Ones to Seek Help Early

Adults and Adolescents

It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between what expected behaviors are and what might be the signs of early serious mental illness. Especially now, with the additional stressors of COVID-19, we are seeing an increase in mental health concerns. There’s no easy test that can let someone know if there is mental illness, or if actions and thoughts might be the result of a physical illness or just typical behaviors for a person.

Each illness has its own symptoms, but common signs of early serious mental illness in adults and adolescents can include the following:

  • Excessive worrying, fear or guilt
  • Feeling extremely sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Withdrawal from friends and social activities
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Changes in sleeping habits; sleeping too much or too little
  • Excessive or ongoing irritability or anger
  • Difficulty understanding or relating to other people
  • Extreme tiredness and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits, such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Hearing, seeing, feeling and thinking things that others don’t – Visit the Signs of Early Serious Mental Illness page to learn more
  • Inability to recognize changes in one’s own behavior or personality (having a ”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Problems with alcohol, drugs or other addictive behavior
  • Hostility or violence
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • Suicidal thoughts


Mental health conditions can also begin to develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to talk about thoughts and emotions, the most obvious changes can be seen in how they behave. Signs of mental illness in children may include the following:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Constant activity, easily distracted and impulsive
  • Frequent disobedience or aggression

Where to Get Help

Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step. You can contact your primary care doctor or NAMI NH’s Information and Resource Line or view our resource page to find out what services and supports are available in your community. 

Adapted from:

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