How to Know When a Loved One Needs Help With Their Mental Health

Mental health disorders are a common struggle for many Americans. Although it is lessening, the stigma around mental health disorders can discourage openness about the struggles. Learning the signs and symptoms can help discover mental health disorders in your loved ones. 

It can help begin to build up the support these individuals need. Not all individuals will reach out for help. So, knowing the signs and how to get mental health help for a loved one is essential.

What are Mental Health Disorders?

Mental health disorders are brain-based disorders that impact emotions, thinking, and behaviors. There are over 200 classified types of mental illness1. Symptoms can often include changes in personal habits, personality, mood, and social withdrawal.

Mental health issues can be related to excessive stress because of a series of events or one particular situation. Like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, mental health disorders are frequently physical as well as psychological and emotional. Many people recover from or learn to cope with an emotional disorder or mental illness with treatment and proper care.

Mental Health Disorder Statistics

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness2:

Types of Mental Health Disorders

Mental health disorders are characterized by changes in thinking, feelings, and actions. Depending on the mental health disorder, different symptoms and signs may be apparent. 

Mood Disorders

Also called affective disorders, mood disorders are often associated with periods of feeling overly happy, sadness, or fluctuations between happiness and sadness. The most common type of mood disorders is bipolar disorder, depression, and cyclothymic disorder.

Mood disorders are characterized by persistent fluctuations in mood that last for at least two weeks. Mood disorders consist of all types of bipolar and depressive disorders. 

Anxiety Disorders

Individuals with anxiety disorders respond to certain situations or objects with dread and fear. They also experience physical signs of panic or anxiety, such as sweating and rapid heartbeat. Doctors will hand out an anxiety disorder diagnosis if the individual’s response isn’t appropriate for any given situation.

This is true for people who can’t control their response or if their anxiety interferes with their normal functioning. For individuals with anxiety disorders, their anxiety doesn’t go away and may even get worse with time3.

Anxiety disorders include:

Psychotic Disorders

These involve distorted thinking and awareness. Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders are common types of psychotic disorders. Paranoia, agitation, and appetite changes can be common during a psychotic episode.

Common psychotic disorder symptoms can include:

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders that involve challenging relationships with food, body image, weight, and emotional wellbeing. Eating disorders can include restricting, purging, or overeating behaviors. Based on the behaviors engaged in, a person may be diagnosed with common eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This is a condition that people can develop after they’ve experienced a terrifying and traumatic event. Such events include physical assault, sexual assault, a natural disaster, or the unexpected death of someone they love. Individuals with PTSD frequently experience lasting and frightening memories and thoughts of the event and are often emotionally numb.

According to the National Center for PTSD, around 6% of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime4. Women have a higher chance of developing PTSD than men. Some biological factors (i.e., genes) and specific aspects of traumatic events may make some individuals more likely to develop this condition than others.

Personality Disorder

Individuals with personality disorders have inflexible and extreme personality traits. These traits can be bothersome and lead to problems in school, work, or social relationships. Also, the individual’s behavior and thinking patterns differ significantly from society’s expectations. Their thinking may become so rigid that it disrupts normal functioning.

Personality disorders can include:

Addiction & Impulse Control Disorders

Individuals with impulse control disorders can’t resist impulses or urges to perform acts that may harm themselves or others. Impulse control disorders include kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (starting fires), and compulsive gambling.

Drugs and alcohol are everyday objects of addiction. In many cases, those with addiction disorders become so involved with drugs or alcohol in their addiction that they start ignoring relationships and responsibilities.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Individuals with OCD are bombarded by constant fears or thoughts that cause them to carry out specific routines or rituals. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the acts or rituals are called compulsions. An example is an individual who constantly washes their hands because of an unreasonable fear of germs.

Signs & Symptoms of Mental Illness

Different signs and symptoms may be present depending on what mental health disorder is being experienced. 

1. Sleep Problems

Some research shows up to 80% of individuals experiencing depression struggle with insomnia, or early morning awakening. These symptoms may be frequently overlooked but are highly connected signs5. If a loved one is experiencing sleep disruptions, like recurring nightmares, it could indicate posttraumatic stress or anxiety.

2. Changes in Mood

Individuals may experience a change in mood that either changes often or not enough. For instance, they could experience a lower mood than usual for them. People who are struggling may also experience feelings of numbness or a flat mood. They can also experience potentially problematic elevated moods or mania that can cause troubling decisions.

3. Appetite Changes

Suppose a person all of a sudden has a change in their appetite. Loved ones may notice eating more than usual or eating less. Appetite changes can be an indication of coping with excess stress.

4. Fraying Relationships

The person may feel disconnected. They may withdraw from social activities. They may find themselves avoiding relationships and individuals that they usually value. They may feel ashamed or guilty about this disconnection and feel a sense of sadness, loss, or missing out.

5. Excessive Fear

People may struggle with excessive fear that takes the form of worries, panic, thoughts, and physiological body sensations of fear and anxiety.  The right amount of anxiety can move a person, but too much can cause extreme stress.

6. Stress

Many people will struggle with physical symptoms of stress. These symptom clusters can vary from one individual to the other. Stress can include things like:

It often makes existing chronic medical conditions worse. Sometimes, people communicate their mental well-being and emotions through their bodies. This is particularly common in children, but adults do as well.

7. Behavioral Changes

People’s behavior changes considerably. Although it’s fine and normal to do things that bring them pleasure or relief (i.e., shopping, wine, browsing online), too much of something can affect them negatively. If it goes from leisure and fun to stress or escape from reality, it’s time for them to talk with someone.

8. Irritation

People can become irritated quickly. It’s something that’s often overlooked. Individuals may have a difficult time finding compassion, or they may be short with loved ones. They may have changes to their temperament.

In instances where they would be warm and caring, they may become cranky or blame. If a loved one is displaying these signs, they may need professional support for their mental health.

What to Do When Worried About a Loved One's Mental Health

As a concerned loved one, the last thing people want to do is make their loved one feel defensive or ashamed. Talking about mental health can trigger or make people uncomfortable with people struggling with mental health.

Loved ones may object to seeking help, particularly if they feel stigma around treatment for mental health. They may have sought help before, but it was too challenging for them. Finding a professional that will be a good fit can consume a lot of time.

Not to mention navigating other components for obtaining care. Navigating insurance is frequently frustrating when people are struggling with a mental health disorder and are seeking treatment.

Professional help is often the best option when a person’s mental health becomes more serious. Support from trained professionals can be very beneficial. However, finding the proper mental health treatment can take a lot of effort.

Choosing the Right Place & Time

Individuals shouldn’t allow a conversation to come out of a recent argument or fight. They’ll want to choose a place to talk that’s comfortable, safe, and private. For instance, the conversation shouldn’t be carried out when they’re super focused on something like a deadline. Loved ones may also consider not bringing the topic up at a family gathering or in public.

Helping with Research

It can be difficult for people struggling to start conversations about their mental health. They may feel uncomfortable raising the topic of seeking professional help or therapy. Loved ones can offer assistance by helping the person struggling to find professional support.

Helping a loved one with a mental health disorder can include:

Encourage loved ones to:

Treatments for Mental Health Disorders

When trying to help a loved one with mental health problems, it’s essential to know that there are many treatments for mental health. It is crucial to speak to a professional that can recommend the best course of treatment for the person struggling with mental health.


Often called “talk therapy,” psychotherapy is a treatment for people struggling with various mental and emotional health problems. It can help an individual feel better, perform better, and recover quicker by controlling or eliminating unpleasant symptoms of a psychiatric condition.

Whether through group therapy with supportive peers or individual sessions, psychotherapy can help decrease symptoms and help treat the root causes of mental illnesses.


Medications can be used to treat the symptoms of a mental health disorder, so if a person stops taking them, their symptoms will return. Each medication will come with its risks and benefits.

When deciding on medications, it’s about assessing the benefits and whether they outweigh the potential side effects. It can be challenging to know how a drug will affect each person individually until they try it. Medications tend to help best when they’re combined with an overall treatment plan.

When it comes to medication, it can take several weeks before the individual starts to feel better. The impact of the medication can vary based on the person taking the medication. Some individuals may have to try more than one type of medicine before finding the right one. This is normal, and perfecting a medication routine can be worth the wait.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a widely used and researched form of psychotherapy. Instead of relying on professional opinion, it depends on research-driven evidence. It’s a therapeutic method that combines behavioral therapy with cognitive therapy.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This appropriate approach backed by science allows people to control painful emotions while building healthy relationships. Along with CBT, DBT is believed to be the gold standard in emotional growth and management.

It embraces acceptance and change — two seemingly opposing-healthy choices in a challenging situation. However, it’s not so surprising and is exceptionally effective in practice. DBT was created initially for treating borderline personality disorder. Still, it’s now being used to treat several other conditions like mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, PTSD, and substance abuse disorders.

Learn How to Help Your Loved One with Mental Health

Mental health disorders can be debilitating conditions that cause challenges with mood, thinking, and behaviors. Treatment is available for mental health disorders with therapy and medication as needed. Symptoms of mental health disorders can be reduced with treatment, and daily functioning can resume.  

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health disorder symptoms, reach out today. Our providers can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of treatment methods.


  1. Mental Health America. Mental Illness and the Family: Recognizing Warning Signs and How to Cope. Retrieved August 7, 2022 from
  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Mental Health By the Numbers. Retrieved on August 7, 2022 from
  3. National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). Anxiety Disorders. Retrieved on August 7, 2022 from
  4. PTSD: National Center for PTSD. How Common Is PTSD in Adults? Retrieved on August 7, 2022 from
  5. National Library of Medicine (NIH). Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression. David Nutt, DM, FRCP, FRCPsych, FMedSci,* Sue Wilson, PhD, and Louise Paterson, PhD. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2008 Sep; 10(3): 329–336 doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2008.10.3/dnutt

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