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Mental Health Warning Signs: A List of 43 to Recognize

Updated on August 16, 2014
Blake Flannery profile image

Blake has worked in the mental health field since 2002 educating and inspiring hope on the journey toward recovery.

You're on Thin Ice When You Notice Warning Signs

The Importance of Knowing Warning Signs

Recognizing warning signs is one of the most important steps in managing mental wellness. Knowing your own personal and specific signs and symptoms gives you a chance to catch what could become a crisis situation before it gets unmanageable.

Knowing your warning signs could mean the difference between managing your illness outside the hospital and having to be stabilized in the hospital. It could mean the difference between keeping yourself safe and self injuring. It could be the difference between having a psychotic break and staying stable.

The recovery process will include ups and downs, but wellness can be achieved by smoothing out the challenging times with coping skills and supportive strengths.

Many Signs to Recognize

Most people have several warning signs that alert them to upcoming possible danger.
Most people have several warning signs that alert them to upcoming possible danger.

List of Warning Signs

This is a list of mental health warning signs. As you read through this list, you can make note of those that occur leading up to a crisis.

Think back to the times that you have required the highest level of treatment due to a crisis. Some of these warning signs may have happened before things totally fell apart for you. These include emotional, mental, and behavioral warning signs.

  1. Anxiety and Fears
  2. Appetite Changes
  3. Arguing Frequently
  4. Becoming Obsessed with Something Trivial
  5. Being Uncaring, Aggressive, or Pushy
  6. Difficulty Concentrating
  7. Drinking or Using Drugs More than Usual
  8. Eating Too Much or Too Little
  9. Feeling Discouraged about the Future
  10. Feeling Guilty or Ashamed
  11. Feeling Needy
  12. Feeling Unconnected to My Body
  13. Feeling Slowed Down or Sped Up
  14. Feeling Worthless, Lost, or Depressed
  15. Feeling Too Excited
  16. Feeling that Others are Trying to Hurt You
  17. Frequent Aches or Pains
  18. Forgetfulness
  19. Having Bad Dreams
  20. Having Trouble Making Decisions
  21. Inability to Experience Pleasure
  22. Irrational Thought Patterns
  23. Irritability
  24. Isolating or Avoiding Others
  25. Lack of Motivation
  26. Loss of Interest in Appearance
  27. Losing Interest in Doing Things
  28. Losing or Gaining a lot of Weight
  29. Missing Appointments
  30. Mood Changes
  31. Negativity
  32. Neglecting Children or Pets
  33. Nervousness
  34. People Telling You that They are Concerned
  35. Preoccupation with Sexual Thoughts
  36. Problems with Police
  37. Racing Thoughts
  38. Restlessness
  39. Seeing or Hearing Things Other Don’t
  40. Sleeping Too Much or Too Little
  41. Stop Taking Medications
  42. Thoughts of Hurting Self or Others
  43. Unwanted Thoughts

Early Warning Signs Help Prevention of Crisis Events

When early warning signs happen, keep alert to any unexpected changes.
When early warning signs happen, keep alert to any unexpected changes.

Early Vs. Late Warning Signs

Picture a car coming up to a cliff with early and later warning signs. Some warning signs may come way before any real dangerous situations, while others happen just before a crisis event.

Think about the severity of the symptoms or behaviors. Usually the more disruption a warning sign causes means the later that warning sign happens. The benefit of early warning signs is that, if caught early and acted upon, much of the distress of later warning signs can be avoided or managed more safely.

Examples of Early Vs. Late Warning Signs

Early Warning Signs
Late Warning Signs
Problems with Police
Neglecting Children or Pets
Stop Taking Medicine
Think about the consequences of the early warning signs in contrast to the late warning signs.

Which Should You Focus on?

Which is more important to recognize?

See results

Have a Plan in Place

You must have a plan in place that is set up to take you to a safe place when you can no longer mange yourself safely.
You must have a plan in place that is set up to take you to a safe place when you can no longer mange yourself safely.

Create a Safety Plan for Your Warning Signs

Once you have come to recognize your warning signs, the next step is to put a safety plan into place. This safety plan should take into account your specific needs. It should involve getting help from at least one other trusted person. And it should be very direct and specific.

Choose from a long list of coping skills that can help with depression, anger, addiction, or other distressing and potentially crisis producing mental health issues. Make a plan that can be executed in an emergency with only a few steps. Here's an example:

1. Call my support person ___________.

2. Arrange the get help with my daily responsibilities.

3. Call and schedule an appointment with my doctor or therapist to report the changes I'm noticing and any medication issues I'm having.

Once you have a short-term emergency plan in place. You can strategize for the long-term by building specific activities into your day that will help you maintain your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Also develop a plan to help you learn more through mental health group education. Many group therapy topics such as improving communication through assertiveness can help you learn to manage stress.


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    • Blake Flannery profile image

      Blake Flannery 3 years ago from United States


      Thanks for the comment. I encourage people to share their warning signs and crisis plans with their support people as well. Those are the people who will help them notice the warning signs, and then they'll help them enact the crisis/safety plan. Having a supportive person can make a huge difference. This is an essential piece of the recovery process.

    • janshares profile image

      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      I like the self-help focus here, Blake. As a mental health provider, I am usually assessing the warning signs after-the-fact, to create an intervention or treatment plan. I like the concept of teaching the client to assess his/her own warning signs to begin addressing them sooner than later. It also helps them to have the language to report them to the doctor or therapist making them a partner in their treatment. Voted up, useful, and interesting. Thanks for this one.

    • profile image

      Charles 3 years ago

      I find the government much more responsible for this most of the mental breakdowns. This happens in most policies especially those that involve the minorities. You will find peoples problems started when they lost a job, a broken relationship due to losing a job. Either way mental illness has more to do with money or being asked to pay what you do not have or do not think it is fair.Like TV licence

    • Life Coach Cyndy profile image

      Cyndy Adeniyi 3 years ago from Georgia

      The list is helpful because it is so inclusive. I will be sharing this with my clients. I agree with carol7777 though. One needs to also examine if the symptoms are lasting and if they are interfering with daily life.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 4 years ago

      Very useful information. If not for oneself, then for someone else.

    • Purpose Embraced profile image

      Yvette Stupart PhD 4 years ago from Jamaica

      Blake, thanks for the informative hub. People suffer from many types of mental health problems with a wide variety of signs and symptoms. It is important that they recognize the signs, and take steps to manage the problem, for example, through psychotherapy.

    • aparkhurst7 profile image

      aparkhurst7 4 years ago from Wilkes Barre, PA West Hartford, CT

      After Sandy Hook and Aurora, this information is really useful. The movie theater shooting could have easily been avoided if people opened their eyes.

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 4 years ago from USA

      The way the world moves these days I think we all tend to push aside these warning signs until things get far worse than they really ought to be. As you say, recognizing them for what they are when they present it a key to putting on the brakes before that car goes off the cliff.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 4 years ago from Lancashire, England

      I'm all for prevention of mental health problems and a focus on maintaining well-being.

      You provide a useful raft of early warning signs and, as you rightly say, it is about recognizing the indicators that apply to each of us.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      This is quite a list and I think many of us have attested to several of these from time to time..however they are not lasting. Thanks for providing this list and hopefully others will ready and understand what is going on in their lives.

    • Blake Flannery profile image

      Blake Flannery 4 years ago from United States

      Conservative Lady,

      I would be very satisfied if someone can recognize warning signs without having to do it the hard way.

      Unfortunately, it can take a breakdown before a person can trace back what events contributed and lead to the crisis. That's part of the learning process that contributes to recovery.

    • Conservative Lady profile image

      Sheila 4 years ago from Surprise Arizona - formerly resided in Washington State

      This is useful information - I truly hope that it reaches even one person and helps them turn their crisis around before it is too late. Voted up and useful.