What To Do If You Love Someone with Psychological Red Flags
Psychological red flags and warning signs are behaviors or thought patterns that may indicate a potential mental health problem. It’s important to note that not all red flags indicate that someone has a mental health problem; however, if they persist or cause significant distress, they may be worth paying attention to and seeking professional help.
Here are a few common psychological red flags and warning signs to be aware of:
- Extreme mood swings: A person who experiences sudden and extreme mood changes, such as going from happy to sad or angry in a short period of time, may be struggling with a mood disorder. It might appear that the person goes from zero to one hundred and has no “buffer” when something happens that causes them stress.
- Isolation from social activities: A person who stops participating in activities they once enjoyed or avoids social interactions may be experiencing depression or anxiety.
- Difficulty managing emotions: A person who has difficulty regulating their emotions, such as lashing out in anger or crying frequently, may be struggling with regulating their emotions.
- Persistent negative thoughts: Negative thoughts that persist and cannot be shaken off, such as feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, may be a sign of depression.
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits: A person who experiences significant changes in their eating or sleeping habits, such as overeating or insomnia, may be experiencing a mental health concern.
- Self-harm or suicidal thoughts: A person who expresses suicidal thoughts or engages in self-harm behaviors is at risk for suicide and should seek immediate help. This is oftentimes confused with seeking attention or as a joke, but it never hurts to say, “are you being serious or are you joking around”? Many times, someone just needs to know that the person they are talking to will take their request for help seriously. Always clarify what the person is saying and their intentions with the comment! Sometimes a cry for help isn’t a “cry,” it could be hiding in a joke.
Most of these signs are primarily relevant to adults, but children might also display many of these red flags and more. Many times, children experience “symptoms” of mental health distress in relation to abuse or neglect at home. This post discusses children’s mental health in regard to behaviors seen with neglect or abuse. Keep in mind, that some children and adults show very subtle signs and symptoms. So, if your instinct is telling you something is off, keep monitoring warning signs, providing support and communicating until the person is ready to seek help.
In some cases, you may need to disclose the information you have to someone that can help professionally to ensure the person in question is going to be safe and that they do not hurt themselves or others. If someone discloses that they intend to hurt themselves or others, please do not leave them and call the crisis line or 911 (resources below). When in doubt, ask a professional.
It’s important to remember that mental health issues are complicated, and that multiple factors can influence a person’s behavior or thinking. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these red flags or warning signs, it is critical that you seek professional assistance. A mental health professional can assess the situation and advise on how to best support the individual. I have included numerous resources below.
The next question is, what do you do if you love someone with psychological red flags?
If know someone who is displaying psychological red flags, it can be difficult to know how to best support them. Here are a few things you can do immediately:
- Encourage them to seek professional help: If the person is willing to talk about their concerns, encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional. A therapist or counselor can help them understand their symptoms and develop a plan for managing them. There are so many wonderful resources available today and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home now.
- Be patient and understanding: People with mental health concerns may need extra support and patience. Try to be understanding of their struggles and offer your support in a non-judgmental way. Please DO NOT say “just get over it.”
- Take care of yourself: It is important to take care of yourself while you’re supporting someone else. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in activities that make you happy. Caregiver burnout is a real thing.
- Learn about the person’s condition: If the person is willing to talk about their condition, try to learn as much as you can about it. This can help you understand what they’re going through and how you can best support them.
- Communicate openly and honestly: Communication is key in any relationship. Talk openly and honestly with the person about your concerns and listen to their perspective.
- Be aware of your own limitations: It’s important to recognize your own limitations and boundaries. It’s not healthy for anyone to take on too much responsibility for someone else’s mental health. Only they can truly help themselves. Ultimately, they have to do the work and take action to help themselves.
- Be aware of their safety: If the person is expressing suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harm behaviors, it’s important to seek immediate help. In such scenarios, it’s important to ensure the person’s safety by contacting emergency services or a medical professional.
What are the things you should avoid doing if you want to help someone with signs of mental health issues?
It is VERY important to be mindful of your actions and avoid certain behaviors that may be harmful. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Ignoring the problem: Ignoring the person’s mental health concerns or telling them to “just get over it” or “everyone has problems, deal with it” can be hurtful and unhelpful. It’s important to acknowledge the person’s struggles and offer your support. Also, the commonly heard saying, “stop blaming ___” for your emotions or behavior (parents do this often). Sometimes people really do have factors that have contributed to their current state of being. It is hard to mentally re-route how things are being processed in your brain, if that’s the only way you have done it your whole life. What might be easy for some, does not mean it is easy for others. There is definitely a fine line between enabling and helping. The main point is that it’s not always one size fits all regarding someone’s mental health.
- Being judgmental: People with mental health concerns may already feel judged or misunderstood. Avoid making negative comments or being critical of the person’s behavior or feelings.
- Being overprotective: While it’s important to be supportive, being overly protective or controlling can be harmful. The person needs to learn to take care of themselves and make their own decisions. Patience goes a long way.
- Making assumptions: Each person’s experience with mental health is unique. Avoid making assumptions about the person’s condition or what they need. You should never tell someone how they should feel, especially it that’s the way you feel. For example, I should not tell someone who is scared of the dark, that it’s no big deal and they should not be afraid of the dark because it’s illogical. Who are you to assume that the dark is not terrifying for someone else?
- Giving unsolicited advice: While you may have good intentions, giving unsolicited advice can be frustrating for the person the advice is intended for. It’s important to listen and let them lead the conversation. Asking open ended questions is a good place to start. You can even ask if your advice is wanted or if they just need an ear to listen.
- Blaming the person: Mental health issues are not the person’s fault. Avoid blaming them for their condition or suggesting that they could “just snap out of it.”
- Minimizing their feelings: It is important to take the person’s feelings seriously, even if they seem irrational or exaggerated to you. Avoid minimizing their concerns or telling them that they’re overreacting.
- Ignoring their boundaries: Each person has different needs and boundaries. It’s important to respect the person’s wishes and not force them to do anything they’re not comfortable with (unless they are an imminent danger to themselves or others).
Remember, supporting someone with mental health issues can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity to show love and compassion. Be mindful of your own actions and approach to the person, and always seek professional help when necessary.
When to get emergency help
If you think you may hurt yourself, someone else or attempt suicide, call 911 in the U.S. or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you’re having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your doctor or mental health professional. Or 211 to speak to a live person about mental health options.
- Contact a suicide hotline.
- In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential.
- U.S. veterans or service members who are in crisis can call 988 and then press “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line. Or text 838255. Or chat online.
- The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1–888–628–9454 (toll-free).
- Numerous Apps are now available to talk with someone in the privacy of your own home. Click here for a free app list. Other Apps include: Talkspace, BetterHelp, and Sanvello.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If you have a loved one who is in danger of suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room. DO NOT leave them alone.