What are the signs of psychiatric need? How can you ever tell if someone is in need of help? Is it by the way that they look, talk, or behave? Perhaps. Does the individual have to look disheveled or depressed? For many people these are the signs of the mental health need. But for mental health professionals it can be very difficult to decipher between an individual who does not care for themselves and an individual who needs psychiatric intervention. It’s a very tricky situation.
Working in a psychiatric hospital I had a lot of patients who had quite serious looks upon them. Some individuals looked like very well put together businessmen and women, others looked like they were extraordinarily dependent substance abusers, and still some others looked just average. It’s very difficult to visually determine if someone needs psychiatric help. But there are five things I encourage all families, individuals, or even caregivers to consider:
1. Restless behavior: the fact that an individual is restless alone doesn’t necessarily say that that person needs psychiatric attention. There are a lot of days that many of us are restless. Life alone, your job alone, or your relationships can make you restless. But if that restlessness takes over an individual’s behavior so much that they appear anxious, disheveled, or simply out of control, mental health intervention may be needed.
2. Agitation and frustration: again everybody can get agitated and everybody can get frustrated. But it’s when that agitation and frustration is unfounded, unnecessary, and disruptive to people around the individual, that psychiatric intervention may be needed.
3. Increased substance abuse: an individual who is a substance abuser can demonstrate restless behavior, agitation, and frustration. It can be difficult to distinguish between a natural emotional reaction to life or behavior as a result of substance abuse. But if you are looking at an individual who has picked up greater amounts of alcohol, marijuana, over-the-counter prescription medication, or other drugs, intervention may be needed. Substance abusers typically lack coping skills, so their way of coping is usually to increase the amount of drugs that they take in. If you observe increased drug abuse, intervention is typically needed.
4. Depressed mood: sometimes it’s very difficult for us to determine how tired we are, how much intervention we may need, or even how much sleep and relaxation we have neglected in our lives. Individuals who are hard-pressed, may lack the ability to know when it’s time to pull over. Therefore, it is important that people on the outside who care for this individual keep their eyes peeled for strange behavior. Someone who is repeatedly depressed, crying often, unable to sleep or sleeping too much, eating too much or not eating enough, exhibit a in irritability for no apparent reason, picking fights, or simply hopeless, is usually in need of intervention.
5. Isolation: some individuals are natural loners. Some individuals are natural introverts. Some people, including myself, appreciate alone time and time to reflect upon our own emotions, our own thoughts, our own goals, and maybe even our future direction. However, there are some individuals who isolate more often than normal when they are in need of help. If an individual is depressed, increasing their substance use, feeling agitated at the drop of a hat, or even feeling hopeless about life, it is easy for them to isolate. You want to be careful not to put pressure on the person who is isolating to become extroverted. Sometimes this makes matters worse. But I encourage you to ask your loved one if they are going through a tough time.
It is important to understand how to identify someone who is in need. It’s not going to always be easy to identify someone based on how they look, how they sound, on the fact that they go to work every day, on the fact that they go to school every day, on the fact that they get good grades, or that they make a lot of money. Determining whether someone is in need of psychiatric help takes discernment, compassion, and rapport. Building rapport means building a relationship with the individual so they can feel comfortable enough to come to you and express their deepest need. This is the only way sometimes that you’re going to determine if need is present. I do encourage you, however, to use both your eyes and your sense of discernment in determining when psychiatric need is present.
I wish you all the best