15 March, 2021

Mental ill health - understanding the signs

MetLife 360Health
Major mental illnesses rarely appear out of the blue. There are often small changes or feelings that ‘something is not quite right’ about people’s thinking, feelings or behaviours. It’s important that we understand what to look for and what to do.

At this time of social distancing we need to be even more mindful of understanding the symptoms of mental ill health so that we can support each other and stay connected as best we can. With such a substantial change in our lives, it's likely many of us will have some fear and anxiety – this is normal. When it starts to impact our life, we need to ensure we take action. With social isolation, it's harder for others to see some of these signs and therefore it's critical to stay in contact via voice and, where possible, video as well as looking for these signs in yourself.

The critical steps are:

  1. Don't be shy to ask colleagues, friends and family how they're going mentally – and listen.
  2. Don't be afraid to share your own feelings on how you're going mentally if asked.
  3. Do reach out to others if you're concerned about yourself to people you know and trust.

Looking out for others

One or two of these things can't predict a mental illness, but may be prompts to stay in closer contact and ask more questions. If you're concerned, be open, honest and try to get them to seek help.

Things you can hear

When on a call with a colleague, friend or family – listen carefully for any changes to normal such as:

  1. Emotional outbursts
    Rapid or dramatic changes in emotions or unusual anger or laughter.
  2. Quiet or withdrawn
    When communicating you sense a drop in their interaction or a loss of interest in something you know would normally engage them.
  3. Problems thinking
    Noticing a loss of concentration, illogical speech or they're finding it hard to explain things.
  4. Apathy
    Failure to participate in calls or cancelling continually.
  5. Illogical thinking
    Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about what's happening and unrealistic thoughts.
  6. Nervousness
    Suspiciousness, changed voice, flat or monotone speech.

Things you can ask

It is critical that we ask questions about people's wellbeing even when we think that they're well as sometimes it's what you can't see or hear that's having a greater impact. So try asking:

  1. How is your sleep?
    Sleep is critical for our health and lack of sleep or poor sleep patterns could be a sign of mental ill health.
  2. How is your appetite?
    Large changes in appetite either up or down can be a sign that something's not quite right.
  3. Are you drinking more?
    If you have concerns, and feel there are a number of signs, you shouldn't be afraid to ask this one. Share your thoughts and support and listen.
  4. How is your mental health?
    Some people just need to be asked. In the current circumstances, we should not be afraid to ask if someone is ok and even ask if they're feeling anxious or depressed. We need to remove the stigma and share our feelings.
  5. Can I help you?
    Sometimes people will share that they want your help or need your help.

Things you can see

Try to connect with friends, colleagues and family via a video platform so you can see them and look for:

  1. Unusual behaviours
    More fidgeting than usual, not looking at you, continual hand movements that are different to normal. Look for things that are uncharacteristic.
  2. Change in appearance
    Rapid weight gain or weight loss. Unusual reduction in self grooming.
  3. Drop in functioning
    An unusual drop in work performance, output, engagement in things that are of interest.

Where to get help if you think you or someone else needs it?

If you, or someone you know needs help and are not coping, here are some links and numbers to contact. Reaching out is winning, it should not be considered defeat:

  • R U OK? (resources to help start life-saving conversations)

REMEMBER: Listen, Look and Ask.


360Health provides solutions to help prevent and manage serious illnesses at every stage of your health journey so that you can live healthier for longer. MetLife 360Health, your health partner.