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What does having a mental health problem look like?

Whilst it may at first be hard to comprehend, there is usually no ‘look’ for mental health problems. Many people who suffer from mental health problems unfortunately do so without sharing this with people and hide it from the outside world. To do this they may wear a metaphorical mask so that their appearance to the outside world is that everything is fine.

In these instances those suffering from mental health problems do not look any different to the general public. This highlights that if somebody comes to you suffering from a mental health problem, whatever they look like does not reflect the severity of their condition and where possible you should support them to get help. What a person with mental health problems looks like can also change from day to day and from person to person which again means it is difficult to describe one look that a person may have. On days where a person is suffering from more intense symptoms then they are likely to stay at home and therefore the only people to see them when their symptoms are at their worst are their close family or friends who they may live with.

If you do suspect a close friend or family member is suffering with a mental health problem there may be signs in their physical appearance. If you do notice this then we would encourage you to support this person in getting help. Many people with mental health problems will likely have affected sleep patterns and so you may start noticing that a person appears to look more fatigued than usual, especially around their eyes. You may also notice drastic changes in weight as mental health problems can also affect a person’s diet. This weight change may be a direct or indirect result of a condition and can be both an increase and decrease in weight. You may also notice a person’s general appearance may become more dishevelled and unkempt. Many illnesses can cause people to feel lethargic and disinterested in their appearance causing their hygiene and appearance to decline. Whilst it may be easy to judge somebody on their general appearance, keep in mind that they may be experiencing mental distress and so need support rather than criticism at this difficult time.

A person suffering from mental health problems is likely to show certain types of behaviours, especially when they are experiencing the worst of their symptoms. As with all other aspects of mental health, this will vary depending on the person and on the condition they are suffering with. Common behaviours that may be exhibited are seclusion, by this we mean a person may keep more to themselves than usual, they may be quieter and may stay away from social situations. On the other end of this spectrum a person may become more erratic with their behaviour and may be unable to focus; instead bouncing from one idea to the next with little structure to the thoughts. A person with mental health problems may also appear anxious and agitated in everyday situations. Signs of this may be increased movement, such as tapping on the leg, increased perspiration and increased alertness. They may also try to avoid social situations as much as possible and may become irritable very quickly. Sometimes anxiety can also cause people to become upset and so you may witness behaviours such as teary eyes.

It is important to keep in mind that all these physical behaviours and appearance changes can also be the result of a number of factors other than mental health problems and, as such, it may be best to discuss your concerns with anybody who you feel may be exhibiting the signs mentioned here.

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