The fast pace of modern life means that the odd ignored text or outburst of anger over a costly bill can go unnoticed.
But subtle changes in a loved one could be a sign that your friend is struggling with mental health issues, according to Dr. Thema Bryant, president of the American Psychological Association.
She said everyone handles stress differently, and laid out seven signs that suggest you should check in with your friend — even if the changes seem harmless.
Pictured above are seven warning signs that your friend may need your help. These are indicators and the list is by no means exhaustive
About 26 percent of Americans suffer from a mental health disorder, estimates suggest. But there are signs that this level may rise nationwide.
This week, the CDC reported that suicide has become the second leading cause of death for those under age 35.
They gave no reason for this, but rather experts blamed the economic and psychological impact of the pandemic.
Slow to respond to texts
Dr. Bryant told DailyMail.com that one of the most common signs that someone is struggling emotionally is when they start to shut themselves off.
These can be simple signals, such as taking longer to respond to text messages or seeing friends less often.
“If you haven’t heard from them in a while or if they usually respond but not anymore. (You can see) the change based on SMS frequency.”
She explained, “If they were usually someone they responded to within a day, when more than a day has passed now, or within an hour and now several hours have passed, that means a change from what you normally communication level would have been.’
People may isolate themselves when they are depressed as a coping mechanism, giving them more control over their lives, or because they feel overwhelmed.
Picking at skin, hair or nails
Another warning sign that all is not well is regular picking at skin, hair or nails.
Experts say the repetitive behavior is often caused by a feeling of tension or anxiety that is relieved by picking.
Skin picking is a medically recognized condition called dermatillomania. It is estimated that one in 20 people will develop the condition at some point in their lives.
Dr. Thema said people may start picking out parts of their bodies because they “don’t have a word to describe their suffering and so express it physically.”
Many people choose their bodies, but signs that someone is picking because of emotions could be that they do it without realizing it or that it happens when they are angry or stressed.
The picking may also result in cuts, bleeding, or bruising, or someone may pick at moles, freckles, or pimples to smooth them out.
It can be tempting to overlook a downhearted comment from a friend while enjoying a cup of coffee or a meal.
But Dr. Thema urged people to sit up and pay attention to comments like “why would anyone hire me.”
She told DailyMail.com that emotionally troubled friends might say things like, “Oh, why would anyone hire me” or “Nobody wants to date me because I’m the worst.”
“(It is) when people report a sense of hopelessness or powerlessness, a sense that things would never get better.
“They may also have lost the pleasure of doing things they used to enjoy, but not anymore.”
Pets or children are terrified of it
If someone’s child or pet seems to be afraid of them, it may indicate that they are struggling emotionally.
Dr. Thema said that when people are stressed or feel like they’ve hit a dead end, they tend to bottle up their emotions and then take them out on those closest to them.
“Some take out their frustration on other people or even their pet,” she told DailyMail.com.
“Abusing a pet or child could be because, say, they feel powerless and stressed at work and they come home and take all that frustration out on family members.
“Someone’s dog or cat looks scared in a way that doesn’t seem right (could also be a sign).”
She said that in many situations, people won’t say anything because they think to themselves “their family, their business.”
But if you’re close enough to someone, it’s worth pointing out that there’s another way to deal with what they’re going through.
Sudden weight loss or weight gain
Dr. Thema said a more common warning sign of mental health problems may be a sudden weight swing.
Depressed people may eat less because of negative emotions or a loss of interest in activities they enjoy.
Conversely, they may also eat more to cope with emotions and because they have become less active.
Are overbearing parents responsible for the explosion of mental problems in children?
Overbearing parents fuel an explosion of mental health problems in children, a study suggests.
A Florida research team found that parents’ good intentions deprived their children of essential time to play independently, to roam, and to participate in activities.
In an analysis of 80 studies, researchers found that since the 1970s, children have been less able to play independently, consistent with a sharp increase in depression and anxiety over that period.
Now nine out of ten school administrators say their students suffer from moderate or severe mental health problems.
Dr. David Bjorklund, a psychologist at Florida Atlantic University, just north of Miami, who led the research, said: ‘Parents are getting regular messages these days about the dangers that can befall unsupervised children and the value of high achievement in school.
‘But they hear little of the opposing reports that children, in order to grow up well-adjusted, need more and more opportunities for independent activities.
“(This includes) self-directed play and meaningful contributions to family and community life, which are signs that they are trusted, responsible and capable.”
Dr. Thema said, “I’ve had some people lose weight when they were depressed and everyone kept supplementing them, so it was really hard for them when they had all this positive affirmation.”
At the same time, weight gain can be caused by depression. So instead of a compassionate response, it becomes a depression, so really that person is already struggling and then they have more on top of it.’
Piling things up at home can also be a sign that someone is struggling emotionally, said Dr. Theme.
These can be items that can give them comfort, security, or a sense of control, such as clothes, books, or sentimental items.
Hoarding can be a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotions, said Dr. Thema, or it can provide a sense of relief from negative feelings.
Sudden snapping at small things
If a friend has a sudden tantrum over little things like an expensive bill, it could be a sign that they’re having a hard time emotionally.
Dr. Thema said you could see a tantrum when someone seemed to have an out of proportion anger response to something relatively minor.
She said it could also mean kids are taking too long to tie their shoelaces.
What should I do for a friend who is going through a hard time?
If you’ve read the above and noticed that one of your friends might need help, Dr. Thema said there are several things you can do.
First of all, she said it was important to calmly check in with a friend without making assumptions.
She told DailyMail.com, “You could say, you know, ‘oh, I hear from you most of the time and you don’t respond, so I just wanted to make sure you’re okay,'” she said.
‘If it’s really nothing and they’re having a busy day, they’ll just say so. If it’s nothing, the person will say I have this workday and that, you didn’t offend them, you just asked.
“But if it’s a little more serious, they might let you know.”
If a friend points out that something more serious is going on, there are a few things you can do.
This includes listening to their problems without judgement, being there for them and also offering acts of kindness.
Dr. Thema said this could include buying them a meal. For example, you can call one day and say that you are ordering and want to get something for them too, because you know how difficult they are.
If they have children, that could include providing childcare, or if they’ve lost their job, it could mean being referred for a new one.
What if this describes me?
If you’ve read the above and thought “oh god, that’s me,” Dr. Thema said don’t panic.
“If you find yourself stressed or possibly depressed or overwhelmed, I want to say the first step is the acknowledgment.
“So many of us are so busy taking care of other people or our professional responsibilities, but realizing that I’m exhausted is the first step.”
Tips she offered to help with negative feelings included making time for yourself to relax during the day.
Other strategies include not working late at night or being on social media late at night and keeping a consistent sleep schedule.
Exercise can also help lift mood, she said, including doing it in a group because it gives you a chance to interact with others.