Early Intervention: Mental Health


Warning Signs for Mental Health Illnesses

A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood; and may affect a person’s ability to function each day. Half of mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% of mental health conditions develop by 24. A teen’s emotions may vary moment by moment and may mask some of the symptoms of mental illness. Being sad for more than two weeks is not normal.  Other symptoms of mental illness can include thinking difficulties or problems focusing attention, extreme emotional highs and lows, sleep problems, difficulty with social relationships, withdrawing and not participating in activities. During the teen years, some mental health illnesses begin to be apparent. These include psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety and eating disorders, depression and suicide.


NAMI reports that in the U.S., approximately 100,000 young people experience psychosis each year and as many as 3 in 100 will have an episode at some point in their life. Psychosis usually develops gradually. Psychosis is characterized by disruptions in thoughts that make it difficult to recognize what is real or imaginary. These disruptions are often experienced as seeing, hearing, and believing things that are not real; or the thought disruptions may be having strange, persistent thoughts, behaviors and emotions. Early warning signs may be difficult to distinguish from typical teen or young adult behavior. Early warning signs include:

  • A significant drop in grades or job performance
  • Trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Suspiciousness or uneasiness with others
  • A decline in personal hygiene
  • An increase in time spent alone, withdrawing from family and friends
  • Showing strong inappropriate emotions or no emotions at all
  • Hearing, seeing, tasting or believing things that others don’t
  • Persistent, unusual thoughts or beliefs that cannot be set aside regardless of what others believe

Psychosis has a range of symptoms but typically involves hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations are seeing things that are not there, hearing voices or feeling things that aren’t there such as strange sensations or unexplainable feelings. Delusions are strong beliefs that are not consistent with the person’s culture and are unlikely to be true and seem irrational, such as believing external forces are controlling thoughts, feelings and behaviors, believing trivial remarks, events or objects have personal meaning or significance; having special powers or being on a special mission or even believing to be God.

When these warning signs appear, it is important to seek help by getting an assessment from a doctor. If the cause is related to a mental health condition, early diagnosis and treatment provide the best hope
for recovery.


Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, mange emotions, make decisions and relate to others. The onset is the late teens to early 20s for men, and the late 20s to early 30s for women.

Anxiety Disorders:

There are many types of anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders occur when feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and prevent a person from doing everyday activities. Most people develop symptoms before the age of 20. Symptoms can be confused with other medical conditions. Symptoms include:

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense or jumpy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Pounding racing heart and shortness of breath
  • Sweating, tremors and twitches
  • Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
  • Upset stomach frequent urination or diarrhea

Once other health conditions have been ruled out and a diagnosis is made by a doctor, treatment can be established.


Suicidal thoughts or behaviors are both damaging and dangerous and are therefore considered a psychiatric emergency. Someone experiencing these thoughts should seek immediate assistance from a health or mental health care provider. Having suicidal thoughts does not mean someone is weak or flawed. According to the CDC, suicide rates have increased by 30% since 1999. Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016 alone.

Warning Signs:

Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous

  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Talking, writing or thinking about death
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

Any person exhibiting these behaviors should get care immediately:

  • Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Mood shifts from despair to calm
  • Planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to complete suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medication

Should you see signs of depression or suicide in your teen, get professional help!  NAMI has provided  the following information regarding the risk and warning signs of suicide. If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional can help assess risk.

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

How can parent/caregiver access services?

It is important to know that early intervention and support are crucial to improving mental health. The National Alliance of Mental Illness of Palm Beach County provides support, education and advocacy to empower person with mental illness and their families. Their programs and services are for everyone. Click Here to find specific support programs available. You can also contact NAMIPBC at 561-588-3477.

Recommended Websites:

Namipbc.org: To learn more about specific mental health disabilities, such as psychosis, schizophrenia, eating or anxiety disorders Click Here; an overview of each disability, with treatment and supports are listed.


National Alliance for Mental Illness of Palm Beach County. About mental illness.

National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). Mental health conditions. nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide rising across the United States.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn about mental health