Signs of Mental Illness

Signs and indicators of mental illness:

What to do

  • Agitation
  • Being overly loud
  • Vacant or seemingly preoccupied (‘spaced out’)
  • Pacing
  • Inappropriately dressed (e.g. wearing a coat and a beanie when it’s 35 degrees)
  • Withdrawn
  • Paralysed or stuck to the same spot for a longtime
  • Displaying signs of paranoia

All these can be warning signs that a person is unwell. People who are experiencing acute symptoms have a lot going on in their mind already; therefore it is important to decrease stimulation by:

  • Stay calm
  • Talk quietly
  • Keep surrounding noise (radios, intercoms) to a minimum
  • Keep surrounding environments clam
  • Reduce the number of people
  • Give the person time. Slow down and be patient

People who are experiencing acute symptoms of mental illness may be fearful

Avoid any initial feelings you have of control/authority/demand/anger;

  • Do not intimidate;
  • Be quietly confident yourself;
  • Avoid confrontation by creating situations in which you are doing things alongside that person;
  • An example of this is to sit next to them rather than in front or behind, sit in an open area with little stimulation.

People with acute psychotic symptoms such as loss of reality believe that their delusions or hallucinations are real.

Avoid disputing their reality. You can’t reason with delusion;

  • Do not encourage or inflame paranoia;
  • Validate their feelings, e.g. “it must be frightening for you…” this will build trust and avoid arguments


People experiencing acute symptoms are often unable to think clearly.

Avoid too much discussion about the situation – in most cases the realities are different;

  • Explain your position and what you are obliged to do and assist;
  • Explain what you are going to do and ask them to sit down quietly;
  • Keep it to the ‘now’ situation;
  • Take small steps to solve the immediate problem;
  • Communicate each step you are taking. When that is done “Now, you wanted me to call your friend…”;
  • Ask if there is someone the person would like you to contact to help the situation. It can be helpful for you to speak to that person to get more information and tips about handling the situation;
  • Take small steps at solving the immediate problem; don’t attempt too much.