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I knew I needed help when . . .

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How do people know when something's not right and they should seek psychological help?

Are there common warning signs that suggest oncoming symptoms of mental illness?

The answer is yes, but sadly the signs aren't always obvious to the person experiencing them. Many people say it's easier to recognise the symptoms in hindsight.

To help you identify the warning signs, we asked ten SANE Peer Ambassadors to share how they knew they needed help.

I was suspicious of everyone

The biggest early warning sign was the fact I didn't trust anyone, this included those closest to me. Another sign was anxiety for no apparent reason, this resulted in loss of sleep.

The most obvious sign was letting negative thoughts get the best of me. Prior to my diagnosis, this self-hatred led to my lack of motivation and withdrawal from my friends and family.

Although I didn't recognise it at the time, I've come to realise these were symptoms in their early stages.

– Dom

I surrounded myself with toxic people

I started to withdraw from friends and family. I stopped all my hobbies and I started working more and more.

I also surrounded myself with toxic people, but I didn't notice at the time. I put myself into risky and unsafe situations. My thoughts also became very negative and suicidal.

– Stefani

My family told me to seek help

I put off seeking help for years. I told myself it wasn't that bad and I was being dramatic.

Sometimes the depression would ease on its own, only to come back a few months later. I dealt with it on my own for too long and ended up not being able to function. I was always good at hiding it, but then friends and family noticed and told me to get help. Now I have, I wish I'd done it years ago.

This is why it's important to speak up if you notice somebody behaving differently. They might just need that little push from you to realise they need help.

– ­Jade

My moods mixed with paranoia and rage

I was first diagnosed with depression at 14. Then, in hindsight, at 24 I had my first full blown manic attack. My mood cycled constantly from then on. I was either in an elevated, agitated mixed state, or in depression.

By the time I was 35 the mixed states, paranoia and overwhelming rage, not only scared my family and co-workers, it scared me.

– ­Nicci

I worked myself to breaking point

Leading in to my first episode I was trying to get a work transfer from Broadmeadows to Geelong. I made a couple of poor choices around my living situation in anticipation of this.

Consequently I found myself living an isolated life in police shared accommodation, started a relationship with a guy who was probably not a good influence and started working very long hours with lots of unpaid overtime. This was likely prodromal to my first psychotic episode.

As a teenager and adolescent there were many signs. Staying up all night to finish assignments so they'd be perfect. Needing medication to get through exams. Being overwhelmed with indecision to the point of having several car accidents in a week.

– Tania

I had too much energy and wasn't sleeping

I had no idea that I was becoming unwell. I hadn't even heard of bipolar! I was in my own little world. But, looking back now there were the classic symptoms.

With the depression I had a very low opinion of myself and a bleak outlook on my future. I

had suicidal thoughts and just wished at times that I would not wake up in the morning.

Nothing seemed to be going right and I felt sluggish with no energy.

On the flip side with the hypomania I had lots of energy, was getting by on very little sleep, had quicker speech, a fast flow of thoughts and would become annoyed or irritable which was out of character. I was also more reckless and spent a lot of money.

Matthew

I took a test

As part of my government job, we had to do a number of tests regarding our workplace satisfaction and health. They slid one in that I recognised was rating my mental health. Once completed I saw my overall 'score' was 17! I didn't realise I was so unwell. I'm high functioning and it took forever to convince others of my ill state with several referrals from my GP.

I quit my job under direction from my doctor and within weeks had a full breakdown that I am finally seeing the upside of 18 months later.

– Lisa

I refused to go out with my friends

One night, after my birthday dinner I completely broke down. It came out of nowhere. It took me hours to pry myself off the staircase and into bed. My mind had clouded over, I couldn't think and my limbs felt heavier.

Things deteriorated further. I stopped going out and withdrew from friends. At work, I could barely make it through the day without weeping for no reason.

It wasn't until one afternoon, when I had stayed home instead of going out with friends, that the severity of the situation hit me. My husband came home to find me in bed, in the dark, crying and contemplating suicide because I had burnt dinner.

Shortly after that, I made an appointment with my GP and I cried for the whole appointment. In hindsight, I can see the series of events that led to the deterioration in my health, but I am doing so much better now and am better equipped to manage my mental health.

­ Kelsey

The panic was overwhelming

From an early age, I experienced moments of OCD – particularly intrusive thoughts – as well as moments of bleakness, or extreme agitation.

Going into my first experience with a psychiatrist, I was suffering clusters of panic attacks. I think I knew it would always escalate and, at some point, there'd be an overload.

– Les

I broke down

My physical symptoms grew in intensity and frequency over the years. I now understand this was my body's way of alerting me to chemical and hormonal imbalances, all exacerbated by severe insomnia.

I threw myself into my work to beat it into the background. Unfortunately, this wasn't a permanent solution and my world came crashing down, physically and mentally. Weeks later I was diagnosed and everything made sense.

– Leonie

For more information about complex mental illness, call the SANE Help Centre on 1800 18 7263, or you can view SANE's Facts + Guides for concise information on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatments available.

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