I get a tonne of questions from loved ones regarding the subtle signs of depression and anxiety . Commonly we are aware of the more tell tale signs, but concerned loved ones are worried that they may be missing more subtle cues and failing to respond appropriately.
Most of us find it easy to discern when depression looks like sadness, unhappiness, low mood, lack of initiative and motivation and low energy levels. Accompanied with these symptoms, the person in question may readily discuss these feelings and identify as experiencing depression. Anxiety, similarly has come classic tells as well
Anxiety disorder is characterised by physical symptoms of nervousness, such as increased heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness, feeling flushed, embarrassed or blushing, hot and cold flushes, feelings of nausea, avoidance activities places and people triggering fears or nervousness and in general the acknowledgment of discomfort and anxiety related to tasks or places. Anxiety is related to thoughts fears and beliefs that activities most would consider ok. are in fact potentially frightening and/or dangerous. So experiencing such symptoms when about to sky dive would not be considered anxiety within a mental health context as this would generally be considered a frightening activity by the general population.
Some of the more subtle signs of mental distress are often mislabeled. Low energy, lack of motivation, low initiative a sense that action is futile and talking oneself out of activities or attempts to make changes can often be misattributed to laziness. Now it may well be that you would describe your pubescent adolescent or partner as lazy but we would be looking for a change in their normal pattern of “lazinesss”. So for example if your teenager can;t even be bothered going out to see friends or to the shops to look for a new outfit and this is an activity they have not been reluctant to get out and do in the past, then this may be a subtle cue that all may not be OK.
Another common symptoms of low mood, and folks I’m pretty guilty of this one, is decreased tolerance and increased frustration. While most of us easily identify sadness as a sign of depression and shyness as a sign of anxiety, increased frustration, low tolerance, impatience, and more frequent outbursts can be cues that someone’s emotional coping is being strained. Generally people just think you’re ‘angry’. It’s important to think about this in terms of someone’s normal MO. Is this current level of anger and impatience something that you would say is characteristic of their personality or has there been a change in severity and frequency.
If you observe any of these signs and are concerned its important that you try and discuss these observations with your loved one. Just knowing that someone has noticed these changes and is concerned that they may be struggling may be a very compassionate, supportive and validating place for a loved one to begin to gain some coping and address issues before they escalate. At times loved ones may not have noticed these changes themselves or even be aware that their mood may be compromised. Asking about someone’s current mood, headspace, levels of happiness, worries and concerns from a loving and genuinely caring place is a wonderful way to show love and create an environment of trust and support. And don’t worry that encouraging someone to speak about their sadness or their fears will only make them worse. Years of research has shown that being invited to speak about the very things that are at the core of how we are experiencing the world at any given moment, especially things that are causing stress or pain is our best way of experiencing connectedness and understanding.
Your loved one may need to speak with their doctor or speak with a trained psychologist or therapist. Knowing that you support this would be encouraging for them.
Sometimes though, our loved ones may not have a lot of insight or be prepared to seek help. If this occurs it may be just as important for you to seek treatment and advice. I have worked with some amazing families whom have been able to change quite a bit of the family dynamic and assist with a loved one’s mental health challenges by gaining skills in validating and supporting them and recognizing some of these more subtle signs and symptoms of their distress.
While most of us easily identify sadness as a sign of depression and shyness as a sign of anxiety, increased frustration, low tolerance, impatience, and more frequent outbursts can be cues that someone's emotional coping is being strained.