Have you ever felt like a friend or family member was struggling with something unseen, even if they say they are okay? Maybe it’s a gut feeling, but there are also behavioral changes, sometimes very subtle ones, to watch out for. Multiple studies and articles show a link between these behaviors and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Disclaimer: This article is for general guidance and is based on personal opinions. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. We advise you to consult a mental health professional for professional advice.
With that in mind, below we’ll discuss 7 subtle signs that someone’s not okay.
1. Sudden outbursts of emotion
Sudden mood swings, such as outbursts of anger or breaking into tears, can be signs that someone has unseen struggles. If they are seemingly overreacting to something small, this might stem from a reaction to something big which they’ve been trying to repress.
Psychologist Shannon Kolakowski states that “Experiencing irritability, hostility, anger, and being sensitive to rejection are all common symptoms when depressed…Other emotions such as sadness, shame, or helplessness often underlie the irritability, but irritability is what shows up on the surface.”(Walton 2015)
Stressful situations often trigger a “fight or flight” response, and the “fight” response can lead to outbursts of emotion as the person is trying to push away their loved ones in an attempt to protect them.
2. Being withdrawn or uninterested
Is your normally bubbly friend suddenly not wanting to hang out anymore? Or do they appear uninterested in their hobbies?
The alternative to the “fight” response is the “flight” response. This results in the person becoming very closed off from their friends and family and avoiding activities they previously enjoyed. When they think they are undeserving of love or joy, they resign themselves to the bare minimum and try to make themselves invisible. They may also be worried about harming their relationship with others and attempt to cut ties to protect their loved ones from their own inner turmoil.
3. Disregard to their physical health
Similar to becoming uninterested in social interactions or activities, a person may even disregard their physical health as they no longer have the energy to follow their normal routine.
The National Institutes of Health show a link between disruptions in eating and sleeping schedules (whether eating much more or less or sleeping much more or less) and the development or increased severity of depression. (Simmons et al., 2016; Al-Abri, 2015)
The person can also start overworking themselves in an effort to distract themselves from the struggle they’re facing, though this will only lead to burnout and further stress.
4. Perfectionism and Guilt
Do you notice someone apologizing for the tiniest of mistakes, even if it’s not their fault?
Perfectionism and guilt go hand in hand. Anxiety and overthinking often lead to seeing the world in absolutes, where everything is either a success or a failure. When a person falls into this habit, they can feel immense guilt or regret over any of their actions which they perceive as flawed or imperfect. They also will see other mistakes as a result of their actions and take the blame for those, even when it is not their fault.
5. A negative outlook on life
A need for constant perfection not only leads to feelings of extreme guilt but often a pessimistic approach to life. The person picks out only the negatives in their actions, further berating themselves for not reaching their high expectations.
What the person thinks is a “realistic” take on life may spiral into intense pessimism, leading to other mental health conditions such as imposter syndrome. Similar to previous signs mentioned, this can result from them believing that they are unworthy of love or positivity.
6. Not wanting to talk about themself
Does your loved one keep brushing off your inquiries into their well-being, or keep saying, “I’m fine”?
This is one of the first steps a person takes to withdraw themselves from social interactions (number 2), as they try to push away their loved ones.
This may be because they think they would be a burden to others by talking about their struggles. If they do mention something about themselves, it often is coated in a sense of forced positivity.
7. Exaggerated or forced happiness
While some people will become much more pessimistic, others attempt to conceal their feelings by putting on a facade of positivity.
Psychologist Suzanne Roff-Wexler refers to it as “toggling”, stating that “The depression is real and does not go away with a positive experience but it seems briefly alleviated, later to return. Think of it as toggling between being depressed and then not feeling depressed given outside circumstances.”(Walton 2015)
Even though this may seem like a good change, it may only be the result of a temporary positive experience that has lifted their spirits for a while. Similar to avoiding personal conversation (number 6), they may be trying to hide their true emotions in an effort to not bother their loved ones.
Do you recognize any of these behaviors in a loved one? Try to engage in an honest and empathetic conversation about their experiences and emotions. A healthy relationship built on trust and support is key to having vulnerable conversations such as these. Let them know that you are there for them and that they don’t need to push you away.
Or do you notice that you are subconsciously experiencing these behavioral changes yourself? Try and reach out to trusted family, friends, or a mental health professional for guidance.
Remember that reaching out for help or guidance is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength and self-awareness when you do the best thing to help yourself grow.
Al-Abri, M. A. (2015, January 21). Sleep deprivation and depression. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318605/
healthdirect. (2021, March). Nine signs of mental health issues. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/signs-mental-health-issue
Leonard, J., & Legg, T. J. (2019, June 19). Recognizing the hidden signs of depression. MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325513
Simmons, W. K., Burrows, K., Avery, J. A., Kerr, K. L., Bodurka, J., Savage, C. R., & Drevets, W. C. (2016, January 22). Depression-related increases and decreases in appetite reveal dissociable patterns of aberrant activity in reward and interoceptive neurocircuitry. National Institutes of Health. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17362430/
Walton, A. G. (2015, February 17). Depression isn’t always what you think: The subtle signs. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/17/the-subtle-symptoms-of-depression/?sh=79d7b8ec1a3e