Is Someone You Love Struggling Mentally? Easy Ways to Check on Someone’s Mental Health

Mental illness or instability isn’t cut and dry. It presents itself in various ways, and it isn’t always easy to tell if someone you know is struggling. Luckily, there are a few things you can pay attention to in order to check on someone’s mental health. We’ve laid out a few situations that might signal a mental health problem, plus the best way to handle each of them.

Mental health

Mental health problems can present themselves in several ways. | Kitzcorner/Getty Images

The situation: You’ve noticed a friend seems disinterested in what they once loved
When depression or another mental health problem hits, it might present itself as disinterest. Someone who once loved hanging out with friends might constantly pass on plans, or playing a sport they once loved doesn’t interest them anymore. When someone is feeling down, it affects their mood in a way that might cause disinterest in the activities they previously enjoyed.

How to handle it: If a friend or loved one doesn’t feel like going out in a group or meeting up for a game of pickup soccer or football, suggest grabbing coffee one on one (or kicking a soccer ball around one on one). You can also offer to order takeout and stop by their house if they’re not in the mood to go out. Then, ask them how they’re doing. If it’s someone you’re close with, they’ll understand your concern and might open up to you about what’s going on. Depending on the situation, you can take further steps to get them help.

The situation: A loved one or partner is having difficulty sleeping

Sleep difficulties can signal plenty of things from a stressful day at work to a serious brain problem, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that depression or another mental health problem is the cause. However, if you’ve noticed a partner keeps tossing and turning at night, it could be a sign they’re unsettled about something and may need to talk it out. Or, if you’ve noticed a friend seems fatigued every single day, it may mean they’re having trouble sleeping due to depression or another mental health issue.

How to handle it: Start by asking them if anything is on their mind. You can say, “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed tired the past few weeks — is everything alright? You normally love your sleep!” Keep the conversation firm but light-hearted; you want them to come to you with a problem but don’t want to seem accusatory. If they open up, you can ask further questions and suggest helping them find a professional to manage the problem.

The situation: They aren’t eating the way they used to

The brain and body go hand in hand. When someone feels depressed, it can affect their appetite. Some people eat as a way of coping, while others lose their appetite altogether. If you’re going out to lunch with a friend or cook dinner for a partner and notice they don’t eat much, it could be a sign of depression, anxiety, or another mental health problem. On the contrary, if you notice someone has been putting on weight, it could also signal a problem.

How to handle it: If you’re out to lunch with someone and notice they’re not eating, ask if something is on their mind. If you’ve noticed it several times, you can say, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been eating as much when we go out. Is anything on your mind?” When they know you’ve noticed, it’s a sign that you care, and they may open up to you about what’s going on.

Noticing someone has put on weight can be a bit harder to navigate. Don’t make it about the weight; make sure they know you’re concerned about their mental health. “I’ll love you no matter what, but I also want to see you stay healthy. I’m worried there’s been something on your mind lately. Is everything okay?” Making the topic about their physical and mental health, rather than about the weight gain, will help them to open up and not be ashamed about their body.

The situation: They’re angry or irritable

Someone’s mood and attitude directly affect how they act toward others. If someone’s mood has shifted, their behavior might shift, too. A friend might get easily frustrated over a small problem, since they’re battling a bigger internal issue. As a result, they might take it out on you, or you might notice they’re not acting the way the used to.

How to handle it: Approach them in a way that won’t make them feel attacked — this could potentially lead to more irritability. If a small problem becomes a big deal to them, say, “I noticed you’re getting really upset about this when it isn’t that important. Is there something bigger going on?” Phrase it in a gentle way, and they might go into more detail about the real problem.

Mental health is a sensitive topic to handle, but it’s important to check in on friends and loved ones. Even the strongest person you know might be fighting an internal battle.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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