Identifying “Red Flags” Of Mental Illness: My History

by Robert

Apologies for the silly photo! This is actually a really serious post, but thankfully I can look back on past traumas with gratitude that I’m not what I once was.

I hope if you will (God forbid) suffer mental illness, if you are at the moment, or if you have in the past, or even if you’re supporting a mentally ill person, that you’ll find this post helpful.

It’s very personal and subjective, but I hope you can draw helpful lessons from it.

When I began to recover from a severe psychotic (delusional) episode, mental health professionals encouraged me to identify “red flags” or warning signs that I might be relapsing. Sure enough, I did relapse once. Shame I didn’t learn my lesson from the first episode!

Mental illness is a many and varied spectrum, but here’s a brief introduction to my subjective experience.

I did eventually identify three “red flag” indicators to look out for which could result in a relapse.

I conveniently alliterated them with the letter W. I hasten to add that these things aren’t necessarily negative, but they have that potential in the wrong context.

The first W is Whereabouts (yes, this alliteration thing is quite contrived). Basically, if I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s bad for my mental health.

So first time I fell ill, I left the idyll of university life and returned home. Nothing against home but I needed a plan for my life, or at least to discern God’s will, and I didn’t have a clue, and basically panicked.

It’s often the case that after “mountaintop” experiences come deep valleys of depression, and that was the case for me.

When I relapsed I was in a miserable flat in a rough part of town so it was understandable that I got depressed again.

The second W is Work. Work isn’t, as we might assume, a product of the fall of mankind. Having said that, being in unsuitable work can negatively effect our mental health.

My first episode was because I didn’t have a clue what to do with my life after uni.

My relapse was when I was finally in a graduate level job which was too ambitious for me at the time.

I should emphasise that my Whereabouts and Work are good at the moment, and so is my mental health.

The final W which has the potential of being a “red flag” for me is Women. Not that there’s anything wrong with women (any more than men) but more about my infatuation with them in my initial illness and relapse a few years ago. This is only a bad reflection on me, not the women I was infatuated with.

As with all my Ws, this isn’t just a red flag but also a potential for a positive influence. Thankfully I’ve found a wife, and she is an excellent woman. I’ve been well mentally since before I met her, because work and whereabouts were better, but she’s undoubtedly been a stabilising influence for me.

And now I have another woman in my life: my baby daughter, who’s another great blessing, and motivation to stay well.

So there’s my potential “red flags”, warning signs of mental illness- unsuitable whereabouts, work and women.

Do you have any “red flags” in your life?

It might be a helpful exercise for you to consider whether you do!

God bless, and stay well,