"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
January 31, 2014
Early Warning Signs
by Sarah Hancock

The winter blast currently covering the majority of the United States, was predicted for nearly a week before it settled into the region. Meterologists warned people in the area to begin preparing for the worst.

During the week before the storm, people scurried to stores searching for salt, shovels, food, water and numerous other supplies best suited to hunker down during a winter storm. Those who wouldn't or couldn't prepare for the storm surely suffered the consequences.

Like severe weather, mental illness has early warning signs. Heeding warning signs allows a person to stave off what could become a disaster if left unchecked.

Early warning signs are as varied as are the people who experience them. However, once a person can identify them, he can begin to nip them in the bud. In doing so, he can reverse symptoms as they begin by putting into place action plans recorded in his Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP).

Let's explore some early warning signs.

Personality changes.

Most people have pretty regular personalities. Some people are chronically outgoing, while others are natural introverts. Knowing how you or a loved one acts when feeling well can help you identify when a personality is a little off. If a person becomes more reserved, outspoken, agitated, or expresses unusual laughing pattern s, then it could be an early warning sign.

Lack of interest.

Frequently when symptoms of mental illness flare up, the person experiencing symptoms may lose interest in things they once found interesting or pleasurable. When someone stops enjoying favorite hobbies or cherished relationships, it can be an early warning sign.

Living Environment.

Many times when people who experience mental illness begin experiencing symptoms they go into what I refer to as survivor mode. Consequently, their living environment begins to slowly fall apart. Dishes pile up. Floors need scrubbing. Bathrooms are gross. Well, you get the idea. Seeing changes in the living environment can help you identify an early warning sign.


Speaking from experience, changes in my appetite that last longer than a week are among my warning signs. For example, more often than not, if you offer me a homemade, frosted cinnamon roll, I will have at least one or two bites. More often than not, I'll polish it off and ask for another one. Recently I was offered one and the thought of eating it made me nauseated. Had that pattern continued for more than a week, I would put into place my action plan and call my doctor because it's a sure early warning sign.

Changes in sleep patterns.

Healthy people have good sleep habits, waking up and sleeping around the same time on a regular basis. However, one of the early warning signs of approaching danger is disturbances in sleep patterns.

For example, if a person with bipolar disorder begins to have trouble getting to sleep and begins staying up later and requiring less sleep, it could be an indication that he needs to speak with his doctor. Conversely, if someone with severe anxiety begins to sleep more than usual over a period of time, it is also important to speak to their doctor about the sleep changes because this is an early warning sign.

Although these five areas (personality changes, lack of interest, living environment, appetite and changes in sleep patterns) can be indicators of trouble on the horizon, it is not a conclusive list. Why not take time to brainstorm some early warning signs you've noticed. Recording the warning signs in the WRAP allow a person to better identify the nuisance and resolve it before it becomes a problem. WRAP action plan helps utilize Wellness Toolbox tools. While this isn't a conclusive list of early warning signs, it gives you an idea of how to identify things out of the ordinary.

If you'll allow me to come full circle and use my weather analogy again, recognizing early warning signs is like handing a gift card for storm supplies to a person with a mental illness before the storm strikes and helping them prepare for what could be bad.

In helping people identify early warning signs, we help them learn to dig themselves out of the snowdrifts. As a person becomes more accustomed to recognizing early warning signs, he can learn how to weatherproof his mind before the snow begins falling.

I know it's possible. I've done it.

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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnít just possible ó itís probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying ó not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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