Mental health issues can affect any of us at any time. But do you know how to spot the signs if you, or someone you love, is struggling?

Mental Health First Aid England says that a third of students reported having psychological difficulties for which they needed professional help. And mental health charity Mind found 96% of young people aged 11-25* said their mental health had affected their schoolwork at some point.

While it can be challenging admitting that you – or someone you love – needs help, there is a wealth of support out there at school, university, and in the workplace. But how do you recognise the signs if someone is unhappy, or if they’re having mental health problems? And how do you recognise them in yourself?

Are they sleeping more?

Have their eating habits changed?

Are they quieter or more withdrawn?

Has this behaviour been going on a long time?

Shantanu Kundu

“People get worried that [unis and workplaces] will stigmatise you and discriminate against you, but actually it’s more how they can support you…”

Recognising the signs

Youth mental health charity YoungMinds says there are some common signs that someone might be struggling, including:

  • social isolation
  • withdrawal from usual activities
  • loss of concentration or motivation
  • sleeping too much or too little

Young Minds advise you to trust your instincts. If you notice a significant change of behaviour or demeanour, it’s always worth asking to see how someone is doing: 

There’s a lot of change in young people’s lives, so it’s normal to express raw emotions and change moods quickly, especially during exams or other high-pressure periods. But if someone is consistently struggling – for example if you see a sustained change in their sleeping or eating patterns, or if they seem to be upset over a long period of time – it might be a sign of something more serious.

What to do in a mental health emergency
  • Call 999 if your own or someone else’s life is at risk, or go to your local A&E. A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a physical one. 
  • Call 111. They may be able to put you in touch with a mental health nurse over the phone or arrange an emergency appointment. You can also call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 if you are in Wales.
  • Call or text the helpline numbers below, or call a local NHS urgent mental health line to get help closer to where you are (in England).

For further information go to the NHS website, or YoungMinds.

What to do if you’re worried about someone

  1. Talk to your friend – and listen. Young Minds say if a friend opens up to you, it’s important to listen, reassure them, and validate their feelings. Give them space to talk and don’t interrupt them. Show that you’re listening and engaged. Remind them you’re still there for them, especially as they might worry that opening up about their mental health could put you off spending time with them. 
  2. Offer them support. You probably know your friend and what they like, so do your best to soothe them in the moment. You can also ask them what they need, although they might not have a clear answer.
  3. Point them towards resources. You can share resources such as helplines or the YoungMinds website. You can also encourage them to talk to an adult they trust like a teacher, lecturer, parent, or youth worker. Your friend might be nervous to tell someone or worried about what their reaction might be. If you’re able to, you could offer to go with them to talk to a trusted person. But remember, it’s not all on you and you don’t need to have all the answers – just being there can help a lot.

Shantanu Kundu is the founder of Be Free Campaign, which aims to demolish the stigma behind mental health. He advises not trying to diagnose a friend yourself, but says instead notice any changes in their behaviour, try and speak to them, and get them support.

A lot of people who might be struggling don’t actually tell uni about it and then it gets worse because they’re then bogged down with lots of deadlines and worried about when they can hand them in, but actually you can get extensions and all that stuff really easily.

Where to go for help

If you or a friend is struggling with their mental health:
  • Ask for wellbeing support and/or a counsellor at your school, college or university 
  • Make an appointment with your GP
  • Call helplines like:
    • Childline 0800 1111
    • The Mix 0808 808 4994
    • Mind 0300 123 3393
    • SANE 0300 304 7000
    • Rethink Mental Illness 0808 801 0525
    • SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) 0344 800 0550
    • Community Advice & Listening Line in Wales 0800 132 737
  • Text lines like YoungMinds Crisis Messenger: text YM to 85258, or Community Advice & Listening Line in Wales: text ‘help’ to 81066

Use online resources, like:


Remember, it’s not all on you.

  • Don’t put pressure on yourself to ‘fix’ someone - but you can be there as a friend.
  • It’s also about recognising the signs in yourself as you would in others. Be kind to yourself and show yourself the same care and concern you would for a friend.
  • There are lots of resources available to help you – and people you can talk to about whatever may be troubling you.