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Identifiers of deterioration and detachment

Does your intimate partner or work mate not seem themselves? Do they seem out of whack? Here are some behaviours to observe that may indicate if your partner is struggling at this time:

  • Diminished communication quality and frequency (family, relationship, friendship)
  • Increased substance use (alcohol, drugs, prescription or over the counter medication)
  • Poor perception of boundary to the job (working additional time/excessive engagement from home/overcommitted/can’t rest)
  • Sleep disturbance (fitful, poor onset and duration, premature waking, nightmares, yelling out, teeth grinding/clenching, busy mind)
  • Can’t or won’t talk about experience/or is fixated and unable to leave a topic
  • Preoccupied/not present- off in space
  • Heightened fatigue (excessive sleeping, lethargy and not alert in a wakeful state)
  • Poor diet choices- survival or comfort eating modes or at the other extreme- a loss of appetite and food restriction
  • Emotional detachment/robotic state or uncharacteristic uncontained emotion
  • Indicators of burnout/compassion fatigue
  • Cynicism
  • Reduced capacity for decision making, even on minor choices
  • Considering significant change to lifestyle, direction, sense of self
  • Excessive vigilance around vulnerabilities/perceived threats
  • Flatness and disregard for activities that usually derive pleasure
  • Increased anger/outbursts- very restricted level of tolerance and short fused
  • Suicidality/planning/desire to escape
  • ‘Stuck’ in a particular emotion (guilt, remorse, regret, sadness, anxiety, worry, confusion, fear, anger, etc.)
  • Or any other significant change in typically predictable patterns of behaviour and preferences, choices and engagement styles

COVID-19 has had significant impact globally, so it is understandable that some of our behaviours are changed or exacerbated at present- there does need to be greater tolerance of acceptable change for us all as we navigate this unchartered territory. It is also very important to consider these things in the context of the person’s usual life circumstances and norms of behaviour.

This is a list of things to consider, monitor and to have a conversation about if you are seeing a worrying pattern emerge in someone close to you. It is not an exhaustive list, just prompts to get you thinking and reflecting.

An important thing to remember is that these behaviours or moods may have a vast array of different causal explanations and shouldn’t be considered diagnostic nor should this list replace consulting a health professional. For instance, early waking from sleep can be associated with bladder control as opposed to PTSD.

These behaviours can, however, form indicators of maladaptive coping and might warrant a chat. Harnessing awareness of behaviour changes can be key in managing arising issues or (and ideally,) completely circumventing deteriorating mental health in its entirety. 

For tips on how to ask someone if they’re okay – RUOK

Need Help Now?

In the event of an emergency – please phone 000

If you, or someone you know need immediate help, please contact one of the following crisis lines:

BEYOND BLUE can be contacted for support any time of the day or night and provide one-on-one chats with trained mental health professionals. Their number is 1300 22 4636.

LIFELINE provides crisis support and suicide prevention services and is contactable on 13 11 14.