My Mental Health Warning Signs: 5 Common Red Flags

January 13, 2011 Holly Gray

If you have Dissociative Identity Disorder, recognizing when you're on a downward spiral may be incredibly difficult. Dissociation separates us from our thoughts, feelings, and experiences and makes maintaining awareness of our very realities a monumental challenge. My hope is that by taking stock of my mental health warning signs, I can increase my chances of noticing the next decline in functioning at its inception, rather than coming out of a dissociative fog six months in and wondering what happened to my life.

[caption id="attachment_1469" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Photo by Suzie Tremmel"]Photo by Suzie Tremmel[/caption]

My Mental Health Warning Signs ... and Yours?

I approached compiling this list as if I'd never done it before, even though in hospital settings alone I've done this exercise several times. I think coming at it fresh like that might be why I discovered some red flags that had heretofore escaped my notice entirely. Others are signals I'm well-acquainted with. But all five are, I suspect, common mental health warning signs for people with Dissociative Identity Disorder:

  • Avoiding therapy. I've noticed a pattern of avoiding therapy when my mental health is in trouble. Generally I experience this as an overall dissatisfaction with the therapist personally. For some people this manifests in the opposite direction with an excessive, uncomfortable need for therapy and/or the therapist.
  • Over-Focus on appearance. There's a fairly well known correlation between deteriorating mental health and increasingly poor hygiene. It took me a while to recognize that my tendency to obsess over my physical appearance when I'm struggling is not an indicator of my immunity to that phenomenon; it's just the other side of the same coin.
  • Catastrophic thinking. When a pile of dirty laundry becomes a mocking testimony to the fact that nothing I do will ever be good enough for anyone, it's time to check in on my mental health. Every problem looks like a threat when I'm unwell.
  • Immersion. Diving full-tilt into something for extended periods of time to the near total exclusion of everything else is a dissociative way of coping. Interests fluctuate and vary but when friends and family start to complain that I'm unavailable because I'm immersed in a particular activity most of the time, that's an indicator that I might be engrossing myself in something as a way of avoiding problems.
  • Childlike perspective. A reader brought this one to my attention and I'm so glad she did. It's enormously difficult to recognize in the moment, but as my mental health deteriorates, so does my ability to approach life from a mature, balanced, adult perspective.

Listing My Mental Health Warning Signs Is just The First Step

My guess is that learning to recognize when I'm coming unglued is a continually developing skill that becomes more reliable with use. What that boils down to for me is awareness, awareness, awareness - the ultimate antidote to Dissociative Identity Disorder symptoms. Making a list of your mental health warning signs is an exercise in awareness. In other words, taking the time to name them increases the likelihood that you'll notice them in action.

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APA Reference
Gray, H. (2011, January 13). My Mental Health Warning Signs: 5 Common Red Flags, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Holly Gray

The Fortress
February, 3 2017 at 10:59 am

New to being on a blog about D.I.D. scared. Am I doing something bad ?

January, 9 2017 at 12:26 pm

Get help now....even if it's just your family doctor.

September, 20 2016 at 12:25 pm

Hello, I'm worried about myself. Over the years I've experienced and had to deal with some traumatic stuff that has completely changed me and my family. These past couple weeks my first two back from summer holiday I've been alot more emotional, tired, forgeting alot more and just zoning out and getting badly stressed, I already suffer from stress and depression problems but I normally can work my way though them and carry on but lately I've been getting worse, overthinking, loosing sleep, stopped eating and drinking normally, and in genral felt like I'm getting deeper into a depression stage. I need help. And I would love it if someone could just tell me what to do I'm scared for myself and my safety and I'm worried that I will do somthing Un reversible.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Crystalie Matulewicz
September, 21 2016 at 11:30 am

It is important to seek out psychiatric care. Find a therapist or social worker that can help you work through what is going on.

January, 5 2016 at 8:13 pm

I think I may be at a crisis point. This has helped reaffirm that I do need help. I never try to burden anyone but we all need help at times don't we? I'm so independent and high functioning usually. What is going on with us? Are we going to be okay? What will therapy be like? It is so hard to find a therapist that I feel comfortable with. I guess at least I'm not alone.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Crystalie Matulewicz
January, 8 2016 at 11:17 am

You are right. Everyone needs help sometimes. It is part of being human. It may take some time to find the right therapist, but it is worth it. Don't be afraid to say "this isn't the right fit" if you don't find the therapist helpful. Try looking for a therapist with experience in DID or at least with trauma.

June, 27 2014 at 5:17 am

I just wanted to clarify... My comment was in regard to what 'Mareeya' NOT 'Maree'. Thank you!

June, 27 2014 at 5:09 am

To Maree... Everything you wrote sounded like things I have myself suffered from and continue to hide from family and friends. To the point that my sister thinks that I think I am perfect b/c I only talk to people (including family) when things are good and I am very enthusiastic/upbeat. I intentionally hide from everyone when I find myself in my dark place. I don't want to burden others by dumping my problems, thoughts, feelings, etc. Or tell them how I have self-sabotaged something again. Which actually makes me a very good listener b/c I don't want to talk about myself if I can help it unless things are going well. I feel like no one really knows me b/c when I get into a bad place, I quit taking or returning calls which makes it extremely difficult to make, maintain and foster friendships. Anyway, when I read what you wrote, I felt like we were kindred spirits. Thank you for your courage to speak about your warning signs w/ DID. :)

mary bates
February, 8 2014 at 6:18 pm

This is the first time I have ever been on a site with other people who have been living with complex DID. What a Godsend! Hi everyone. I am finally home! What an ingenious way of coping. How smart we are, creative and intelligent. I am in therapy and have been for years. Finally diagnosed with DID and PTSD and have learned how to interact with my other "friends". I am no longer afraid of them and we have learned to trust each other. Has taken years however, I had a good therapist and Dr. Who's specialty is working with women who have DID. I am blesses to have such a skill and respect for this way of coping. It is a daily thing.

June, 30 2012 at 7:55 am

I have fifty seven personalities and I also have total recall, photographic memory and fluent in other languages. I am far from infantile. Hope you have a great day!

July, 25 2011 at 11:56 am

Furthermore, having missed that comment by Dr.Musli Ferati, I take complete offense to the implications of your comment that "unfortunately possesses infantile intellectual potential." as well as the rest of it. DID does not impact our born intellegence. Mine, which I assure you, is well above the realm of normalicy. Though DID may have impacted my ability to logical persuasions, such as Math or Chemistry, there are many different ways in which intellegence manifests itself, such as in the categories of abstract thinking and creativity, where mine has found ways, not only to succeed in the world, but as well as giving me an outlet for understanding of the processes that have created me to be who I am.
Your comment is an insult, belittling anyone who suffers the effect of something that was out of our control, as well as patronizing our attempts to understand and gain a stronghold on the situations that our lives present to us. It is Dr.'s like you who minimize our experience with knowledge learned in a book. I guarantee that nothing you have read can give you one-tenth the understanding of our daily lives.
With that regard, I will continue to dismiss professional opinions and continue finding hope and encouragement from those who have dwelled in the same darkness I've known.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
July, 25 2011 at 1:37 pm

Hi Amber,
I can understand how you feel about Dr. Ferati's comment. You'll notice I too corrected his statement that those of us with DID possess "infantile intellectual potential." But Dr. Ferati's way of writing gives me the impression that English is his second language ... Dr. Ferati, if you're reading please correct me if I'm wrong ... and I think it's likely that he didn't mean quite what he said.
Regardless, please be aware that this idea that those of us with DID are dim-witted is not one shared by any professional treating Dissociative Identity Disorder I've ever met, read, or otherwise encountered. On the contrary, professionals often err on the (just as erroneous, in my opinion) side of thinking that we with DID are *more* intelligent than the average person, not less.
There are some really wonderful mental health professionals who have given an enormous amount to the field of trauma and dissociation. It sounds like you haven't encountered any like them and I'm sorry for that. They are out there, I promise. Take heart. :)

July, 25 2011 at 11:45 am

And downward spiral. I recently announced to my friends that I would be taking a break from them and any forms of communication with them to focus on my writing. The focus on outer appearance was last week. I'm not sleeping. I have no appetite. This happens every couple months and my friends just shake their heads. A new friend asked me today if everything was okay. Try as I might, I couldn't tell him that anything was wrong.
I believe I'll pay attention to this.

Dr Musli Ferati
January, 21 2011 at 9:31 pm

Five signs that You mention in the article above harm and take offense our psychosocial as well as professional functioning. It is one individual who has unrealistic attitudes and actions in fulfilling daily wants, that are enormous and provocative. This person does not respect and implement the principles of reality, because the same does not recognize variegated mosaic of the world. So, it is tips of individual, whom also you will to help, the same refuse and continue to squeezed and melt in its subjective world. For the same Note and advise from others remain without critically analyzed, of which fail and can not advance in any life direction. In consequence, the person with DID can't gown mentally and unfortunately possesses infantile intellectual potential.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
January, 22 2011 at 2:30 pm

Hello Dr.,
"In consequence, the person with DID can’t gown mentally and unfortunately possesses infantile intellectual potential."
I could not disagree with you more. I am repeatedly impressed by the intelligence and insight my readers with Dissociative Identity Disorder continually offer.

January, 19 2011 at 6:04 am

A few of my warning signs include:
Loss of attention span / Difficulty focusing on anything.
Inability to sleep.
Withdrawing would have to be my biggest, and most consistent sign.
I do this often. I usually justify this by saying that I'm withdrawing for the benefit of my mental health. There are times that I am so afraid of exposure, so afraid of not appearing normal, that I feel as though I am withdrawing to save my mental health....if that makes sense.
I will over-focus on appearance when I have to be out in public. Again, I will do this in order to appear normal. The other side of this coin is that if I totally isolate myself, I put very little effort into appearance. I just don't care at that point.
Also, for me, there is another component to the hygeine issue that I have noticed, which is, if I get triggered, I cannot seem to feel clean enough, so I will shower over and over. I don't know if this is really a warning sign. It's seems more like a reactive response to me.

January, 18 2011 at 2:40 am

This is a really helpful topic Holly. You know sometimes I feel pretty self aware and things are going O.K. But when I start to take a nose dive emotionally, I often really don't have a clue. It's like any awareness I had flies out the window, and often I only get what's happening when things are extreme and I'm right on the edge. I'm going to write a list for myself, but I think it's going to take a lot of deep thinking on my part to flesh it out. Thanks for suggesting this. I haven't done anything like this before.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
January, 18 2011 at 2:58 pm

Hi kerri,
Thanks for your comment. I know what you mean about sometimes feeling pretty self-aware. In those moments it's hard to remember that I'm dissociative at all!
I had to really think about my list too. One thing I say about severe dissociation is that you often don't know you're falling off a cliff until you hit the ground. Awareness, being the antidote to all things Dissociative Identity Disorder, is not easy to come by.

January, 15 2011 at 2:08 pm

My big one is to withdraw. I stop speaking to those around me, I don't answer emails, I don't blog, I don't pick up my camera... All signs that I'm heading on the downward slippery slope.
I sometimes use creative expression more often, usually this is at the start of the decline. Almost like a part of me is sending up the flag, hoping that I notice.
I keep hoping that awareness around my warning signs will mean that I'll be able to ask for help before it gets worse. That has worked a couple of times, but it's sometimes left me wondering whether I was imagining the potential crisis. So it's a learning thing.
Take care,

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
January, 18 2011 at 3:07 pm

Hi CG,
Yeah withdrawing is big one for me too. It tends to go hand-in-hand with immersion - I immerse myself in something and withdraw from everything else.
That's interesting, what you said about creative expression. It touches on the idea of using art as a means of communicating internally. Thinking back I can see that even when I wasn't able to communicate with my system - didn't even know about my system - they were communicating with me in various ways.
"I keep hoping that awareness around my warning signs will mean that I’ll be able to ask for help before it gets worse."
That is perhaps the hardest part, I think. Asking for help. There are so many times that I've come to realize I was spiraling down and yet continued white knuckling my way through because I couldn't ask for help. It's a learning thing, yes. I think you're right about that. It's hard.

January, 14 2011 at 2:51 am

Me too...

January, 13 2011 at 3:55 pm

These are all warning signs that I have, too. They're things that I've been aware of, but never really thought about... if that makes any sense.

January, 13 2011 at 2:34 pm

I have experienced all of these warning signs but there is one that I never considered as a warning sign until I read this post. Over-Focus on appearance. I do this all the time and never really connected it with DID. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to make the outside look as good as we can because this is controllable whereas our minds are not sometimes? Thank you for the different perspective on being a beauty product junkie. I have an intense obsession with this and always wondered where it came from.

January, 13 2011 at 7:23 am

Thanks Holly.
Ok, so the last week I've known something isn't quite right, but haven't know what it is, but I've just read your list, and I tick BIG TIME 4 of the 5 (not the appearance one). Especially the immersion - I have been studying and working on to do list tasks and sorting and filing and organising, manically the last week, to the point I've stopped taking food breaks, and doing anything else. The problem is I've been aware something is up, but also been glad for getting things done. Until today, when I feel so fast that I can't sit still and my body has literally been tremoring with adrenalin. About 2 hours ago, something happened somewhere inside that felt like parts of me just crashed. But I am still going. Then I've just read your list, and I'm now like "oh ok maybe I need to recognise some big red flags"!! Problem is - what do you do once you recognise the flags?!

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