Many people living with mental illness can identify the stressful events, worries or changes in routine that might result in a relapse. These might include switching jobs, moving to a new city or the death of someone they care about.

Working with their family, they can identify strategies that will help them manage these situations and help them to feel more confident about their recovery. These strategies also help family to recognize times when a person needs extra support or help.

For children and youth, changes in routines or schedules can be a trigger for relapse. Returning to school in the fall and major holidays or spring break are times to watch for warning signs.
Warning signs of relapse

Research shows that people living with mental illness often experience a specific series of changes in their thoughts, feelings and behaviours before a relapse.

In many cases, families are the first to notice some of these changes. A person will likely notice changes in themselves that other people may not see. Some signs are quite common while others will be specific to them. It is important that they, and their family, discover which signs reflect  their experiences with mental illness. Recognizing early signs and being proactive can help prevent or minimize a relapse.

What you can do

Talk with a family member if you think you may be heading towards a relapse. Describe yoru feelings. Explain your concerns and ask for help. If you are concerned about a family member, talk with them about what you've noticed and ask them how you can help. 

 Thoughts and perceptions

  • Difficulty concentrating and/or making decisions
  • Becoming forgetful
  • Racing thoughts
  • Irrational thoughts or beliefs
  •  Fear of their support person dying and being left alone


  • More tense or anxious
  • Depressed or feeling low
  • Restless
  • Elated
  • Irritable
  • Fearful
  • Feeling threatened
  • Disgusted with oneself
  • Suicidal
  • Mood swings


  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest and motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping or change in sleeping habits
  • Neglecting one’s appearance
  • Alcohol and or drug use
  • Preoccupation with calories, dieting or weight loss
  • Extreme anxiety over separation from parents
  • Changes in school grades or performance

 “My parents noticed I was withdrawn and simply not myself. They noticed I worried more. I would not answer the phone or doorbell because I was afraid that whoever I talked to would be mad at me or would want to harm me in some way. I also could not listen to the television or radio because it would trigger a worry.”

Adapted from: Living with Mental Illness: A Guide for Family and Friends. Halifax, NS: Capital District Health Authority; 2008

Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Initiative. Working together towards recovery: Consumers, families, caregivers and providers. Mississauga, ON: Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Initiative; February 2006. Available at: