i talk a lot about warning signs, but often in relation to people that you see regularly, that you talk to regularly. is it still possible to detect warning signs with people you don’t see often? or you don’t talk to often? i believe the answer is yes. and i think discussing these warning signs is perhaps more pertinent to the world we now live – a world where we’re constantly accessible, but less connected. a world where missing the signs is easy – it’s no longer about detecting physical or behavioural changes; how can you when you don’t see them? what then, are you supposed to look out for?
when someone isolates themselves, that’s usually a pretty good indicator that they’re going through something. what does this look like to someone who you only converse with via technology? it looks like avoidance – they might avoid catching up, avoid questions pertaining to how they are, or just avoid replying. we’ve come to accept that people don’t need to reply straight away, or within a day, or even a week, or even at all, but how do you know this isn’t an indirect sign that they aren’t okay? an indirect cry for help? rarely will people explicitly say that they’re not okay, but they’ll give you signs with their behaviour.
as i’ve formerly mentioned in other posts, we put so much emphasis on individuals talking about their problems, but i think we should be equipping individuals with the skills to detect these signs in others. we need to learn to emotionally calibrate ourselves to others. to tune in to their behaviour and what their behaviour might be communicating. would it help if someone explicitly stated they weren’t okay? absolutely! but sometimes people have communicated this, and nothing much has changed. when behaviour isn’t reinforced, it’s punished. and this means it’s less likely to occur in the future. so individuals will try something else, anything else, to garner the attention of those around them.
my suggestion then would be to look at their past behaviour – is this a pattern of theirs? are they known for not replying? or have they drastically changed their technological habits? removing themselves from social media is another form of cyber isolation. the worst part is, we hardly notice when someone is no longer active because we’re constantly inundated with so much other shit, we fail to notice when one of our peers is no longer active.
i get it – everyone has their own stuff going on. but i also know we make excuses for not checking in with others – it’s too hard, too much effort, they haven’t replied to us etc. but i challenge you to put this aside and look at their signs. what does their support network look like? are they in a stable job? a stable relationship? are they exercising? do they have other friends they’re leaning on? any time an individual loses one of their core components to living a fulfilling life, it puts strain on the other areas in their life. people need other people – it's a fact. they also need purpose. and they need to feel valued. without them, individuals might question what the point of living is.
as far as emotional warning signs, sadness isn’t the only emotion people experience when they’re struggling. anger, apathy, and numbness are also concerning feelings (especially when these become the dominant feelings someone is experiencing). when people lack core components of their life, small things become big things. they become big because often these individuals don’t have much else in their life to distract them, to fulfill them. so, what happens? they become consumed by trivial disturbances, so much so that it potentially ruins relationships. an individual’s inability to let something go can sometimes be an indicator that things are out of balance in their life – that there are needs that aren’t being met. so instead of letting go, they hold tighter onto the one thing that gives them some form of temporary purpose, some form of temporary distraction. anger can do that.
so the next time someone doesn’t reply to you, or doesn’t answer your question, or changes their technological behaviour, don’t just brush it off – check in. keep asking them if they’re okay and ask them if there’s a reason they’re avoiding your questions. when people aren’t okay, they push away the thing they need most: people. it isn’t personal, but they do it to reflect what they feel inside – that they’re alone. that they’re hurting. isolating themselves further is like a cruel addiction; it fuels this pain. but it’s a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break. it takes emotionally calibrated individuals to break these barriers. can you be one of these people to someone else?