By- Dr. David PrescottThe Tragedy of Lost Time: It would be almost unimaginable to think about breaking your leg and then waiting two years before you went to get it fixed. Yet, two years is the average amount of time that elapses before a person showing clear signs of psychosis receives any type of mental health treatment. Similarly, people diagnosed with bipolar disorder report that 9-11 years passed before they first experienced clinically significant mood swings, and the time they were appropriately diagnosed. Increasingly, the need for early intervention in treating mental health disorders is recognized as critical in minimizing the impact of severe mental illness. Here, we will examine early warning signs for three disorders that typically begin in mid to late adolescence: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and alcohol dependence. As with any health problem, if you are in doubt, talk to a psychologist, mental health professional, or your family doctor. Early Signs of Schizophrenia or Psychotic Illnesses: The onset of schizophrenia, a mental disorder characterized by disorganization in thinking, excessive suspiciousness or paranoia, or in some cases hallucinations, is typically in the late teens or early twenties. However, warning signs are often present long before the formal onset. These include: â€¢ Withdrawal from friends or family â€¢ Difficulty concentrating, confusion, jumbled thinking â€¢ Suspiciousness, fearfulness or mistrust of others â€¢ Changes in the way things look or sound, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there â€¢ Odd thinking or behavior: feeling odd, like something is wrongEarly Signs of Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder, or manic-depression, is characterized by repeated extreme mood swings. During a manic phase, people have excessive energy, grandiose idea, and elevated mood. These manic phases are often followed by sudden onset of depression, characterized by sadness, lack of motivation, and in some cases thoughts of suicide. While distinguishing normal from abnormal mood swings in teenagers is difficult, early warning signs may include: â€¢ History of biological relative with bipolar disorder. â€¢ Abrupt mood swings lasting from several hours to several days. â€¢ Explosive, lengthy periods of rage. â€¢ Hyperactivity, agitation, or distractibilityEarly Signs of Drug or Alcohol Dependence: Often, drug or alcohol dependence begins as recreational drinking or drug use. Early signs of drug and alcohol abuse or dependence include: â€¢ Frequent episodes of binge drinking (4 or more drinks for women, 5 or more for men)â€¢ Missing school or work due to drug or alcohol use or feeling hungover. â€¢ Spend increasing amounts of time using substances or with people that drink/use drugs with you. How do I seek help? Seeing a qualified mental health professional, like a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse, or licensed social worker is a good start. Help may include counseling, medication, or a combination of the two. If you donâ€™t know a mental health professional, your primary care doctor is often able to make a recommendation. For More Help: Acadia Hospital www.acadiahospital.orgIn Maine: Dial 2-1-1 for agencies that provide counseling.