If you’re feeling down most of the time and find yourself withdrawing from social activities, you may be facing mental health issues. It may be hard to reach out for help, but you may need emotional support to get better.
It’s normal to feel stressed or anxious every now and then. But if you’re sad and depressed for extended periods of time and don’t feel that you’re getting better, you may be experiencing a mental health issue and need emotional support from a professional.
Some of the first signs to look for include constant fatigue and lack of motivation to get things done, says Vivien Wolsk, PhD, a clinical psychologist and dean emeritus of the Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training in New York City.
Though mental health issues, such as depression, bipolar disorders, and anxiety disorders, have different symptoms and treatments, some signs may overlap. Telltale changes in your behavior and outlook to be aware of include:
- Overeating or eating too little
- Sleeping too much or sleeping too little
- Withdrawing socially — avoiding friends and family
- Having trouble concentrating
- Experiencing mood swings — feeling very energetic and sharp one day and crashing the next
- Experiencing an addiction — doing something to escape, whether it’s sex, drugs, food, or alcohol
- Having thoughts of suicide
- Denying problems that are obvious
A marked change of behavior, especially in children, can be a sign of mental illness. Parents may notice that their child doesn’t want to go to school anymore or that grades aren’t as good as they used to be, Wolsk says. Persistent nightmares in children may be another sign.
On the other hand, Wolsk cautions, some of these symptoms could be signs of a physical problem. If you’re experiencing tiredness or anxiety, the first thing you should do is get a medical checkup. “Sometimes psychiatric symptoms can be part of a thyroid or other physical condition,” she says.
Overcoming Reluctance to Seek Treatment
If your doctor gives you a clean bill of health and symptoms persist, you should consider getting mental health treatment. However, many people are reluctant to do so for a variety of reasons.
One is the fear of what other people will think. “There’s a stigma for some,” says Marion Jacobs, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Laguna Beach, Calif., and author of Take-Charge Living. People are afraid that if they seek mental health treatment others will see them as “crazy.” But mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of — as many as 54 million Americans live with emotional disorders each year.
If you’re avoiding mental health treatment, learning the truth behind common excuses may help change your mind:
- You don’t think you need it. You might believe that you can deal with your problems on your own by buying books, or going on the Internet and participating in interactive therapy sites. “There are things that you can do — exercises and programs — but for someone who really needs the help, they’re not a substitute,” Jacobs says.
- You’re afraid of what you might learn. “People say, ‘I feel miserable, but I don’t want to go poking around because I don’t know what I’m going to find,'” Jacobs explains. However, uncovering your issues should make them easier to deal with.
- You’re worried about the cost. If you don’t have insurance or if you have a deductible and out-of-pocket costs, you may worry about the expense of therapy sessions or medications. Depending on where you live, your county may offer low-cost clinics or other mental health programs that can help you. Also, check with your insurance provider about your coverage. Often going to in-network health professionals is less costly than seeing a therapist who is out-of-network.
- You’re worried counseling will go on indefinitely. “Much therapy is geared for short-term help and won’t necessarily be a long-term deal,” Jacobs says.
Finding the Right Match
Once you make the decision to seek mental health treatment, the next step is to find a therapist who can provide the emotional support you need and who is experienced with the condition you have. For instance, some mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, may require medication. In that case, Jacobs says, you may need to seek a psychiatrist.
These guidelines will help you find a therapist you’ll feel comfortable working with:
- Be patient. The first therapist you speak to may not be the right one for you. Take your time and you are more likely to find a good match.
- Ask questions. “I would encourage people to do a short interview with the therapist on the telephone or via e-mail and see if you like the attitude you get,” Jacobs says. “If the therapist isn’t willing to be interviewed over the telephone, what does that tell you?”
- Review the therapist’s Web site. “The way people describe themselves on their site tells you a lot,” Jacobs says. “It will give you a flavor of how they talk about themselves and their work.”
- Get trusted referrals. Your family physician, especially if he knows you well, is likely a good resource. Others who may be able to make referrals are your school counselor, your clergy, and local chapters of mental health organizations.
By seeking help and emotional support, you will be able to address mental health issues more successfully. A professional will help you understand your illness and offer better ways to cope with it and conquer it.