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How do you keep healthy? Most people know it’s a good idea to go for regular checkups with a doctor to monitor your pulse, heart rate, weight and cholesterol levels. But that’s not the whole picture. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
Everyone experiences stress, anxiety and sadness at times. But if you have issues that don’t seem to go away — or that get in the way of your daily functioning and/or relationships —treatment is crucial. But how do you know if and when you should seek professional help? Just as you pay attention to how you’re feeling physically, you should also be aware of how you’re feeling emotionally and psychologically.
If you have persistent problems in any of the following areas, consider speaking to your regular doctor about getting a referral to a mental health provider who can help. And don’t delay — studies have shown that the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you’ll start to feel better.1
Signs you should consult a mental health profession:
Do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? Do you toss, turn and worry during the night? Do you wake up feeling ready to start the day, or as if you didn’t get enough rest? We all have times when stress and anxiety can get in the way of a good night’s sleep. But frequent sleep problems can be a sign that your worrying is getting out of control — and affecting your health. Therapy or a combination of therapy, behavioral techniques and medications may help. Another reason to seek treatment is that sleep problems could be a symptom of another mental or physical condition including cardiovascular disease, diabetes or depression.2
No matter who you are, or what your particular circumstances may be, life can be stressful at times. Everyone has experienced stress, and no one is immune. While managing or dealing with occasional stress is normal and nothing to worry about, ongoing stress can cause many emotional and physical symptoms ranging from becoming easy agitation, to headaches, chest pain and upset stomach. Prolonged, chronic stress can cause serious health problems including cardiovascular disease, skin conditions and gastrointestinal problems.3 If you feel you’re stressed out too often or are having trouble managing stress, the right treatment can help.
We’re hard-wired to have a “fight or flight” response to things that threaten us. That’s how we dealt with wild animals coming too close to our caves way, way back in the day. Today, that fear and accompanying rush of adrenaline we experience from time to time still has a purpose. It can help motivate us to get out of harm’s way or even prepare us for an upcoming challenge like an interview or public speaking engagement. But if you find yourself experiencing too much everyday anxiety — including a feeling of being “on edge” or panic attacks that occur without a direct trigger — seek professional help.
Occasional feelings of sadness and hopelessness are a normal part of life. But clinical depression, also called major depressive disorder, is something else. It’s a mood disorder that causes constant sorrow, a loss of interest in life and can have many emotional and physical symptoms including insomnia, cognitive issues and suicidal thoughts. Depression may require treatment in the form of medication, psychotherapy or both.4 If you feel depressed for a prolonged period of time and it prevents you from functioning in your daily life, it’s important to seek the help of a mental health professional right away.
Most everyone experiences highs and lows on a daily basis. In fact, because of normal body rhythms, a majority of people feel upbeat at lunchtime, but more “down” later in the afternoon and in the evening.5 But for people with bipolar disorder, mood swings may be more prolonged and pronounced. A person suffering from this may seem to live life on a roller coaster, with several weeks or months of feeling “up” and wired. During this time they may act in destructive ways, spending too much money or going days without sleep. Then, they may suddenly feel low and unable to function, staying in bed for days. If you experience extreme highs and lows, ask your doctor to be referred to a mental health professional with help. A psychiatrist or the combined efforts of a psychologist and pharmacologist may put you on the road to more stability.
It’s safe to say if you never get mad, you can’t possibly be human. Everyone experiences anger and at times “blows their top.” Sometimes a lack of sleep or unusual stress can cause you to lose your temper more frequently or intensely. But if you find yourself letting off steam too often and in inappropriate ways, whether at strangers or loved ones, you may need help with anger management. Relaxation exercises, taking a “time out,” and learning how to let go of grudges are all tools you can use to manage anger.6 But seek professional help if you feel your anger is getting in the way of your relationships and/or affecting your health.
General Dissatisfaction/Lack of Fulfillment
Sometimes you just can’t put your finger on what’s wrong, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek help. You don’t need a definite problem or diagnosis to benefit from therapy or other mental health services. A general feeling of dissatisfaction or frustration about one or more areas of your life, including work, relationships and self-esteem, is enough reason to get treatment. Through therapy you may be able to clarify your goals and better understand how to reach them.
Most mental health providers have at least a master’s degree and many have more advanced training, education and credentials.7 Psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers are a few of the professionals who work with patients to help them overcome mental health issues to feel better and live a healthier life. As of 2014, most health insurance plans are required to cover mental health and substance abuse services.8 A referral from your primary doctor could be the first step toward a healthier, happier life.
Don’t let stigma get in the way
Mental health problems are extremely common, yet 70% of people around the world who suffer from mental illness do not get the treatment they need because they fear a real or imagined stigma associated with their condition.9 Shame about mental health is slowly being overcome through awareness, education, and communication. But unfortunately, it hasn’t gone away completely. It’s important to know that people with mental health problems have the same rights as other citizens. Whatever your condition, it won’t affect your right to vote or take part in any legal agreements such as marriage, divorce, and business contracts. For more information on your rights, refer to the federal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
1“5 Sure Signs It’s Time to See a Therapist,” John M. Grohol, Psy.D., 7/8/18. Retrieved from
2“10 Health Conditions That Disrupt Sleep,” Jan Sheehan, 11/19/12. Retrieved from
3“Stress Symptoms,” reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MS, 7/11/17. Retrieved from
4“Depression (major depressive disorder),” by Mayo Clinic Staff. Retrieved from
5“Are My Mood Swings Normal,” reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD, 11/28/16. Retrieved from
6“Anger management: 10 tips to tame your temper,” by Mayo Clinic Staff, 5/4/18. Retrieved from
7“Mental health providers: Tips on finding one,” by Mayo Clinic Staff, 5/16/17. Retrieved from
8“Health Insurance and Mental Health Services,” by mentalhealth.gov, 3/19/18. Retrieved from
9“Mental Illness Stigma, Help Seeking, and Public Health Programs,” by Claire Henderson, PhD; Sara Evans-Lacko, PhD; Graham Thornicroft, PhD; May 2013. Retrieved from
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