Look, friend, I don’t blame you for putting it off. But it’s a new year and often that means a new resolve to take care of yourself.
Not only is there still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, but the nature of some illnesses is that it’s easy enough to assume you have it under control, that you’re fine or insert your excuse here. For example, someone with mysophobia (fear of germs) believes that they can protect themselves from feeling sick as long as they keep their exposure down. Therefore, the behavior is justified. At the end of the day, who wants to be sick? That's why it's hard to argue with someone if they believe they are truly ok.
I am not one to sit and claim that everyone has some sort of mental illness, but the truth is, mental illness is still largely untreated in the United States and most of the world.
Whether you found this article because you’re worried about a loved one or because you suspect that your mental health isn’t at its best, consider the following:
1. You’re afraid you’ll be told you need to take medication
Perhaps this is a sign that you are truly feeling poorly. I would argue most people don’t even take a Tylenol for a headache until it’s become unmanageable (especially yours truly). If you’re so worried that you’ll be forced to take medication, that might be a signal to do some research, then go to a doctor armed with your own informed opinion. You can decide your next steps from there. If you start with a therapist, they can’t prescribe medication anyway and you may just find that cognitive behavioral therapy is your saving grace.
2. People you love and trust have mentioned that you’re not yourself/ that they are worried
You might not even notice because you’ve normalized it, but several times now, several different people whose opinions you normally trust, have repeatedly told that you've not been yourself lately. Assess that, why would they ask? What do they have to gain?
Consider this: in a study conducted in 2000 with 400 participants, 60% of people with in a hospital for mental illness did not believe that anything was wrong them. Indeed, many would get upset that their family was forcing them into therapy they didn’t need. Is something truly up? Maybe yes, maybe no, but you won't know until you talk to the right source.
3. You have found that most of the friends you often turned to just vent are now saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do anymore”
Sure there are just unsupportive people out there. Not everyone is lucky to have people by their side that will stick around no matter what.
It’s also not easy to talk to your friends about things going on inside your head, so it’s very hurtful to hear that your friends who were always there for you, no longer feel like they can help you. If you know they normally always had your back, perhaps it’s time to assess how often you've been leaning on them to help you feel better. If it seems like the answer is "almost daily" for a few months, maybe it’s time to talk to someone who will have an unbiased opinion about your emotions.
4. You’ve had a traumatic event in your life
You can say: “I’m fine, I can handle this,” all you want, but about half of the U.S. population will go through a traumatic life event and have to deal with a bout of depression as a result. Just because these stressful circumstances are not permanent, doesn’t mean you should just sit and wait for everything to “blow over.”
You know when you have a cold, if you stay at home and rest up, you’re back on your feet in no time? Whereas, if you push yourself to power through, you’re likely to have that same cold linger for a longer time.
Mental care is the same. Not only will you get back on your feet quicker, but it also ensures that if you ever do feel even worse, you'll have a professional you can trust to turn to.
5. Your mental state is interfering with accomplishing regular tasks
You find that you can’t focus. You constantly feel like your head is somewhere else. You are frequently distracted and you keep making avoidable mistakes. All because you are constantly preoccupied with…something. Maybe your thoughts are all over the place, maybe you can’t stop thinking about one thing. Regardless, that’s easy enough to get on track with some outside help.
6. You can’t seem to get a handle on your health otherwise
Do you keep finding yourself feeling poorly in new ways? You may have even changed your diet and started a new exercise routine but still can’t seem to get ahold of why you’re not at 100%. Like your body has now turned against you too? Sometimes this is a result of pushing our feelings away. They come back in new ways to teach you to take care of yourself somehow. These symptoms are often referred to as psychosomatic.
At this point, if someone else was describing this situation to you, you would likely at least recommend they see their regular doctor. Personally, I found myself quite a few times grasping for any explanation considered “normal” before I would admit that it was possibly mental health related. Been there. Felt that. It was terrible.
I went to a gastroenterologist considering a stomach ulcer. I went to a pulmonologist to try to solve my asthma problem. I went to the emergency room because I could not fully inhale. Each doctor told me that maybe I should consider talking to a psychological specialist. I wish I did sooner. Guess what happened when I finally did? I got the specific help I needed and then moved on and lived my life.
7. You’ve tried self-diagnosing yourself
This one is obvious. Have you stayed up late nervously researching and getting random information from the internet on a disease that you may or may not have? If you’ve lost sleep over it and you are obsessed with worrying about it, forget about me recommending something for you--there’s a heavy chance you’re trying to tell yourself something.
Agree? Disagree? Think I overstepped with my assumptions? Let me know in the comments below.
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, I know not all of us have the insurance, the physical or monetary means to consult with a professional. Thankfully, there are some options. Look into low-income subsidized therapists in your community (at least in the U.S.) if that’s the case. There are also phone apps that offer cheap assistance to those who need it. All I am trying to encourage here is that the people who need help and have access to it take advantage of it. If you would like at least a recommendation for a trusted source to read, you can’t go wrong with the National Institute for Mental Health.