Mental Health Awareness: When To Get Treatment And Where To Go

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Half of all Americans will experience mental health challenges at some point in their lives, yet many will not seek treatment because they are not confident about when or how they should do so. This article explores when it is best to seek treatment, how to recognize symptoms of mental health challenges and where to find the most appropriate treatment.

As with treating a physical disease, it is important to recognize symptoms of mental illness early and address them promptly, before they interfere with the ability to navigate day-to-day responsibilities and interactions. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to recognize these symptoms because they are similar to the distress that we experience in everyday life. Following is a helpful table from the University of Michigan that distinguishes normal distress from distress that may require treatment.

Please note that if a current distress is leading to dangerous thoughts or behavior, such as suicidal thoughts or causing physical harm, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you have an emergency medical situation, call 911.

  Normal Distress Distress that may require professional attention
Duration of negative feelings Negative feelings begin to subside after a few hours or days Negative feelings do not subside for weeks, months or have lasted for years
Duration of negative feelings Negative feelings begin to subside after a few hours or days Negative feelings do not subside for weeks, months or have lasted for years
Duration of negative feelings Negative feelings begin to subside after a few hours or days Negative feelings do not subside for weeks, months or have lasted for years
Cause of negative feelings The cause is identifiable, for example:
  • You received disappointing news
  • You went through a breakup with a romantic partner
  • You performed poorly on an important assignment or test
The cause is not clearly identifiable, but yet you:
  • Cry frequently and are not sure why
  • Feel unnecessarily anxious in many situations
  • Have angry outbursts for no clear reason
Intensity of negative feelings The intensity is appropriate for the circumstance, for example:
  • You feel anxious before a major assignment or test
  • You cry a lot and feel particularly sad for a few days after a romantic breakup
The intensity is not proportional to the circumstances:
  • You have angry outbursts over minor problems
  • You avoid social situations because they make you feel anxious
Improvement in Mood You feel better, at least for a while, when something good happens You may not feel better, even when something good happens

Prolonged interruptions in normal functioning are also early warning signs that you may be experiencing mental health challenges. They can sometimes be subtle, or mistaken for normal distress, so it is important to know what they look like in order to be able to recognize them. Following are some questions you can ask yourself to see if your normal functioning has been interrupted. Click here for a longer list of questions.

 

  • Is it difficult for me to carry out my normal activities and responsibilities?
  • Is the way I’m feeling preventing me from doing my work or classwork?
  • Have I been avoiding people or situations because I feel anxious?
  • Is it difficult for me to interact with friends, colleagues, classmates or strangers?
  • Has my use of substances like alcohol or drugs interfered with my professional or academic performance, my relationships or any other responsibilities?
  • Have I been feeling less confident, less happy or less in control than usual for more than a few weeks?

 

If you answer yes to one of these, it may be time to take the first step toward getting treatment. There are many treatment options; following is a list of some of potential first steps:

 

 

Keep in mind that the first time you talk to a mental health professional, they will ask what you think the problem is; what you do; where you live; with whom you live; and various other questions about your life. This information helps the professional assess your situation and choose the right steps for treatment.

Mental health challenges are common and treatable, but many people hesitate to find treatment because they are not sure when, how or where to seek help. Early warning signs include interruption of normal functioning and intense and prolonged distress. If you recognize any of these signs in yourself, or they are pointed out by friends or family, you should immediately look into the treatment option most appropriate for you. Many services and care providers can give you referrals, and there are often options available through your private insurance, work benefits or government programs.

However you choose to begin the process, the important thing is to address mental health challenges when you first become aware of them so that you can get the treatment you need to help you resume a happy and healthy life.