Seeking psychological help and you: How to start?
Even today, there is a widespread belief that people who seek professional psychological help are in some way different from others. They are often said to be not normal, or are thought to be simply “weak” because they are unable to cope with life’s difficulties on their own. Until recently, open conversation about mental health was something that simply did not exist. But why is it acceptable to go to the doctor if we have a headache, cough and have a fever, or go to the hospital if we are physically injured, and it is not acceptable to seek professional help if we suspect mental health problems? We have already mentioned the presence of mental health–related stigma, but this is not the only problem we face if we decide we need psychological help.
Discovering how to find adequate psychological help was until recently a considerable undertaking, and psychotherapy was considered a waste of time and a waste of money. Although the situation is somewhat better today, and the conversation about mental health has somewhat normalized as a topic in a public space, it is still not easy to find out exactly what steps to take to get adequate help for psychological problems.
What could happen if we don’t seek help when we need it?
The vast majority of people with mental health problems never get adequate help. But why should we care at all? What are the possible consequences of untreated mental issues?
- Mental problems will rarely go away on their own, and once they are there, they usually do not go away on their own. The presence of one problem, in case we do not address it in time, could result in the further deterioration of the mental state and the appearance of other problems.
- Mental problems often manifest through physical pain. The most common are neck and shoulder pain, headaches and stomach aches. The constant presence of stress makes us susceptible to a number of diseases and problems such as stomach ulcers or even cancer. This can all result in premature death.
- The presence of untreated mental disorder is very likely to negatively affect interpersonal relationships in our lives. Isolation, loss of friends, conflicts with people around us and the inability to develop new relationships are common consequences of the presence of mental disorders
- Psychological problems generally reduce our quality of life. Coping with responsibilities at work or school can become increasingly difficult, same as maintaining adequate living conditions. In extreme cases, psychological issues might result in loss of home and/or work.
- Substance abuse is also common in untreated disorders. No matter if we are talking about medication, alcohol or illegal drugs, people with untreated mental health problems often resort to self-treatment of the problem in the easiest way available to them, which is to dull the symptoms through psychoactive substances. This approach to “treatment” can easily lead us into conflict with the law.
- And finally, one of the most extreme consequences of struggling with psychological difficulties is suicide. As many as 90% of suicide attempts are related to mental health problems that individuals simply could no longer cope with.
Normalizing the search for psychological help can only have a positive impact on us, the people around us, but also society as a whole.
Who are psychological help services for?
Psychological services are not only intended for people with mental health problems that completely impair their functioning in everyday life. Anyone can seek psychological help. The condition for seeking psychological help is not the presence of long-term psychological problems. As we have already mentioned, avoiding facing a possible problem can very easily result in further deterioration of our mental state and the development of some disorder. So in this case, too, we should be guided by the “better to prevent than to treat” mantra and seek help even if it is difficult for us to cope with some everyday problems. Sometimes we may not have a clearly defined problem, but we feel “lost” and we just need someone to help us put some things in life in order. In such situations, talking to an expert can be helpful to “get things in the right place”.
How do we know we need help?
If we notice that we are uncharacteristically feeling „down“, do not have the will for daily tasks, feel increased levels of anxiety or increased levels of stress, or that we suffer more and more from pain (eg headaches and stomach aches) for which we cannot find a specific explanation, these are all indicators that there may be a problem and that it would be advisable to seek help. We may also notice that we withdraw from the environment, that we are often in conflict with people around us, that more and more things in life worry us, we notice that our thoughts are often “foggy“, we consume alcohol or take medication more often, we constantly feel anger or even have suicidal thoughts, it may be time to consult a professional. The longer we delay seeking help, the more likely it is that the situation will get worse. If these problems are present for a period of several weeks, we notice that they are present most of the time in the day and that they negatively affect our daily functioning, it is time to face them.
But how can a mental health professional help us at all, and what are all the options available to us once we seek help? We will talk about this in the next article.
Finding Help: When to Get It and Where to Go. Mental Health America. (n.d.). https://www.mhanational.org/finding-help-when-get-it-and-where-go.
High Focus Centers. (2021). Dangers of Untreated Mental Illness. High Focus Centers. https://highfocuscenters.pyramidhealthcarepa.com/dangers-untreated-mental-illness/.
The Potential Dangers of Untreated Mental Health Disorders. Desert Hope. (2020). https://deserthopetreatment.com/co-occurring-disorders/going-untreated/.
Top 5 Reasons to Consult with a Mental Health Professional. Top 5 Reasons to Seek Help – Mental Health & Wellness – University of Rochester Medical Center. (n.d.). https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/mental-health-wellness/seek-help.aspx.
When & where to seek help for your mental health. Black Dog Institute. (2020). https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/emergency-help/when-where-to-seek-help/.