Emotions are part of life.
All humans experience sadness, nervousness, happiness, excitement, and a variety of other feelings. If you are fortunate, you can go to friends and/or family for emotional support and that may be enough to keep you “rolling along.” Reading self-help books may also provide the information and support needed to maintain mental health. So, how do you know when you need something more?
If you find yourself asking “do I need to seek professional treatment?” then it may be time to make an appointment. When your functioning is significantly impaired in some way over a period of time then seeking treatment may be your next step. Counseling is not about addressing feeling down in the dumps for a couple of days after failing a test, or being a little nervous before a presentation. It is about treating the impairment of functioning which has existed over a period of time. When therapists diagnose mental illness they must factor in the impact on functioning and length of time the individual has been suffering.
For example, for a diagnosis of depression, a person may have such symptoms as persistent sadness, anxious or “empty” feelings, hopelessness, irritability, loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, etc. These symptoms must have persisted for at least two weeks and represent a change from their previous functioning. In the case of anxiety, the symptoms must cause significant impairment in functioning and have lasted for at least six months in some cases.
Unfortunately, there is still a negative stigma attached to seeking help for mental health problems. Interestingly, if we have diabetes, the flu or some other physical illness, we don’t hesitate to seek help. However, just the mention of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or any other mental illness, can shut people down from having an open and needed discussion much less seeking treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in America (20 percent) experience a mental illness. Compare that to 9.3 percent of the population that had diabetes in 2012 (The American Diabetes Association) or that five percent to 20 percent of the US population will contract the flu in an average year (WebMD). So as you can see, mental illness is more prominent than some of the physical illnesses for which people readily seek treatment. Unfortunately around half of the people suffering with mental illness do not seek help. Please talk to your doctor and/or loved ones, and get help if you are suffering from mental health problems.
Fight the stigma, spread the word, and let’s talk about mental health.
May’s Mental Health Awareness column is written by Tamara Davison, a licensed professional counselor with Scotland Family Counseling Center in Laurinburg. This column invites readers to be open about discussing mental health and to help spread the word about the prevalence of mental health issues in our community.