To Seek Help or Not: Recognizing the Early Signs of Mental Health Issues
Published on 12th January, 2017 by Muhammad Haikal Bin Jamil
According to research by Alonso et. al (2007), only 52% of the adult population in Europe who met the criteria for a psychological disorder received formal healthcare use, defined as having visited a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or a counselor, within 12 months of its onset. This number is much lower (11%) for those who are experiencing a difficulty that does not meet the criteria to be diagnosed as a psychological disorder, such as marital issues and poor anger management. While I do not have the numbers for the Singapore population, I won’t be surprised if the number of people seeking help here are much lower.
Indeed, it is a serious concern of mine, and I believe the mental health field in general, that a significant portion of people who could benefit from psychological treatment do not receive the help that they need following early signs of distress. Oftentimes, I meet clients turning to mental health professionals only as a last resort after other options have been exhausted, or because the family members are at their wits’ end. Early provision of professional help can minimize the impact of many psychological problems, and prevent the disorder from developing into something more severe. For example, professional mental healthcare can reduce the risk for suicide completion when experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting suicidal behaviours (Wilson & Deane, 2010).
Do i need help?
In this article, I shall discuss certain indicators that we can look out for in ourselves and those around us that may flag as potential signs for seeking professional help, so as to facilitate early access to treatment.
1. You suffered a traumatic episode or high stress levels recently.
The pain after a death in the family, the heartbreak after ending a relationship, or the aftermath of experiencing a road traffic accident can be enough to require you to seek professional help. Substantial body of research has consistently shown higher levels of significant stress prior to the onset of anxiety disorders and major depressive episodes (e.g. Kendler et al., 2010). If you find yourself overwhelmed by the events in your life, seek professional help to learn effective ways of coping.
2. You are on an emotional roller coaster.
It is natural to experience emotions in response to the happenings around us. However, mood fluctuations and/or intense emotions are indicators of mental health issues. Intense emotions are debilitating to your daily functioning, and often prompt us to act in manners that we will later regret. For some disorders, such as panic attacks and borderline personality disorder, the changes are relatively quick. In others, such as bipolar disorders, the changes happen over days, or even weeks.
3. You lose interest in activities that you normally enjoy, or even in life itself.
Do the activities that you usually enjoy previously, such as meeting friends or eating your favourite food, no longer please you? You may be experiencing anhedonia, a condition characterized by the inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable acts. Anhedonia is a feature of many mental health issues, such as depression, schizophrenia and substance abuse. It is likely that your pain and negative thoughts are preventing you from experiencing the pleasures of these activities. If your difficulties escalate to the point where you are contemplating whether life is worth living, seek help immediately.
4. Everyone is asking if you are alright.
If two or more people have expressed concern about your well-being or asked if you are fine, you may consider the perspectives of these individuals. Poor insight of mental health issues is a common reason for not seeking early care. Those around you might have noticed changes in your behaviours or mood which you have not.
It can get uncomfortable responding to others enquiring about your well-being, even if you really fine. You can briefly check with your friends on why they asked the question. If necessary, you can seek professional help thereafter, which offers you a safe and confidential avenue to address these concerns.
5. You turn to substances or other damaging activities.
Turning to alcohol and drugs, or other addictive behaviours may be signs of a severe underlying problem. The use of substances or activities may be a strategy, albeit an ineffective one, to cope with one’s difficulties. For others, engaging in such risky behaviours helps to numb the pain that they are experiencing (Felitti & Anda, 2010).
If you have one or more of the signs above, contact a mental health professional for help. The list above is not comprehensive, but it seeks to provide a broad overview of potential signs of mental health issues. Different mental health professionals work differently. However, your intervention will be tailored to suit your needs, be it challenging the negative thoughts that is affecting you, or imparting new skills to cope with your situation in an effective manner.
Alonso, J., Codony, M., Kovess, V., Angermeyer, M. C., Katz, S. J., Haro, J. M., ... & Almansa, J. (2007). Population level of unmet need for mental healthcare in Europe. The British journal of psychiatry, 190(4), 299-306.
Felitti, V. J., & Anda, R. F. (2010). The relationship of adverse childhood experiences to adult medical disease, psychiatric disorders and sexual behavior: Implications for healthcare. The impact of early life trauma on health and disease: The hidden epidemic, 77-87.
Kendler, K. S., Kessler, R. C., Walters, E. E., MacLean, C., Neale, M. C., Heath, A. C., & Eaves, L. J. (2010). Stressful life events, genetic liability, and onset of an episode of major depression in women. Focus, 8(3), 459-470.
Wilson, C. J., & Deane, F. P. (2010). Help-negation and suicidal ideation: the role of depression, anxiety and hopelessness. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(3), 291-305.