Do I Need Therapy?

By Beacon Care Services • 26 Oct 2018

  • Mental health conditions are common.
  • It’s normal to feel fear, sadness, anger, and other negative emotions.
  • If everyone in your life says you need help, maybe you do.

All of us have a physical illness from time to time. And hardly anyone gets through life without going to a doctor at least once to take care of a problem. When it comes to our bodies, we know when things don’t feel right, and we’re usually not reluctant to get help.

We may feel differently about mental health. Those problems are not always clear-cut. It’s common to have a down day or two, but at some point longer than that a spell of the blues might point to depression. Fears are common, but phobias can reveal a problem. How do we know if we’ve crossed that line? That is the same issue with stress after a traumatic event. How do we know if we’re not able to handle it on our own?

These questions boil down to one: Do I need therapy? There’s strong evidence that more Americans could be helped by speaking to a therapist. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about one in five U.S. adults have some type of mental health problem in any given year. But less than one half of these problems get treated. Some people may think they just have to feel that way, while others may want help but fear being labeled for seeking it.

Asking for help with an emotional problem is a healthy decision. Many find that consulting a therapist lessens the problem, or makes it easier to solve than they feared.

Here is some advice to help you decide if you, like tens of millions of other Americans, could benefit from talking to a mental health provider:

Look for the three “D”s: Distress, Duration, and Disability. Simon Rego, a psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in The Bronx, NY, says everyone now and then has symptoms that are associated with mental illness. The trouble is when these symptoms don’t go away and take over your life. Rego says you should ask for help if you’re distressed by the symptoms and if their duration seems unusually long. The third sign is if they are disabling. That is, if they “have reached a point where they’re preventing you from functioning in your work, personal, and social life.”

Take a hint from friends and family. Others may be able to see changes in your mood and behavior that you fail (or refuse) to recognize. Stress reactions, substance overuse, depression, and uncontrolled anger can destroy relationships. Those close to you may be the first to see the damage being done. Says Rego, “If everyone in your life says you need help, maybe you do.”

Practice self-help, but know its limits. You can (and should) be doing all that is possible to keep yourself mentally healthy. The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests these four rules for managing your emotions:

  1. Learn to express your feelings in appropriate ways. Let people close to you know when something is bothering you.
  2. Think before you act. Before you get carried away by your emotions and say or do something you might regret, give yourself time to think.
  3. Strive for balance in your life. Make time for things you enjoy. Focus on positive things in your life.
  4. Take care of your physical health. Exercise regularly, eat healthy meals, and get enough sleep. Don’t overuse drugs or alcohol.

If you do all this and your problem persists, then it’s a good idea to look into therapy. As with physical health, self-help is not always enough to make you well.

Know the signs of serious illness. Major mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, usually gives off early warning signs before it develops fully. The American Psychiatric Association says you should be concerned if several (not just one or two) of the following symptoms occur:

  • Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in others
  • An unusual drop in functioning, such as quitting sports, failing in school, or difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems with concentration, memory, or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain
  • Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
  • Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity; apathy
  • A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality
  • Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult
  • Fear or suspicions of others, or a strong nervous feeling
  • Uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior
  • Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings or “mood swings”

Do you need therapy, or just some fine-tuning?

On the less serious side of the spectrum, you may have mild symptoms that keep you from feeling your best but aren’t disabling you. That is, they may not amount to an illness as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This can mean your treatment is not covered by insurance. On the other hand, it may pay to consult a mental health professional anyway. You may get helpful advice, along with reassurance that you’re OK.