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Deciding When to Seek Treatment
Should I seek treatment for a problem?
Emotional and behavior problems are common, which can make it hard to decide whether the issue that you’re dealing with is one that rises to a level that you should be seeking treatment. There are several factors to think about when you consider whether or not you should reach out to a professional. These include:
- What the specific behavioral or emotional problem you’re facing is (i.e., what are your symptoms?)
- How much the symptoms are bothering you.
- If the problem impacts your functioning.
- Whether the problem is interfering with your life.
Below are some guidelines to assist you in this decision-making process.
What Are Your Specific Symptoms?
When you’re coping with a problem, you’re generally experiencing a range of symptoms. These may be:
- Strong emotions that can feel out of control (i.e., sadness, constant anxiety, anger)
- Physical symptoms (i.e., changes in your body, muscle tension, fatigue, etc.)
- Thoughts (i.e., recurrent worries, hopelessness)
- Behaviors (i.e., urges to avoid or escape a given situation, aggression towards others).
How Much Are You Bothered by Your Symptoms?
Now that you have more of an idea of the symptoms you’re experiencing, consider how much they’re bothering you. If you were to be completely honest with yourself, how would you answer the question “How are you doing right now?” Here are some other questions to consider:
- Are you living the life you want to live?
- How happy and content are you right now?
- Is your current life what you hoped it would be?
- What would you like to be different about yourself and your life?
- Are you feeling overwhelmed by problems and stressful situations and events in your life?
Answering these questions can help you think about what’s most important to you, how satisfied you are with your life, and whether you are moving towards your life goals. Often, people will focus on whether an issue is manageable, but don’t stop to think about whether it’s worth managing by themselves. Treatment can be a way to ease some of the burden and get you to a place where you can be living a life that’s more in line with your values, even if things were ‘okay’ before.
Sometimes it can be difficult to answer the above questions – asking the advice of a friend or family member may also be helpful when deciding whether to seek therapy. They may have another perspective and be able to see changes in your level of happiness when you don’t.
It is normal to have times when you are feeling dissatisfied with life and unhappy, particularly when under stress or during stressful life events like job loss, death of a family member, or divorce; however, if unhappiness and dissatisfaction have been the norm for you over weeks, months, or years, this indicates that you might benefit from speaking with a mental health professional. People often anticipate that they will begin to feel better once the stressful life event passes. While this is sometimes true, often, people find that when a stressor gets better, they still don’t feel better. Mental health professionals can offer consultation and strategies for effectively coping with stressful life events.
Do Your Symptoms Affect Your Functioning?
In addition to what your symptoms look like, and how much they bother you, take some time to consider how they impact your functioning. Consider both your daily life as well as your relationships. Here’s some more information to consider:
Daily life: Take a moment and reflect on what you currently do at home and work. Consider what you are currently do on a day-to-day basis:
- How well have you been fulfilling your responsibilities at home and work?
- Is this different from what you did a few weeks, months, or years ago?
- Have you noticed that it’s more difficult to do things that you once did?
- If you are a parent, are you spending less time with your children or finding yourself less patient or engaged?
- Are you avoiding things that you used to do?
- Have you missed more days of work than usual?
- Are you completing work tasks on time and as accurately as before?
- Have you received negative feedback about your performance from people at work, family members, or friends?
Social relationships: Know that your social relationships can also be affected by your symptoms. Behavioral and emotional problems can impact not only individuals, but their families, friends, and their colleagues and work. If you find yourself withdrawn or changing your relationship with people you care about, this is a sign to seek treatment. Consider whether your relationships have been impacted by your symptoms:
- Do you spend the same amount of time with family and friends as you always did?
- Do you avoid social events, or specific interactions?
- Do you rely on others to complete tasks for you?
- Have people in your life expressed concern about you or your behavior?
- Have you changed the amount of time you spend with certain people, even though your relationship with them has not changed?
If, in answering these questions, you notice many or significant changes to your daily life or relationships, this is a sign that it is time to speak with a mental health professional.
Making a Decision
Take a moment and reflect on your responses to the questions listed above. Significant symptoms, feeling bothered by the symptoms, and symptoms that affect your daily life and relationships are all signs that you may want to speak with a mental health professional. An initial consultation with a mental health professional will give you the information you need to determine whether you should receive treatment for an emotional or behavioral problem.