Help for stress
When should I seek help for stress or emotional upset?
How do I know if I am just going through a “rough patch” or if I have a mental health or substance misuse problem? At what point should I seek help?
- When your distress is seriously affecting your functioning, or when normal coping strategies and supports don’t help you feel any better within a couple of weeks, it is likely time to seek help.
- If you have thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, or are misusing drugs or alcohol, always seek professional help.
Most of us have asked ourselves these questions at some time in our lives. Usually this happens when we are feeling “down,” anxious, “out of sorts,” can’t concentrate or haven’t been sleeping well for what seems like an extended period of time. We aren’t sure if we should just wait it out until we feel better or if we should take steps to get professional treatment.
If you are wondering about this, ask yourself:
Are my problems, feelings or symptoms getting in the way in my life?
Do they interfere with my work or my relationships with family or friends?
If you answer yes to either of these questions, it’s a good idea to seek help. Your level of functioning and enjoyment of life should be the focus of your concern, not whether or not your emotional state technically qualifies as a mental illness.
Even mental health professionals sometimes disagree about the point at which an unhappy or uncomfortable feeling becomes a diagnosable mental health disorder. Therefore, it is best to view these feelings not as discrete emotional states, but as conditions located along a continuum, the end points of which are “health” and “illness.”
Referring to the above continuum, most people fall into the state of “well-being.” It is safe to say, however, that all of us will at some point in our lives encounter emotional problems or concerns that cause us mild to moderate distress and mild or temporary impairment. Frequently these arise as a result of external events such as illness, financial problems, or relationship problems. The more unhappy or distressed you become, the longer this feeling persists, and the more it interferes with your life, the more likely your emotional state will be considered to be a disorder located near the “illness” end of the continuum. The Surgeon General estimates that up to 20% of Americans will at some time experience more serious distress and impairment characteristic of mental illness.
As illustrated by the continuum, a certain amount of sadness or worry in life is normal; most of us resolve these feelings on our own or with the help of friends and family. But when your distress is seriously affecting your functioning, or when normal coping strategies and supports don’t help you feel any better within a couple of weeks, it is likely time to seek help. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, or are misusing drugs or alcohol, always seek professional help.
If you are interested in taking confidential self-screenings for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, or alcohol misuse, visit the Confidential Online Screenings section.
If you are interested in detailed information about particular emotional or mental health conditions, visit the Learn More section.