Recognising and Getting Help
for Mental Health Problems

See also: What is Counselling?

There is a saying that asking for help is the hardest step. However, sometimes even recognising that you need help is even harder. This is especially true if you are experiencing mental health problems.

Why? Partly because your brain and mind are not working properly, and you may therefore be unable to recognise that you might need help. However, it is also partly because of the stigma that is still attached to mental health problems in many parts of the world. This can make us reluctant to seek help, or even admit that we have a problem.

This page discusses how to recognise and seek help for mental health problems. It also considers where you might go for help.

It’s OK Not to Be OK

If 2020 has taught us anything, it must surely be that it’s OK not to be OK.

Around the world, we have faced lockdowns, with attendant requirements to work from home, home-school children, and keep numerous other plates spinning at the same time. Many, if not most of us, have found this hard, at least at times. However, we have certainly not all struggled with the same things, or at the same time.

That’s an important point.

In life, we all find different things easy and difficult. We have different talents, and different sticking points. And we need help with different things.

When your kitchen sink springs a leak, you may be one of those people who immediately leaps into action with wrenches, buckets and towels. However, you may also be one of those people who just calls a plumber. There is no stigma attached to either approach. Some things you can do yourself, and other things you need help to manage.

It doesn’t matter whether the things you find easy or difficult are physical or mental. The same principle applies: it is always OK to ask for help, and to admit that you are not able to manage.

However, it is also important to admit—and to state—and there is an element of stigma in admitting that you ‘can’t cope’ mentally. This may make it harder to ask for help—but also more important to seek help earlier, before you have a real problem on your hands. To go back to the kitchen sink analogy, it’s better to call a plumber when there’s just a drip under the sink than when the whole u-bend has fallen off and your tap is stuck on full…

Recognising When You Might Need Help

When should you seek help, then?

The answer is: when you need it. And this doesn’t have to mean ‘when you’re in crisis’.

The mental health charity Mind suggests that you might consider asking for help if:

  • You are worrying more than usual;
  • You are finding it hard to enjoy life at the moment;
  • You are finding it hard to cope with your thoughts or feelings; or
  • You are simply feeling the need for a bit more support.

These suggestions make clear that you do not need to be completely unable to cope before you ask for help for a mental health problem. You certainly don’t need to be experiencing any obvious symptoms of a mental health problem. Indeed, it is likely to be easier to manage your situation if you don’t wait until that point.

Mental health conditions are not ‘all or nothing’. They are on a spectrum. You do not suddenly become eligible for or worthy of help when your condition reaches a certain level. You can ask for help (and receive it) at any time, for any level of problem that you feel needs help.

The next question, of course, is who should you ask?

Seeking Help For Mental Health Problems

Many people start by talking to friends and family. They are, after all, the ones who are closest to us, and therefore best placed to provide practical support on a day-to-day basis. This may be all that’s needed to assure you that you are not alone, and that support is available.

However, for some people, this support is not enough. They may have more severe mental health problems that mean that they need more help, including support from healthcare professionals.

How you access healthcare provision for mental health issues will depend on where you live, and the system for accessing healthcare more generally. For example:

  • In the UK and other countries where there is a ‘gatekeeper’ system to access specialist healthcare, you may be best going to your GP or family doctor first. They will consider whether you would benefit from immediate medication or other treatment, and/or a referral to a specialist such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

  • You may be able to self-refer to a specialist such as a psychiatrist, especially if you agree to self-pay. This may be a suitable route if you are worried about involving your GP, and the implications for having a referral on your medical records, or if you have previous experience of mental illness. You can find out more about the types of treatment offered by psychiatrists, and the conditions they treat, at BetterHelp.

  • In many countries, you can self-refer to a psychologist or counsellor for ‘talking therapy’ on a self-pay or insurance-funded basis. This can be a good way to work through issues that are troubling you, or simply to find someone to whom you can talk confidentially.

Remember: not asking for help may make things worse

There is undoubtedly a stigma about mental health problems in many countries, societies or groups. Charities and organisations are working hard to overcome it, and making headway in many places.

They emphasise that you cannot help developing mental health problems, anymore than you can help catching a cold or flu. They also make clear that when you do have mental health problems, you need to seek help. Waiting or delaying, and trying to manage your own condition, may make things worse. It is far better to ask for help when you first start to struggle, rather than wait until you are in crisis.

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About the Author

Melissa has been writing content for SkillsYouNeed since 2013. She holds an MBA and previously worked as a civil servant and. Now with a young family, she is learning all about applying her skills to real life.