How do I know when to stop relying solely on my friends for support and seek professional help?
This is a really good question that, to be honest, I am not sure has a very clear cut answer. I am a big believer in the fact that most people can benefit from help BEFORE it gets urgent and BEFORE you get to the point where you can see you are stressing out your friends and it is beginning to affect your relationship with them. That is why we are interested in not just targeting and treating emergencies at the Habif Health and Wellness Center (also know as SHS), but also in prevention and wellness. It is why we have so many cool other opportunities to get help and learn skills without having to see a therapist regularly like groups you can drop into (like our managing anxiety, mindfulness, and DBT skills groups) and TAO (which lets you do some modules at home to work on various mental health concerns, like depression and anxiety).
There is not really a “sign” that all of the sudden you are “bad enough” to need to go see a therapist or psychiatrist and, beyond your friends telling you that they feel overwhelmed, or you seeing it on their faces, there is no way to know that going to them is no longer the right avenue for support. However, there are some questions you might ask yourself or some things you might track that might help you take a personal inventory of what is going on with you and whether you feel you might need professional help:
• What is my mood and anxiety daily, on a scale of 1-10, and has that changed recently (or is it consistently really high for anxiety, really low for mood)? The purpose of this is really data gathering. It helps you to ascertain whether you are feeling consistently bad/anxious or whether things are more fleeting and triggered by events and might also help you know if your mood worsens, or has worsened recently. All of these things might be reasons to seek help.
• How much am I sleeping, eating, exercising and has any of this changed recently? All of these can significantly affect your mental health and can be the chicken or the egg.
• Is my mood/anxiety/mental health significantly affecting my day-to-day life? With this one you are probably thinking if you can do well in school, you must be fine, but let me tell you that from experience with people at elite universities, schoolwork and grades are often the last thing to go. While missing assignments or class would definitely be a warning sign, so would wanting to stay inside and not go out with friends when you usually would enjoy that, for example.
• Am I doing any sort of impulsive or risk taking behaviors that are uncharacteristic of me or have these behaviors increased for me recently? Substance use, impulsivity, and unsafe sexual activity can go hand-in-hand with declining mental health (as methods of poor coping, for example) and can also contribute significantly to worsening mental health due to their interactions with the brain. Pay attention to and think about any significant behavior change in yourself (or change in a friend)
I would also add that some symptoms and scenarios might automatically rise you to the level of seeking professional help. These include, but aren’t limited to, suicidality with a plan or intent, hearing voices, paranoia, and not sleeping and not needing sleep and other symptoms of mania. Also, if you have a significant family history of mental illness (in immediate relatives) and are experiencing similar symptoms or you previously required medication or hospitalization for mental illness but are not actively in treatment, you might always need to seek professional consultation and not rely on a friend for help.
If, however, you ever feel confused with what to do for a friend, you can always confidentially call Habif for advice, visit a Let’s Talk location during the week, or Uncle Joe’s, if you’re an undergrad. It can be hard to be the listener just as much as the storyteller and we understand that completely.
Got a question you want to ask Dr. Gold? Submit your question to [email protected]