What to Do if You Think You Have a Mental Health Issue.
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Mental health is tricky, and it always has been. As a species, our understanding of how the human brain works — and its interactions with the thoughts and actions it produces — has always lagged behind what it’s actually capable of. In fact, if you’re considering the timeline of human history, we’re really not that far removed from eras in which doctors prescribed folk remedies rather than medication or therapy for people acting in strange ways.
If you’re at home frantically Googling things trying to figure out if your behavior is “normal” or whether something you do, feel, or think you have constitutes a diagnosable condition, that can be a very lonely and stressful experience. You might feel like you can’t talk to people about it either because they might dismiss the possibility that you do have a mental health issue, or because hearing that you think you have one might change the way they treat you.
If that’s the kind of mental and emotional space you’re in right now, read on. The following five tips might be what you need to read right now.
The first thing you should know is that a diagnosis, whether it’s something given to you or a suspicion you have, isn’t the be-all and end-all of the discussion.
“If a man feels like he is struggling with something that may fall under the umbrella of a mental health diagnosis, the most important part is his willingness to explore it,” says Lindsey Pratt, LMHC, a therapist in New York City. “The diagnostic label can be helpful to better understand an issue, but having a firm diagnosis is not essential for changing behavioral patterns and coming to a more balanced place of one’s mental health.”
That being said, before you start typing names of conditions or lists of symptoms into Google, or read a few articles and proclaim yourself to have X, Y or Z, you should take a deep breath. Diagnosing conditions is something that people get degrees in order to do, and it shouldn’t be casually practiced by any ol’ person looking for an explanation for their personality.
“It is normal these days to Google everything, and while it’s fine to look up symptomology out of curiosity, the average person cannot self-diagnose,” says Dr. Paulette Sherman, psychologist and author of Dating From the Inside Out and the upcoming book Facebook Dating: From 1st Date to Soulmate.
“It is very easy to be wrong about this because some symptoms are part of multiple disorders,” she adds. “It is best to go to a consultation with a mental health professional to understand what’s going on.”
Casey Lee, MA, LPC, NCC of Rooted Hearts Counseling, agrees that self-diagnosing can be a mistake.
“If you try to diagnose yourself you may end up thinking you have a mental illness you don’t have or you may not realize you have a mental illness when you do have one. Information you find on the internet is not always accurate. In addition, your assessment of yourself and the conclusions you make may also be inaccurate,” says Lee.
2. Don’t Jump To Conclusions And Panic
Another tricky aspect of mental health diagnosis is that how we feel can change drastically from day to day, week to week, and month to month — not to mention it’s often incredibly sensitive to changes in our lives, environments, diets, and so forth.
“Diagnoses of mental health are determined by the type of symptoms, the duration of the symptoms, and the context of those symptoms. Sounds complicated? Yes it is. That is why self-diagnosing can be dangerous,” notes Lee.
Essentially, something that feels like it’s definitely a mental health concern today could be completely forgotten in a week or two based on changes, minor or major, in your life. That’s certainly not to say that what you’re worried about will go away, but that it’s best not to panic or do anything rash, and that turning to a professional is probably the best bet.
“It is possible that a symptom could be a phase. Sometimes you can feel sad because of a specific acute loss or anxious because of a news item or event,” says Dr. Sherman. “This is another reason it can be good to consult a professional who can assess the duration, pattern and intensity of your symptoms and see whether there were identifiable triggers.”
That being said, if whatever it is that’s dogging you doesn’t go away, it could represent a legitimate mental health issue — and regardless, if you’re in a genuinely difficult place, there’s nothing wrong with seeking help, Pratt points out.
“If the struggle persists or feels out sized in comparison to what you’re going through, it’s a good idea to seek professional help,” she says.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
Asking for help — or even admitting that there’s a problem at all — can feel scary. That’s something that affects almost everyone, but it can be a particular struggle for men or those socialized as boys, since they’re often taught to “man up” rather than be open about their emotions or vulnerability while growing up.
“I do think the pressure in our society for men to keep things contained and less emotionally expressive is a hindrance to their seeking help for mental health issues,” says Pratt. “Men are told from an early age not to cry, to ‘be tough,’ and to be supportive rather than ones who need support.”
That means it can be easy to talk yourself out of acknowledging an issue. If you think you need to talk to someone about your concerns but feel like they’ll judge you (or if you’re on the fence but it feels easier to dismiss the concerns), it might be worth imagining how you would respond if a friend or family member opened up to you about having the exact same symptoms.
Truth is, male mental health is an issue that unfortunately just doesn’t get enough time devoted to it, and the consequences are sometimes deadly. That’s not to say that you yourself are likely to do anything rash, but the fact that socially, we dissuade men from getting help, in ways both tacit and explicit, has consequences.
“It feels safer to hide behind a mask than to reach out for help to professionals and people close to your life you can trust. Ironically, the more the issue is ignored the worse it can become. Some people try to cope with their mental illness in unhealthy ways, like abusing substances, overworking, overeating, or acting out in sexually risky ways,” says Lee.
So if doing it for yourself isn’t motivation enough, consider that being part of a new trend of men taking their mental and emotional health seriously is a brave and important thing to do these days. It might feel strange because there aren’t really a lot of models in pop culture of brave, strong, manly men getting help. But hopefully as the culture changes, how we represent it will, too.
“I’m happy to see this is changing and now both men and women know that seeking therapy can be a strength and not a weakness. It is healthy to speak to someone about things that may be troubling you or areas of your life that you wish to improve, and most people can benefit from this,” says Dr. Sherman.
4. Open Up To The People You Trust
Whether you have a diagnosable condition (or several) or are just going through a difficult period, talking to others about it can be a lifeline. Spending too much time alone or without truly opening up can make you feel alone, secluded, vulnerable, and depressed. That being said, it can seem daunting to open up about what’s actually going on, particularly if it’s not something you’re used to doing.
Nevertheless, the effort is worth it. “It’s important to seek support when it comes to coping with mental health concerns, whether they are officially diagnosed or not. A mental health professional will likely be your best bet for working through a difficult time, but it’s also helpful to turn to trusted people, such as family, friends, or colleagues if you are struggling,” advises Pratt.
Apart from simply having people to talk to about what you’re going through, it’s also important and useful for some people in your life to have a context for your behavior so they can understand why you’re acting in certain ways — and possibly be the ones to reach out if you’re not feeling mentally well enough to.
“It can be helpful to disclose your condition to certain close friends when you are feeling good so that they can understand and you can sense whether they are open to you connecting with them for support when you aren’t feeling well,” says Dr. Sherman.
It’s also worth thinking about how to approach what you’re going through on social media. Posting about mental health struggles can have both positive and negative outcomes, making it a bit of a double-edged sword. First and foremost, your personal comfort level with sharing this aspect of your life should be the primary concern.
“Some people post on social media about their mental illness to raise consciousness about it, to be authentic, to feel more connected, and to find community,” says Dr. Sherman. “One downside to consider is that if they are feeling vulnerable, impulsive, or fragile, they might regret sharing it later when their mood has shifted and there may be internet trolls who may be unkind or judgmental, so they’d need to be prepared should this occur.”
Still, the benefits of sharing what you’re going through, if you feel up to it, can be powerful, both for you and for the people you’re friends with or who follow your account.
“A willingness to speak openly about mental health issues is a highly effective way to end the stigma against these issues, and as much as men are comfortable sharing via social media in personal conversations, it can absolutely help,” says Pratt. “There is no way to know who you may reach that feels isolated in their struggles, as well, so I always encourage both men and women to be open if they feel comfortable doing so.”
5. Arm Yourself With Knowledge
Again, a diagnosis isn’t some kind of end point. Rather, you should think about it as a new beginning. Things may be different going forward in a number of different ways, but how different or not will be up to you and depend on a number of factors.
“A diagnosis is simply a label unless you then work through how it’s presenting in your life,” says Pratt. “Arm yourself with knowledge about the diagnosis by working with a mental health professional or reading legitimate books on the subject, and be gentle with yourself when it comes to doing the work of untangling difficult emotions.”
“Introspection is key when it comes to really understanding how a diagnosis specifically impacts an individual,” she adds. “So, journaling and sharing with others can also be helpful to explore the impact it’s having on you.”
It’s also worth noting that, while having a diagnosis can make you feel more alone when considering all the people you know who don’t share it, it can also lead you to meeting other people who do.
As Dr. Sherman notes, “Sometimes people may seek out a supportive community or group as well.” Talking to other people who understand what you’re going through — whether in person or online — can be a tremendous lift to your self-esteem and help you feel understood and less alone.
It’s also important not to feel defeated or somehow less of a person for having a mental health condition.
“Though your mental illness can affect your social life, work life, and family life, your mental illness does not have to define you,” says Lee.
Dr. Sherman agrees. “Many people live happy, fulfilling, functional lives even with mental health issues or disorders. They learn how to cope with symptoms and triggers as they arise and accept that it is part of their journey. They surround themselves with people who love and accept them and understand their condition.”
It’s also very important to follow any plan your doctor prescribes, cautions Dr. Sherman, “in regards to medication, weekly therapy or if they suggest that you try things to try at home, like doing progressive muscle relaxation for anxiety. This is especially the case for serious mental health issues because the right healthcare provider can suggest the best treatment plan.”
At the end of the day, a mental health condition can be a struggle, but it’s not an impossible obstacle to overcome. What’s most important is how you approach your diagnosis and how you see your life going forward.
“Some people feel the same after realizing their diagnosis as they did beforehand. For others, it may mean taking medication or engaging in therapy, making lifestyle changes, cutting out harmful substances, or other bigger life changes,” adds Pratt.
“It really depends on the individual, what their diagnosis is, how it presents, and what he or she is willing to do about it. The growth part is up to you.”