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Is It Time for a Mental Health Checkup?

By Michele Taylor
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD

You may go to the doctor to get regular checkups of your body, but what about your mind?

Everyone deals with tough times, but even happy events like a new job, a marriage, or a new baby can add stress.

How do you know when stress starts taking a toll on your mental health?

If you have any of these five symptoms for more than a few weeks, it may be time for a mental checkup.

Grouchiness. Are you normally a happy person but lately find yourself blowing up over small things or arguing more with friends or family? It could be a sign of some mental or emotional issues, says Sarah Hightower, a licensed counselor in Atlanta. It could also be depression or anxiety. “This isn’t the same as a minor mood change. If your overall patience level with other people drops, pay attention,” Hightower says.

Sleeplessness. Many Americans don’t get enough sleep, but they just assume they need to roll with it. That's not healthy. A 2008 National Sleep Foundation study found that more than 30% of Americans have fallen asleep at work or while driving and estimated that nearly 50 million people suffer from sleep problems that impact their daily lives. Once a doctor has ruled out a medical condition (thyroid problems, chronic pain, etc.) that’s keeping you from sleeping, it’s time to talk to someone who may be able to explore mental and emotional causes.  

Difficulty being with people. Often, the first sign of depression is when a normally social person starts avoiding people and stops interacting on social media. So if you find yourself checking out, you might want to ask yourself why.

Eating more or less. There are times, like holidays, where people tend to overeat. But long-term overeating or constantly reaching for foods high in fat and sugar could be a sign of stress or emotional eating. A review from Harvard Medical School found that short-term stress may cause a loss of appetite, while long-term stress increases the hormone cortisol, which raises appetite.

Can't relax. If you’re always wound up with a racing mind, it could be a symptom of anxiety. Unlike depression that often comes and goes, anxiety can become a constant -- and easily overlooked -- part of life. People can live with it for years without noticing its ties to mental health. “We have a hard time knowing how to relax as Americans,” says Kanika Bell Thomas, PhD, owner of A.T.L. Psychotherapy and Consulting Services. Anxiety, she says, often shows up in physical symptoms -- headaches, tight shoulders, upset stomach, and breathing problems -- which can cause the focus to be on physical rather than mental causes.   

It's OK to Get Help

Don’t let common misbeliefs stop you from seeking support:

Myth #1: I can handle it on my own.“Assuming you can handle your own mental health would be just like attempting to perform your own medical care,” Bell says. “The other extreme is feeling that friends, family, and spiritual advisors should be enough when they can actually complement the support from a professional.”

Myth #2: It’s a sign of weakness. Recognizing that you need help is a sign of strength. You aren’t alone in feeling overwhelmed. According to the American Psychological Association, 42% of adults say their stress has increased.  And 44% say they aren’t doing enough to manage their stress.

Myth #3: Mental health care is for crazy people. Getting help when you need it is a very sane thing to do. Lots of highly successful people do it.

Myth #4: It’s too expensive. Many employee assistance programs (EAPs) will cover sessions with a counselor or therapist. If you don’t have access to an EAP, check to see if a counselor in your area offers a discounted rate. Or schedule some time with a spiritual advisor such as a pastor or rabbi to talk about your troubles.

 

Reviewed on July 01, 2014

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