Mental health isn’t always a completely transparent topic. Since conversations about mental health are often met with stigma or a lack of understanding for the severity of one’s condition, it can be difficult to recognize when you need to seek professional help for a mental health concern.
Navigating the world as a young person, especially during COVID-19, can be stressful. It’s common to experience a range of emotions during these challenging times: anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, or a unique combination of feelings. While it’s normal to experience changing and sometimes difficult emotions, it’s important to recognize when typical stress becomes a mental health concern.
If you’ve never lived with a mental health condition before, it can be scary to start experiencing symptoms, as you may not understand why you feel the way you do. While changes in the state of our mental health can sometimes leave us feeling sad, anxious, or a combination of other things, talking about it can help. Though these emotions may at first be confusing or worrisome, understanding what you’re going through can be the first step in starting to feel better.
So, when does common sadness and worry become depression or anxiety? According to Mental Health America, there are five key red flags that signify the possibility of having major depressive disorder (MDD), including unexplained aches and pains, an inability to concentrate, disruptions in sleep habits, changing in appetite and eating, and experiencing irritability, agitation, and moodiness.
It’s common to experience anxiety at times, but there is a point where typical anxiety becomes disordered and can interfere with social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for a minimum of six months, about numerous events or activities. If you are affected by GAD, you may find it difficult to manage your feelings of anxiety and experience at least three of the following symptoms: restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, and/or other physical symptoms not explained by other conditions. Regardless of whether or not your mental health concerns fit the criteria for a specific disorder, know that your individual experience is valid. You should support your mental health at all times, not just when you’re in crisis.
While symptoms can present themselves in different ways in each individual, there are red flags that can be applicable to many situations. It may be time to seek professional help if thoughts, feelings, or behaviors intensify, last too long, don’t improve or worsen, interfere with normal activities, are linked to other problems, or become dangerous. Specific signs to look for include experiencing excessive worry, fear, or sadness, avoiding social activities, having more bad days than good, persistent fatigue, changes in sleep/eating habits that disrupt your daily life, using drugs or alcohol to cope, physical symptoms unexplained by other illnesses or conditions, and/or thinking about suicide.
If you’ve experienced a mental health condition and sense that your symptoms are getting bad again, it’s okay to reach out for support. Having setbacks doesn’t mean that your progress wasn’t real and isn’t a reason to lose hope. It’s simply a sign that you may benefit from seeking help from a professional.
For college students, check to see what services your school offers. Many universities provide individual counseling, drop-in sessions, and support groups. For younger students, your school may have a psychologist or guidance counselor that can help support you. Outside of school, refer to online resources to help find a therapist. Psychology Today has an expansive directory to help you find therapists, psychiatrists, treatment centers, tele-therapy providers, and/or support groups. Open Counseling also provides a therapist directory with a focus on free or affordable options.
No matter what, you deserve support for your mental health. If you’re worried that your stress has become a mental health concern, or simply are looking for some extra support, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Your mental health matters.