What does it take to get you to the doctor?
Maybe not much. A bad cough and fever might be enough, or a mysterious new pain that has you worried or maybe it is a broken bone.
But what if you’ve noticed a worrisome change in your mood, sleep patterns, work habits, gambling, drinking or relationships? What if you start thinking about suicide?
These are times when you should be asking for help, sooner rather than later.
But for many people the act of going to a company employee assistance program (EAP) or making an appointment with a therapist looks like an insurmountable hurdle. Even though an estimated 23 percent of Americans will experience a mental health problem in any given year, almost half do not seek treatment.
Maybe it’s a feeling that you need to handle your problems alone, maybe you’re embarrassed about expressing your feelings, maybe you’re worried that the therapist will judge you or tell your boss or family that you’ve been to the office. Help is available for mental as well as physical health, but too few seek out mental health counseling.
The Myth of Mental Illness as a Sign of Weakness
Advances in education and research have improved our understanding of mental illnesses, and the success of treatments. Experts now believe that mental illnesses are probably the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. A person with such an imbalance may inherit the condition, or it could be brought on by extreme stress or substance abuse or changes in your own chemical make up as the result of pregnancy, medicines, menopause and normal aging.
Mental illnesses can cause many types of behaviors such as extreme sadness and irritability, and in more severe cases, hallucinations and total withdrawal. It is important for you to know that these behaviors cannot be changed at will and many times are completely out of your control.
The good news is that people with mental illnesses do recover and resume normal activities when they receive proper support and treatment.
The Fear That Seeking Help May Harm My Career
Employees are protected by strict rules, both as to privacy and nondiscrimination. If you don’t know these rules, ask your employer. If your company offers an EAP, take advantage of the opportunity to talk confidentially with a professional who can help you sort through your concerns, and direct you to appropriate resources.
Your employer would much rather you get the help you need—for your sake and the company’s.
Seeking help is best done early, before problems have snowballed into a crisis. In other words, the best time to get help is when you have a sense that something is wrong but may not be convinced yet that help is absolutely necessary, and before a supervisor might notice a problem.