When we become adults (this is us, trying to be adults!), we’re used to dealing with all the crap that life throws our way. How we cope, though, is another story. We’re all guilty of habits and behaviours that aren’t exactly awesome for our mental health. Obsessing over something minor for no apparent reason, being too hard on ourselves because we can’t fit into those tiny jeans, having too many drinks at dinner. Oh yes, we’ve all been there. But how do you know if you’re just having a few tough days or if it’s turning into something serious?
The key to knowing if a behaviour is a problem is to check yourself or your loved ones. How severe are the symptoms? How long have they been going on? Are they inhibiting the person from living their life? When can you handle things yourself and when do you seek help?
Here is the expert take on four common disorders and when it’s time to find a pro.
Common Mental Health Issues: When To Go It Alone and When to Seek Help
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
A person is obsessive compulsive when they have constant unwanted thoughts, feelings and ideas that drive them to behave in a certain way. Some OCDs, as they’re known for short, feel they NEED to wash their hands or clean their homes or check on things repeatedly—or else. This level of need is the defining factor.
The Tipping Point: Needing to clean your home every day to feel at ease does not mean you should seek a therapist. Needing to wash your hands once every hour is not abnormal. The moment to seek help is when the person feels intense feelings of anxiety or fear if they DON’T do something.
Eating disorders are tricky because they come in many variations. A common misconception is that only girls suffer from eating disorders, when in truth they affect men and women of all sizes. Eating disorders all look different. Some people might exhibit bizarre behaviours like spending long periods of time preparing or cutting up their food, or pushing it around their plate and not having a bite, while others believe they are overweight when they are at a normal weight or even underweight. Still others binge eat, others purge, some don’t eat at all.
The Tipping Point: You should definitely seek help if yourself or a loved one exhibits any of these behaviours more than twice in a short period of time or on a regular basis. What you don’t want is for the behaviours to escalate, which they often do, if left untreated.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Dysmorphia is happening when an individual obsesses over a flaw that only they can see or obsesses over a minor flaw that others do not perceive to be a big deal. Common symptoms are avoiding social situations because of the perceived flaw, constantly hiding or picking at the perceived flaw, or seeking multiple plastic surgeries with little satisfaction.
The Tipping Point: Body dysmorphia is serious because it does not go away on its own without therapy. Untreated dysmorphia symptoms can lead to depression and anxiety and may even lead to suicidal thoughts.
Some people are natural heavy drinkers. We all know or are the friend who would go out every night if it were possible. The key difference between someone who enjoys recreational boozing and an addict is that the latter ignores reason and responsibilities in order to drink. An alcoholic will drink when they can’t and shouldn’t. Before work, before driving, even when they are in a precarious medical situation.
The Tipping Point: There are definite signs of alcoholism, such as these, for instance. You should seek help if you cannot stop once the drinking has started, if you drink to “numb” or “avoid” feeling stressed or upset on a regular basis and especially if your drinking causes problems at your workplace, school or with your friends and family.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez Psy.D. is a New York City neuropsychologist and teaching faculty member at Columbia University.