When To Seek Professional Help

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - May 23, 2007
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People are always commenting on how beautiful my friends are. I’ll admit it, I think they’re hot too.

They’re stylish, poised and in good shape. But what many can’t see is the emotional instability inside of them. One is dealing with depression, and others are experiencing major life adjustments (divorce, breakup, death of a family member, financial issues, etc.).

According to the National Institutes for Mental Health, more than 44 million Americans (1 in 5) suffer from a mental health disorder. The Surgeon General states that nearly two-thirds of all people with mental health disorders do not seek treatment; and that untreated mental health disorders cost American businesses $79 billion in lost productivity per year (Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health 1999).

May is Mental Health Month in America, and in an effort to educate the public on psychology and how to find help, the Hawaii Psychological Association has launched a free online referral service at www.hawaiipsych.org

The website also offers tips on how to determine whether a person might be in need of a psychologist. These indicators include a sudden change in appetite or weight, inability to sleep or desire to sleep too much, and/or lack of enthusiasm for things which used to bring joy.

“Mental health and physical health go together,” says Rosemary Adam-Terem, a clinical psychologist in private practice. “If you’re physically not very well, you’re quite likely to feel low emotionally. And if you’re feeling poorly emotionally or mentally, sometimes you don’t look after yourself physically.

“I think it’s normal for all of us to have bad days and bad moments, and things can look bleak for a short while, but normally when you’re yourself you’re feeling healthy and mentally strong. You kind of work through it and things look better.

“(Asign that you may need professional help) is when things don’t look better and there’s a prolonged sadness, or you feel overwhelmed every day and it’s interfering with your ability to do things and focus. For example, you can’t sleep, you’re losing your temper with your kids, you’ve lost interest in sex. These things can get serious - the person may turn to alcohol or drugs or think about hurting themselves in any way.”

When it comes to seeking help, Adam-Terem says, a commonly asked question is what is the difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental illnesses and are able to prescribe medication.

Psychologists are people who are trained specifically in psychology and hold a doctoral degree. The emphasis is more on mental health than mental illness, although psychologists can also treat mental illnesses.

“You don’t have to be crazy to talk to a psychologist,” says Adam-Terem. “It is not uncommon for people who are functioning in many areas of their life - they’re going to work, looking after their kids, doing whatever they do for the community - but inside they could be dealing with some problems that affect them deeply.

“It doesn’t mean they have mental illness although sometimes they can develop depression and/or anxiety or something that’s quite severe depending on the nature of the stresser.

“Sometimes things go away by themselves. People get depressed and they don’t seek help or treatment, and they get over it. But there are other people who do not get help or treatment and it can actually lead to a worse problem.”

Adam-Terem warns that signs of a mental health problem may be very subtle at first and continue to creep in without you even knowing it.

One sign to look for is if you are experiencing negative feelings. If so, think about the intensity, frequency and the duration. You don’t have to be crying all the time. You can be irritable or just off your normal game, not thinking clearly and/or have a loss of concentration.

“They tend to not see the positive things anymore and think about themselves in negative ways,” she says. “And this thinking becomes a kind of logic and they talk themselves down and down and down. That’s why intervention at an early stage is a good thing. Talking to someone who can help can stop that negative spiral down.”

My friends are pretty crazy, but not that kind of crazy. And while they have support from friends and family, they say their psychologists have helped them in ways that their loved ones would not have been able to.

“Going to a psychologist has helped me to talk about what I’m going through, which is one of the main things for me, to be able to voice it to someone who is not biased and to hear it,” says one friend. “It’s helped me to come to a reality that this is what my life is because I was in denial for a long time. It’s also helped me with staying focused on me and with moving on.

“And it’s made me realize that unfortunately there are a lot of people in this type of situation.”

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