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Nine signs it may be time to seek a mental health professional

If you struggle to get through the day, you’re not alone. The stresses and strains of life challenge everyone from time to time, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more of us feel overwhelmed.

Those most at risk for emotional distress include:

¯ Disaster survivors

¯ People who have lost loved ones

¯ Those who face economic or other uncertainties

¯ Older adults who lack mobility or independence.

But emotional distress can affect everyone from all walks of life. Some of us might not want to seek help for fear that others will see us as “damaged” or “broken” because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Finding out what’s wrong and getting proper care may help you feel better. These are some of the signs that indicate when you might want to consider seeing a mental health professional.

1. Not feeling like yourself — You feel stressed out or a little “off.” These reactions can carry over into other parts of your life and affect your desire to do things you normally enjoy. Sometimes you may fall into a rut after a major life event, such as a new job or a move. It’s normal to need some time to adjust, but if you don’t remember the last time you felt happy, you could have a more serious condition.

2. Social withdrawal — Keeping your emotions bottled up and retreating from friends and loved ones affects your physical and mental health. We all need human contact to maintain our well-being. Talking about your problems may also help relieve them. If you struggle with communicating, a counselor can guide you to open up.

3. Suicidal thoughts — If you often think about killing yourself and no longer want to live, seek help immediately.

4. Trauma — Emotional, psychological, and physical trauma can leave long-term wounds that don’t heal properly. They may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that occurs when certain experiences trigger memories that cause fear, anxiety, or obsessive thoughts connected to the original disturbing event. For example, flashing lights could remind you of an accident scene, causing you to relive the emotional distress tied to it. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms and learning how to cope with trauma can be a difficult process. A professional evaluation may be needed to get to the root of the problem.

5. Addictive behaviors — Drinking or gambling a lot, abusing drugs, uncontrollable sexual behavior and participating in other destructive activities can affect your ability to function in other parts of your life. When a habit interferes with your daily routine, it’s time to get help.

6. Inability to cope — Some of us struggle to perform our normal daily activities or have become less efficient at doing things. We may have problems concentrating or staying motivated. Stress is often a major contributing factor. If left unaddressed through proper coping strategies, it could lead to a more serious condition.

7. Extreme mood swings — Shifting rapidly from happiness to sadness and engaging in other manic behaviors are potential symptoms of bipolar disorder, addiction, or even untreated trauma.

8. Mysterious physical ailments — Sometimes lots of regular aches and pains, such as nausea, headaches, and stiff joints, that have no known cause may be connected to anxiety or other mental health disorders. Getting the right treatment can bring some relief.

9. Changes in your habits — Eating too much or not enough, experiencing a higher or lower sex drive, and oversleeping or not getting enough rest are among the behavioral changes you may undergo as a result of mental health issues.

Especially during difficult and uncertain times, it’s normal not to feel OK. If you experience any of these signs, contact Citizen Advocates. We can diagnose your situation and, if necessary, create a treatment plan tailored to your needs. We specialize in mental health (including tele-mental health), addiction recovery, depression screening and treatment, and more. If you or a loved one faces an emergency, contact our 24-hour Crisis Hotline at 518-483-3261 or 518-891-5535.

Dr. Joshua Frank, CMO, is the chief medical officer for Citizen Advocates, based in Malone and with offices in Saranac Lake. He is board certified in psychiatry, neurology and addiction medicine. Along with providing treatment services at Citizen Advocates Behavioral Health Centers and Crisis and Recovery Center in Malone, he has direct oversight over other physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nursing staff.

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