Life for many of us has been somewhat challenging over the past couple of years. For the vast majority of people, the weight of the global pandemic has had its impact.
And while an international disaster is certainly not a prerequisite to hardship or mental health difficulties, there has rightly been a lot of focus placed on the emotional and mental toll of the COVID-19 crisis.
Pandemic or no, it’s always worth discussing the benefits of mental health support services (there are many). And recognising the signs that you or someone you love may find a chat with a psychologist helpful is just as important. Considering October is Mental Health Month, and October 10 is World Mental Health Day, we’d like to shed a little more light on this important topic, and hopefully get some conversations about mental wellbeing going.
Here, I chatted with Rucha Lele, a psychologist with digital mental health company Lysn, over email about the signs that indicate it may be time to seek out some support.
7 signs it’s time to chat with a psychologist
1. Feeling “low” for two weeks or more
To begin, it’s worth noting that you really don’t need a reason to chat with a psychologist. If you’re struggling in any capacity, your want to speak with someone is valid.
If you’re looking for a guide, however, Lele shared that good and bad days are normal. “However, feeling generally unhappy, low or depressed for weeks on end can be a sign that you’re suffering and could benefit from speaking to a professional.”
“Having ups and downs is normal but feeling unhappy all the time for no specific reason and just generally feeling ‘empty’ inside can be a sign that you’re suffering,” she shared.
“It is important to seek help from a professional if you are feeling this way or talk to someone close to you about what might be impacting your outlook.”
2. A general loss of joy
If you’re finding that activities or things that usually brighten your mood no longer do – “whether it’s a hobby, food, social activity, hanging out with friends, or your career” – this could be a sign you’re in need of support.
“A loss of interest in activities can be a sign of mental health concerns, especially if it causes you to become withdrawn or start avoiding the kinds of social connections you’d normally enjoy,” Lele explained.
“Now is a particularly difficult time to do many things we normally would given restrictions happening around Australia, however, if you’re finding yourself not wanting to do things even if you could, there could be cause for concern.”
3. Constantly feeling worried or anxious
Listen, in these *uncertain times* (I hate to say it but it’s the truth) you may have more worries than usual. But it’s worth paying attention to rising feelings of anxiety.
“…when specific feelings start to reoccur or feel like they don’t go away, it’s time to consider things further,” Lele explained.
“Especially if these feelings start to infiltrate your life and are constant or interfere with daily activities. No one should have to live in a constant state of flight or fight.”
4. Reacting differently
Once again, it’s important to consider that you may be under an unusual level of stress right now which could understandably lead to heightened emotion. But on this point, Lele stressed that if “you’re finding yourself constantly reacting to scenarios quite differently to what you normally would, it could be time to talk to someone”.
“For example, you may have snapped or responded in an overly agitated way to a seemingly trivial thing, or gotten upset at a joke that wouldn’t normally offend you. We all have those funny days where we cry at a commercial, but if it starts happening all the time and it is out of character for you, ensure you seek help.”
5. Getting sick with stress
Our bodies are finely tuned machines, friends. It’s not uncommon for one thing to affect another, and mental health is no different.
“Physical sickness can often be a sign of some other mental health concerns at play,” Lele said.
Being in a constant state of stress, she explained, can cause your body to become run down which often leads to sickness.
“There is a strong physical-emotional connection so our bodies can often tell us something is wrong before we realise. If you are noticing that you are continually getting sick, it might be worth looking at what else is happening in your life which could be the root cause.”
6. Your sleep patterns are suffering
Loads of people struggle with sleep. We write about it almost constantly for that reason. However, an overactive mind messing up your sleep quality is not a factor to overlook. On the flip side of this, Lele pointed out that a lack of sleep can “have a dramatic effect on our wellbeing, making us feel tired, emotional and lacking energy throughout the day”.
“If you are struggling to sleep properly, try to practice some tactics that might help, such as no screens before bed, journaling, and meditation. If this doesn’t help, seek the help from a professional,” she said.
7. You’re turning to destructive behaviour
Though some may try to use drugs or alcohol as a means of escape, Lele shared, “this can actually have the opposite effect”.
“Alcohol is a known depressant so can increase feelings of sadness and the come down from drugs can leave a person feeling worse than before,” she said.
“Chemicals in drugs and [even] seemingly harmless substances like caffeine can affect the way the brain functions and cause various symptoms that can affect a person’s mental health.”
What to do once you decide you’d like some support
If you’re experiencing any of the above – or just want to speak with someone – there are a few options available to you.
Lele shared that “If speaking to someone initially feels a bit daunting, you could start by trying an online tool that asks you questions about your mental health to find out if you should seek professional help”.
You can also access Beyond Blue’s free and confidential mental health coaching program NewAccess in parts of the ACT, NSW, QLD and VIC, if you’d like guidance on everyday stressors.
Lele continued, “Services like Lysn provide access to psychologists via video chat, which can be accessed confidentially from the comfort of your own home around the clock”.
When it comes to the cost of psychological support, know that you can ask your doctor about gaining access to a mental health plan through the Australian government. This plan sees psychologist appointment fees partially or sometimes fully covered through the Medicare rebate. You are able to claim up to 20 sessions per calendar year.
Read on here.
And remember, support is always available.
This article has been updated for Mental Health Month.