Seeking Help – and Why Mental Health Matters

Nearly anyone with symptoms of a mental disorder/dysfunction, emotional distress, or difficulty coping with life’s challenges can benefit from the help of a mental health professional. It is essential to seek help immediately in emergency or crisis situations, where there is risk of suicide or danger to oneself or others. It is also important to reach out for help when you or a loved one is struggling with symptoms of mental, emotional or behavioral issues that cause concern. Disorders of the brain are medical conditions that are diagnosable and treatable. Mental dysfunctions are not moral failures, nor signs of weakness or poor character. They result from the interplay of biological, psychological and social factors.

Value of getting help

Obtaining help for mental conditions and related concerns improves one’s quality of life. It can:

  • Relieve emotional pain
  • Potentially head off more serious mental illnesses
  • Improve day-to-day functioning
  • Remove obstacles to achieving goals
  • Foster better relationships and improve family life
  • Help you understand yourself better
  • Boost overall health and well-being

When to seek help

Are you concerned that you or someone you know is living with mental health problems? Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors can signal a problem for which it might be helpful to speak to a medical or mental health professional.

Early warning signs – adults

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Having little or no energy
  • Feeling numb or as if nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on-edge, angry, upset, worried or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily activities, such as getting to work or school, or taking care of children

Early warning signs – preteens and teenagers:

  • Struggling to perform daily activities or handle problems
  • Eating or sleeping much more or less
  • Frequently complaining about feeling sick or reporting aches and pains
  • Rebelling against authority, missing school, stealing, and/or vandalizing property
  • Worrying excessively about gaining weight
  • Feeling sad or negative for an extended period, coupled with lost appetite or thinking about death
  • Often exploding in anger
  • Abusing drugs and/or alcohol, or smoking 

Early warning signs – younger children

  • Displaying aggression or being disobedient
  • Throwing frequent temper tantrums
  • Performing differently in school
  • Receiving poor grades despite making strong efforts
  • Worrying excessively or feeling anxious, such as refusing to go to school or bed
  • Seeming hyperactive – in constant motion, restless
  • Experiencing persistent nightmares

Early diagnosis and treatment matter

Even very young children may show early warning signs of mental health conditions, but these problems are often clinically diagnosable. Youth with mental health disorders often experience difficulties in a variety of settings including within their own families at home, in school, and in the community. Unfortunately, fewer than 20 percent of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Early mental health support can help a child before problems interfere with other developmental needs. Generally, the sooner mental dysfunction is diagnosed and treated, the sooner symptoms can improve and the greater the likelihood of preventing the problems of more severe mental illness. 

Impact of untreated mental illness

Mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia are directly linked to 90 percent of suicides. In fact, suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 38,000 American lives each year – twice the number of lives lost to homicide. The tragedy is that about 50 percent of severe mental illness goes untreated. According to the National Institute of Mental Illness (NIMH), approximately 40 percent of individuals with schizophrenia and 51 percent of those with severe bipolar disorder are untreated in any given year. The result is devastating for both affected individuals and our communities:

  • In the United States, the economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than $100 billion each year.
  • Untreated mental illness causes unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives.
  • One-third of the homeless population (estimated at 600,000) consists of individuals with untreated psychiatric illnesses. Beyond their internal torment, many mentally ill homeless people suffer regular victimization and live in deplorable conditions.
  • People with untreated serious brain disorders comprise approximately 16 percent of the total jail and prison inmate population – nearly 300,000 individuals.
  • Inmates with untreated psychiatric illnesses spend twice as much time in jail as those who are not ill, and they are more likely to commit suicide.
  • The World Health Organization has reported that 4 of the 10 leading causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries are mental disorders. It predicts that major depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children by 2020.

A consultation with a mental health professional or your personal physician is a way to clarify any concerns about symptoms or issues of thinking, feeling or behavior. Some conditions may be treated by a family physician or a primary-care doctor, but more severe symptoms of a mental disorder may require care by a mental health professional.



Mental Health America


Helpful Links:

Warning Signs of Mental Illness – American Psychiatric Association