Mental Health Issues + When to See a Doctor
Mental health issues are more common than you might think. In the U.S. alone, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some form of mental illness each year.
But the positive news is that the most common mental health issues are highly treatable through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a licensed therapist and/or medication prescribed by your doctor.
Here are some of the most common mental health issues and when to see a doctor if you’re having symptoms:
- Anxiety – Anxiety disorders are by far the most common mental health issue in the U.S., with nearly 40 million adults suffering from them. Symptoms of anxiety can include excessive and fearful worrying, restlessness, insomnia, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue.
When to see a doctor: Everyone goes through rough patches, and it’s natural to have anxiety symptoms during periods of acute stress. But if you have anxiety symptoms that persist for weeks or months at a time, or interfere with your ability to work and live normally, call your doctor.
- Panic Disorder – Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes panic attacks — terrifying episodes where the sufferer is suddenly gripped by an uncontrollable sense of fear, even when there is no discernable threat present. Panic attacks are especially frightening because their symptoms can mimic a heart attack or stroke, such as tingling and numbness in the extremities, racing heartbeat, shortness of breath or tight throat, sweating, dizziness, and nausea.
When to see a doctor: Call your doctor if you’ve had more than one panic attack in the past month.
- Eating Disorders – Eating disorders, which are characterized by either inadequate or excessive food intake, can develop at any stage in life. When they arise in adulthood, they’re usually the result of stressful transitions or life changes and are often also accompanied by acute anxiety or depression.
When to call a doctor: Obsessive thoughts about food (whether it’s restriction or indulgence), preferring to eat only when alone, extreme concern with body shape or size, dramatic weight loss or gain, and withdrawal from friends and family are all signs that you should see your doctor.
- Depression – Depression is a mood disorder that is almost as common as anxiety. As with anxiety, it is normal to go through brief periods of depression in your life, especially in response to grief or loss — the death of a loved one, a divorce, losing your job, or another major life change. Depression can cause you to feel indifferent about your life and relationships; sad, “empty,” or hopeless; tired and fatigued; and can bring on difficulty making decisions.
When to see a doctor: If you have a significant loss of interest in the people or hobbies you used to enjoy, persistent sadness and pessimism, suicidal thoughts, major changes in sleep and/or ability to function, or prolonged periods of despair, make an appointment with your doctor right away.
- Addictions / Compulsions – Addiction, whether it is to illegal or prescriptions drugs, alcohol, gambling, or sexual interactions, is a debilitating condition for both the sufferer and their loved ones. Compulsions can cause equal distress — obsessive behaviors like hoarding, shopping and spending, and eating can seriously damage a person’s life, health, and relationships. Both addictions and compulsions are incredibly common. In fact, surveys have shown that nearly half of Americans have a family member or friend who has been addicted to drugs alone.
When to see a doctor: A persistent, uncontrollable need to consume a substance or act on a certain behavior, obsessive thoughts about the substance or action, inability to stop the behavior, increased anxiety, shame, or guilt, the development of personal and/or professional relationship problems, or feeling out of control or angry.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PTSD is often associated with veterans who have undergone severe trauma during combat. However, PTSD can occur after experiencing, or even witnessing, virtually any terrifying event. Symptoms include recurring nightmares, severe anxiety, intense distress, and uncontrollable thoughts about and flashbacks to the event itself.
When to see a doctor: Even if you don’t have any obvious symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor if you have experienced a traumatic or life-threatening event. Sometimes PTSD symptoms will not show up until months, or even years, after the occurrence. Talking with a healthcare professional soon after the trauma happens can help mitigate the development of PTSD and its symptoms.