Getting help for your mental health. 

Apirl 2023 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

What’s keeping you from asking for help? Asking for help with mental health difficulties is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. So much is involved in asking for help and so much needs to happen before you actually get the help and the type of help you need.
It is estimated that more than a million Canadians and 10 million Americans talk to a mental health professional of some kind each year. As many as that is, far more people with mental health difficulties and severe illness don’t ask for help. In fact, the number of people with mental health difficulties who say they need help remains far less than 50%.

The road from having a problem to getting the help you need is long and hard. There are several steps involved, each of which represents a hurdle, that split needs to be resolved in order to successfully get the help you need.

The long road to getting help:

There are five steps along the way to getting help starting with recognizing you have a problem, accepting that you need help, deciding who to ask, determining what kind of help you need and then getting started. There are lots of pitfalls along the way, and each step has its own challenges. It can be so difficult that is not surprising, although very concerning, why the vast majority of people with mental health difficulties still don’t seek help.

Step #1: Recognizing that you have a problem

The first step is knowing you have a problem. Mental health difficulties and illnesses such as depression are complex. People who are depressed have low energy can’t concentrate, find many things unenjoyable, have difficulties falling asleep, eating regular meals, And can have low self-confidence and at times feel that there’s not much point to living, as well feeling sad or depressed. For many people, this will seem like seven or eight different problems. It’s easy to miss the big picture namely that all of these difficulties are in fact symptoms of 1 clinical illness depression. Keep in mind you don’t actually have to feel depressed mood for diagnosis. Feeling flat, which means neither happy nor sad or just having a loss of pleasure is enough. It is understandable that as many as 50% of patients who are clinically depressed are missed during routine assessments with their family doctors.

One of the best and quickest ways to overcome this first hurdle is to complete one of the many brief screening tests 4 whatever mental health difficulty you think you might have. The learning and well-being project has links to a number of screening tests for a variety of conditions including depression anxiety ADHD and many more.

Step #2: Accepting that you need help

The next step is accepting that you need help. Research has shown that stigma remains one of the most significant hurdles two individuals accepting the problems that they are experiencing our problems that warrant and can benefit from help. If you don’t think that you difficulty sleeping our significant problem that you should talk to your doctor about or that it is a significant problem for which there is little help and that nothing will work you are unlikely to accept but you need some kind of professional help.

A good rule of thumb for one it is important to seek help is about two to three weeks. If you’ve got a problem that’s bothering you, whether it’s with your mood (e.g., feel sad), your thinking (e.g., worry about your job, other people, or whether you are going to make it) or your behavior (e.g., Can’t sit still drinking too much, always losing your temper), and these problems are lasting more than two weeks and getting in the way of you doing your job, being a good friend or partner, for living your life then it’s time to get help.

These are the 3DSdistress (i.e., anything that bothers you or someone else), duration (i.e., last more than couple of weeks), and dysfunction (i.e., getting in the way of you living your life), then you then you need to see a health or mental health professional, who will help you workout weather your problems represent a significant mental health difficulty or mental illness, or not.

Solution: if you’re having a hard time deciding whether or not your difficulties are severe enough long lasting enough or impairing enough to warrant seeking help or getting treatment, then don’t leave the decision up to you talk to your health provider your mental health professional and let them do their jobs. If your car started making a funny sound, you wouldn’t try to figure out that on your own unless of course you’re a mechanic you’d leave that diagnosis up to a professional.

Ask yourself:
if you broke your leg, would you prefer to handle the problem alone, prefer to talk with friends or relatives instead of your doctor, or would you be too embarrassed to seek help? When it comes to physical problems, these barriers four ailments such as a broken leg are far smaller. But then again there’s little stigma when it comes to dealing with a broken leg. Most people will call the ambulance and see a physician by the end of the day when it comes to a whole range of physical complaints and conditions.


Step #3: Deciding who to ask

The next step, after recognizing but you have a problem and accepting that it’s time to get help is to decide who you’re going to talk to. Talking to a friend or a family member can give you some reassurance. It can also make you feel a little bit better. But they’re not doctors. And neither are you. Only a highly trained health and mental health professional can help you decide whether or not your mental health difficulties have reached the tipping point — the point at which mental health difficulties which most of us experience and are quite common have reached that point where they are illnesses that require treatment which don’t get better without treatment. Not surprisingly, severe illnesses such as clinical depression don’t get better without treatment. Long-term studies have shown that 80% of people with depression are still depressed after five years without seeking treatment. If you were thinking that you’re going to be in the 20% which miraculously without treatment gets better those aren’t great odds and even if you are you may still live for years before your depression remits.


Step #4: Determining what kind of help to take

the next step is determining what kind of help you can take and should take for your mental health difficulties or illness. There are so many options — dozens of different types of psychotherapy and interventions, and hundreds of medications. It’s hard to know what works best. Having so much choice can make deciding what kind of helped take even more difficult. Keep in mind, it’s always your choice — whether or not you take a medication, or start with a certain kind of psychotherapy. The choice is always yours. For some mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, there are a number of highly effective psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness based meditation. These are for many people as effective as medication. Whether you start with psychotherapy or medication, will, for most people not make any difference. But for other illnesses such as bipolar depression, ADHD, and schizophrenia, large number of research studies have suggested the best outcomes are achieved by taking a combination of both psychotherapy and medication.
These are complex decisions and difficult choices that are best made in talking with your health or mental health professional about the benefits side effects and challenges become with treatment. None of this is easy. But most people when they start treatment start to experience some improvement within just a few weeks. That doesn’t mean you’re going to recover in a few weeks, but that you will start feeling better, living life will become easier, and you’ll be able to do some of the things that your symptoms and difficulties have kept you from.

Step #5: Getting started
the last step after recognizing you have a problem accepting that you need help deciding what help you’re going to get you still have to do what you’re being asked to do. If you’re taking medication, taking a pill is relatively easy. That’s one of the appeals of medication take one or two tablets once a day. That’s not too bad. Psychotherapy is a bit harder. You’ll be expected to meet with someone ordinarily once a week or one once every other week depending on how severe your difficulties are. You’ll be asked to talk about how you’re feeling and asked to work on developing some new skills, such as relaxation breathing or learning how to think about yourself in a different way. Learning how to Fact Check, rethink difficult situations, or do things that cause you to worry takes time and effort. Ordinarily, you need to work at developing these skills every day. As hard as that sounds and maybe, the benefits ordinarily outweigh the costs of doing them.

What’s stopping you from giving help?
Self-report surveys involving 13,984 first‐year students identified a number of barriers to seeking treatment if they had emotional problems. The top five barriers to seeking help in first-year students is presented in the Figure below.

Although barriers involving the high cost of services and difficulties finding the time and transportation to keep appointments affected approximately one in four students, overwhelmingly the major barriers to seeking help concern stigma. Indeed, more than one in two students dealing with mental health difficulties preferred to handle a problem themselves almost one in two stated that they would rather talk with their friends or relatives instead of a mental health professional, and about 1/3 stated explicitly that they were too embarrassed to seek help. We see wide spread availability of online services, problems arising from time transportation and scheduling are likely to be reduced.

Not sure what’s holding you back?
We’ve developed the barriers to help seeking quiz to help you identify what your hurdle is you’d be surprised what’s getting in your way. The quiz only takes a couple of minutes to complete and will give you feedback on each of your barriers and how best to address them.

What’s the cost of waiting?

The figure below characterizes the tipping point — that’s the red dot or the point at which day-to-day mental health difficulties become severe, long-lasting and impairing. The left-hand side of the figure, before you reach the red dot characterizes what most of us experience at some point in a given year perhaps a month or even several times over the course of our lives. The line waxes and wanes your mood dips and recovers your stress increases and subsides. Most mental health difficulties are short-lived they may affect our well-being, get in the way of living our lives, and make doing school and work harder but those difficulties don’t last. The red dot is the point at which those difficulties no longer remit they’ve become not only distressing, not only impairing, but now are long-lasting. Two or three weeks of difficulties like this, which are impairing and do not romance is enough for a mental health professional such as a doctor or psychologist to diagnose these difficulties as a mental illness.

The green dot to the right is the point at which people get help for those difficulties. Unfortunately, the time between having mental illness end getting treatment can last months and even years. Given that many symptoms of mental illness start during childhood and adolescence, it is not surprising that most individuals end up waiting far too long. Some individuals even with the most severe illnesses such as bipolar mood disorder report waiting up to seven years on average before getting the treatment that they needed. If your symptoms started during adolescence as a typical do seven years means that you will have spent most of high school perhaps many years in college and university trying to struggle with mental illness. For most of us, these are our most critical years the years in which we decide what we want to do with our lives, what kind of careers we would like what kind of jobs we can get. Mental illness is going to make all of that much, much harder. And in fact, mental illness is one of the most important factors deciding whether or not students withdraw from their studies, many of whom never return.



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