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Emotional Problems: Finding the Help You Need

When your life seems unmanageable, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

The American Psychological Association recommends you seek the help of a trained mental health professional if:

  • You constantly worry.

  • You feel trapped.

  • You aren't getting any better with self-help.

  • You feel as if you can't handle things alone.

  • Your feelings are affecting your job, relationships, or sleep or eating habits.

Other reasons to seek help: Someone who knows you well suggests that you go to counseling or you have an untreated problem with substance abuse.

These are only some of the symptoms that may warrant seeking help. You may have others that concern you.

Finding help

The first person to consult may be your family healthcare provider to find out if your symptoms may be caused by medical conditions. If a medical condition is not the cause, your provider may be able to suggest a mental health professional.

The mental health professional you choose should be licensed by your state. These are the types of professionals who provide mental health services:

  • Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with at least four years of specialized study and training in psychiatry after medical school. Psychiatrists can provide medical and psychiatric evaluations, treat disorders, provide psychotherapy, and prescribe and monitor medications.

  • Psychologist. A psychologist generally has a doctoral degree in clinical, educational, counseling or research psychology. Psychologists provide psychological testing and evaluations. A psychologist is also trained to treat emotional and behavioral problems and mental disorders, and provide psychotherapy and behavior modification.

  • Social worker. A social worker has a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree and is licensed to practice social work. Social workers can assess and treat psychiatric illnesses and do psychotherapy.

  • Mental health or psychiatric nurse. This is a specially trained nurse with a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree. Mental health nurses can assess and treat illnesses and do case management and psychotherapy. In some states, some psychiatric nurses with advanced training can prescribe and monitor medication.

  • Licensed professional counselor. A counselor has a master's degree in psychology, counseling or a similar discipline and has postgraduate experience. Counselors may provide services that include diagnosis and counseling.

The cost of counseling services depends on whether you choose a public or community-based practitioner, or one in private practice.

An informed choice

Before establishing a relationship with any mental health professional, make certain the person has training and experience in your area of concern, whether that is alcohol, depression, gambling, domestic violence, family therapy or marriage counseling.

Also, you have the right to choose a professional who can meet your cultural concerns. For example, if you're a woman dealing with domestic violence issues, feel free to ask for a female therapist. But a therapist doesn't necessarily have to be like you to be able to help you. What's most important is that the therapist is someone you feel comfortable talking to honestly and who seems to care about your well-being.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), doctors may overlook depression when it occurs in older adults. This may be because seniors are less interested in talking about their feelings with a physician. Alternatively, this underdiagnosis may be due to older adults showing symptoms that vary from those shown by younger adults or symptoms that are less noticeable. 

But your doctor may be able to offer you a variety of treatments or guidance, based on your medical history and preference. Not only would relief from your depression likely improve the quality of your life, but the NIH notes that resolving your mental health issue could also make treatment for other conditions — such as heart disease or diabetes — significantly more effective. So be sure to reach out to your primary care physician or another provider.

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