How serious do your problems need to be before you get therapy?

“I can guarantee you the best thing I ever did was I admitted to myself and a loved one that I’m actually not okay,” Sam Frost recalled on her mental health struggle.

This admission is hard, though. It opens up your deepest vulnerabilities. It focuses a glaring light on feelings you’ve been hiding; thoughts buried under self-condemnation and denial. It can seem like a ‘Pandora’s box’ of too-hard-basket concepts.

But this admission is something we need to get better at doing. We need to get better at acknowledging, and acting upon, the need for help.

Why? Because it’s estimated one in five women will experience depression at some point in their lives, and one in three will live with anxiety.

“Some people won’t seek help because they think they should be able to manage on their own, or they believe things aren’t ‘bad’ enough to consult a therapist,” explains Gold Coast psychologist Tess Collie.

“They might find the thought of talking through personal stuff with someone they don’t know daunting, or feel it’s better or easier to just avoid things,” Collie adds. “Often people are also frightened of change; they stick with the familiar even when the familiar is unhealthy or it downright sucks.”

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Sometimes these feelings are due to life events, or unexpected circumstances. Sometimes they seemingly have nothing to do with anything, and you are left wanting to sleep, or cry or scream or say absolutely nothing for no apparent reason (which is a feeling that will contribute to the urge to sleep, cry, scream or stay mute – it’s a cycle).

Sometimes the fog will lift by itself, before you’ve even considered consulting a professional. Other times it will stick around, and feel like noticeable or unnoticeable heaviness. Keeping you apart from yourself.

“There is no set ‘rule’ about how bad things need to be before people seek professional help with personal, relationship, family, work or other difficulties,” Collie explains. “Unfortunately many people delay talking with a professional until things are at almost crisis point.  Wherever possible, it is better to seek assistance before things feel overwhelming.”


Listen to Mia Freedman’s raw and beautiful conversation with Sam Frost. (Post continues after audio.)

Prevention certainly seems key when it comes to mental health, but it can be difficult to achieve in a world where ‘therapy’ is still considered a dirty word.

The idea of reaching out for help, and owning that, is still not talked about enough. Yes, we have celebrities talking about depression, we have bloggers talking about anxiety, but still, in the course of our everyday lives, we do not tell our friend, or co-worker or boss that we’re just “going to see the therapist”. Because it’s a sentence that screams ‘ISSUES’.

We’d much prefer to be seen and heard investing in physical health, we constantly brag explain that we’re ‘going to the gym’ or ‘eating well’, but we don’t have the same pride / openness / acceptance when it comes to looking after our mental well-being.

‘We’ve come a long way in de-stigmatising ideas around seeking help, but we still have a way to go,” explains regional director of Relationships Australia, QLD, Sue Miller. “People often come in for themselves, with a sense that ‘things aren’t right’, but they don’t feel they can talk to other people. They might feel shame or embarrassment, and that they don’t want to talk to family or friends to know about it.”

“Everyone’s tipping point is different; things are never “too bad” for help, and there is never a “not bad enough” for help,” Miller adds.


However, there are some specific signs to look out for. If you’re feeling “not quite right”, these indicators might prove  that it’s ‘not all in your head’ (so to speak) and that it’s time to consult a professional.

"Key signs include that you have difficulty maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships; you're struggling to do healthy things for yourself (e.g., exercise, healthy food, work/life balance); you're over-reacting to situations, easily agitated or angered, or really intolerant of interruptions to what you’re doing," Collie explains. "You might also feel overwhelmed by your daily life; be anxious or nervous; or can't seem to feel positive, enthusiastic or energised about anything.

"If you're thinking about ways to harm or kill yourself or someone else, this requires immediate assistance," Collie adds.

As well as these, there are also the physical signs.

"When you find if hard to relax or wind down; regularly behave in ways that you wish you didn’t; use substances (e.g., alcohol, illicit drugs, food) to help yourself cope emotionally; are scared for no apparent reason; experience difficulty breathing; are aware of your heart beating; or have fatigue or low energy," Collie says.

In short, it's definitely time for help when your thoughts begin to take-over your everyday life.

"If you feel things change - or you're not feeling the same as your normal 'self' - it won't hurt to seek help," Miller says. "The real red flag in these situations is when your thoughts start to interfere with your day-to-day function."


"If you're worried or unsure about consulting a therapist, it's best to start with your general practitioner, who likely already knows a little bit about what's going on and can refer you to someone recommended," Miller explains. "Remember, there is not much a psychologist hasn't seen - so there is no need to feel embarrassed or self-conscious. And sometimes you need to consult a few professionals before finding the right fit."

Last year, Sam Frost opened up about going to a psychologist. She said she regularly visits a professional, and this therapy is likely to help her through these "dark" days of her life. As Frost has shown, admitting you're 'not okay', and realising you need help is the first, most vital step, in making a change. Making a change to a place where you do want to get up in the morning, where you do want to be here to stay.

"Ultimately each individual is usually the ‘expert’ of himself or herself in a sense, so they are the ones that truly know how they feel, and how they would like to feel instead," says Collie. "The desire for change is often what self-motivates people to seek professional assistance. Working with the right professional can help people feel more confident, learn to value themselves more and/or be more self-compassionate."

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or, in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.