Fact: life isn’t always smooth sailing. At any moment, curve balls can fly in out of nowhere and leave us reeling.
“Everyone struggles from time to time. One of my favourite phrases is, ‘Smile at everyone, because everyone is fighting their own personal battle’,” says Dr Janine Clarke, psychologist at Mend Psychology and The Sydney ACT Centre.
Often, these struggles are often short-lived and can be managed without having a significant impact on your psychological, social and emotional wellbeing.
However, Dr Clarke says we sometimes encounter problems that require extra help from a professional — and it’s important to know when and where to seek it.
7 telltale signs
1. Your distress isn’t going away.
If a problem causes you distress that persists for longer than a couple of weeks, it might be a sign professional help would be beneficial.
“Different psychological diagnoses require symptoms to be present for different periods of time. For example, depressive symptoms need to have been persistent for two weeks or more for a depression diagnosis to be given,” she explains.
2. It’s affecting how you normally function.
Persistent distress can impair your ability to perform your various daily duties, whether that be as a parent, friend, employee or team member. This might be especially evident in the workplace — Dr Clarke says depression and stress reduce productivity and are leading causes of employee absenteeism.
3. Your usual coping strategies aren't working.
There's no 'one size fits all' approach to dealing with stress or challenges in life. However, not all coping strategies are effective or good for you — and they can be a telltale sign you need to seek professional help.
"Are you coping by drinking alcohol, or excessive spending or exercise or food? Or withdrawing socially? Ask yourself honestly, 'Are these coping mechanisms helping me?' And if they're not, and your daily functioning is being interrupted, that's the time to go and get some help," says Francesca Harvey, psychologist and founder of Solution Psychology Centre.
Dr Clarke adds that while "low intensity interventions" — such as books and online interventions — can be helpful, if they aren't working for you a "higher intensity intervention" is most likely required. (Post continues after gallery.)
4. There's a ripple effect.
If the issue you're facing is spilling over into other aspects of your life — for instance, pressure at work is causing you to feel stressed and impatient at home or in your relationships — it might be more significant than you realise.
"When we're facing a challenge in one part of our life it impacts on all areas. You can't just say, 'Do I have a relationship issue?' and isolate that; a person's life is a system and every part influences all parts," Harvey says.
5. Your loved ones are concerned about you.
When something's troubling you, it can be incredibly helpful and reassuring to talk to your trusted friends, relatives, teachers or colleagues. However, if they start seeking assurance that you're OK, or they actually make comments like, "I don't think you're okay", that can be a major warning sign.
"If someone else has noticed a change in your demeanour or behaviour, this might be a sign that a problem is more serious than you thought," Dr Clarke says.
Harvey adds that taking the issue to a psychologist can simultaneously relieve the pressure on the friend or loved one you're seeking advice from — as supportive and loving as they are, they can't offer the level of guidance a trained professional can.