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.
"It can threaten a friendship or relationship if the [person is] constantly looking to them for support. They might find it overwhelming," she says.
6. Trying to control or avoid your problems is sapping your time and energy.
"People might engage in avoidance behaviours, distraction, reassurance seeking, alcohol or substance use, or simply put on a happy face in an attempt to reduce their symptoms or problems," Dr Clarke says.
"These attempts might work for a little while, but they are rarely useful in the longer term."
7. You're not getting enjoyment out of the things you used to.
Think about the activities or items you usually draw enjoyment from. Is this still the case? Are your worries preventing you from experiencing the same level of enthusiasm or energy? Do you feel constantly overwhelmed?
If this is the case — and if you're finding it hard to do things that you previously considered easy to do — you might benefit from talking to a psychologist. Dr Clarke says these symptoms are particularly common when someone is struggling with low mood. (Post continues after video.)
How to find a psychologist.
"Anyone can make an appointment to see a psychologist. You do not need to have a referral, but you do need a referral from your GP if you wish to claim the Medicare Rebate," Dr Clarke explains.
This rebate will cover up to six sessions per calendar year, but there's the possibility of an additional four following a GP review. Dr Clarke says if you don't have a referral, you might still be able to claim a portion of the psychologist's fee from your private health fund depending on the level of cover.
You can find a psychologist through websites such as the Australian Psychological Society and HealthShare. Harvey says it's important to understand someone can only call themselves a psychologist if they're registered with the Psychology Board of Australia.
"As psychologists, we are bound by a very strict code of ethics and very well trained and qualified. I think that's important, when someone gets the courage to actually recognise they need some support, they want to have a good experience."
Harvey adds that while there still seems to be a stigma attached to seeking professional help for mental health issues, there's absolutely no reason to feel ashamed or hesitant about doing do.
"If we have a physical ailment, we readily go to the dentist or the GP and get help, but when it comes to mental health people still put it off," she says.
"I think seeking help should be applauded, because it means you've taken action to move forward and create positive change for yourself and all those people around you."
Have you ever seen a psychologist? How did you find the experience?