What is a disorder and how do I know if I have one?

people-office-group-team.jpgA large part of my professional career has been doing assessments. As part of this process, I always encounter clients who are of two minds – they are convinced enough that they need help to schedule an assessment, but who think that they really aren’t sick enough to need serious help. How does one know if they need help?

As a clinician, a set of symptoms becomes a disorder when it is significantly impacting the functioning of one’s life. When you think back about the course of an average day, what percentage of your day is impacted by your symptoms? What areas of your life are significantly impacted by your symptoms? Often times people end up coming for assessments when they feel out of control, and unable to contain the effects of their symptoms anymore.

Mental health is unique in this respect. If someone was diagnosed with a serious medical condition, such as cancer, there would likely be little to no consideration made about following the suggested treatment of the physician, whether or not it impacted our lives otherwise. When it comes to mental health diagnoses, however, the attitude tends to be much different. People feel the stigma of the label, and don’t always want to share with others the burdens they bear. They also struggle to consider taking time off from work or family commitments, minimizing the need for the intervention that drove them to assessment in the first place. So many struggle alone, feeling ashamed that they cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as they have been told they should.

My general advice is to follow your gut and be your own best advocate. Start with your primary care doctor, they can usually point you in the right direction of what help would be best. Another resource that can be used is your insurance company. They have staff that can find resources within your insurance network so that it can have the least financial impact.

Someone once told me that the hardest part of running is putting on your shoes. It takes great courage to admit that you need help. Reach out and get the help that you need, and that you deserve.