Kate Dailey is the health and lifestyle editor for Newsweek.com. She blogs at The Human Condition.
Today on the show we talked about the stigma associated with mental health issues. But stigma isn't just discrimination or disdain for people with mental health issues. In fact, some of the experts I've spoken to say they've seen that type of stigma disappearing in the past few years. What remains is more insidious: the idea that a mental health problem as something that happens only to other people.
After all, if you never consider that you may benefit from mental health care, you'll never seek out that care and get the treatment you need. David Shern, PhD, the president of the nonprofit Mental Health America used the example of his mother, who everyone thought was always just "a worrier." But what people wrote off as an irritating personality quirk, Dr. Shern now clearly recognizes as an anxiety disorder, something that could have been effectively treated with some behavior modification or perhaps medication.
So how do you know if you should be seeking some mental health guidance? After all, one in two Americans will meet the criteria for a mental health problem at one time or another during their lives. The doctors I spoke to said that if you no longer enjoy your favorite activities, if you're not sleeping well, and if you're eating habits have changed, it may be useful to speak to your doctor about meeting with a psychiatrist or counselor - especially if your close friends or family have made comments about how you're not "yourself" or "the same."
But sometimes it can be hard to tell. Take Dr. Shern's mother, who many probably saw as "the same", the same old worrywart she'd always been. That's where a testing may come in handy. Mental Health America has an online diagnostic tool that tests for some basic mental health problems - anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. It's not a definitive, foolproof test, but it's a good start and, if you're concerned about the results, a good jumping-off point for a conversation with your doctor.