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Topic: When to seek help

Question: I've been feeling stressed for what seems like a very long time now. How do I know if I actually need to go talk to someone about how I'm feeling?

Andrew J. McLean, MD, MPH

Associate Dean for Wellness                        Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science School of Medicine & Health Sciences University of North Dakota

Expert's Response

That’s a great question. First, it’s important to realize that most people who go through stressful experiences “come out the other side” OK. Many people will experience occasional episodes of physical and emotional changes in response to stress (i.e., normal responses to an abnormal situation). In fact, some people might experience what’s called “post-traumatic growth.” They might develop, after significant struggle, a new appreciation for their life, relationships, or recognition of their own personal strength.
However, some people might be more prone to developing mental health or substance use problems during exceptionally difficult times.  Individuals who have had previous experiences with such illnesses could be at greater risk of relapse. It is not uncommon to see an increase in use of substances during stressful times. Also, individuals who have had stability in managing their mood or anxiety disorders can find themselves challenged in maintaining balance due to disruptions in sleep, social supports, behavioral healthcare access, etc.

We recommend that people reach out for professional help if their symptoms are:

  • Not just “a nuisance” but are significantly impacting their day-to-day functioning (whether that be in work, relationships, or other areas of life)
  • Not simply “occasional” but have become more consistent and prolonged
  • Impacting their physical well-being
  • Are causing safety concerns, such as having harmful thoughts toward themselves or other people

I recommend reading these resources for more information: