When Should I See a Mental Health Professional?

In this week’s blog, I’d like to commemorate World Mental Health Day, which is held on the 10th of October every year. It is now a topic that has reached mainstream status after being taboo for the longest time. Mental health involves our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It also involves effective functioning in daily activities resulting in productivity, healthy relationships, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity. (www.mentalhealth.gov, see below for full reference) Mental illness, on the other hand, refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders. (www.psychiatry.org) We need to take care of our mental health just as much as our physical health. They are tied together more than we think.


When we have a recurring migraine or a high fever, we see a doctor. It’s not that hard to figure out if we need to go the hospital when we can see the symptoms. But for mental health, it’s not as clear cut.

  • What should I feel? 
  • When is the right time to see a medical professional? 
  • Who should I see?

The first question deals with what you should feel if you’re mentally ill. When it comes to mental illness, there are no telltale signs like high body temperature or a runny nose that tells us we’re sick. For your mental health, you can visit sites like https://screening.mhanational.org and do a self-assessment. If you feel like something’s wrong, and objective measurements tell you there’s a possibility of an illness, see a doctor as soon as you can.

Another barrier we face in caring for our mental health is differentiating between the work of mental health professionals. When do we see a psychiatrist? What about psychotherapists and life coaches? To help clear things up, here are some keywords for each category:

PsychiatristPsychotherapistLife Coach
Medical DoctorClinical PsychologistPreferably with a background in psychology
Diagnoses the illnessDoes talk therapyCreates an action plan for life goals
Prescribes medicineProcesses issues/pastFocuses on actions and outcomes

To illustrate what going to a team of mental health professionals would be like, let’s look at what happens when we treat a physical illness. Let’s assume you have high cholesterol, and that you need to take medicine and lose weight to get healthier.

Your doctor prescribed you medicine for high cholesterol. At the same time, you were advised to do moderate exercise to lose excess body fat. You can either take meds and workout on your own, or you can go to the gym and work with a fitness instructor. When you work with a team of health professionals, you will get results more efficiently than you would on your own. 

This is similar to our mental health. The psychiatrist will prescribe medicine for the illness, while the psychotherapist will determine non-medical needs that must be addressed so that symptoms won’t worsen, and the life coach will help you achieve your goals.

When it comes to your mental health – if you feel sick, see a doctor. Don’t think twice.

One day, I hope mental illnesses are accepted by society so that people can get the help they need. Why should we be ashamed when we’re sick? No one blames a person with Alzheimer’s for forgetting, why should we judge someone who has depression when he is sad? Here’s hoping for a happier and healthier world. 

SOURCES:
https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health
https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-mental-illness
https://screening.mhanational.org

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