Maybe you’ve been feeling down for a couple of weeks. You suspect it will pass. But what if it doesn’t? Should you talk to someone?

Or, maybe you’ve just been really stressed out about work. You’re having trouble sleeping and your partner has noticed you’re more irritable than usual. Is it just a normal part of life?

As a therapist, I know how many people wrestle with these questions before they make a call to my office. In fact, about half the people who walk through my door say, “I’m not sure I need to be here. There are probably people with much bigger problems.”

If they only knew that the other half of my clients usually say something like, “I have been suffering a long time. I only wished I’d come in sooner.”

Knowing when to call a therapist can be tough. It can be especially tough if you’ve never seen a mental health professional before.

Fortunately, there are some red flags you can be on the lookout for that can help you determine if it’s time to call in professional help.

Signs You Should Talk to Someone

Any major downturn in your mood or behavior that lasts more than two weeks is a sign that you should talk to a mental health professional. Here are some other red flags:

  • Your symptoms interfere with work or school. A decline in grades, difficulty concentrating, increased absences, and a decline in your performance are just a few examples of how your symptoms may interfere with your occupational or educational functioning.
  • Your relationships are being impacted by your mental state. Whether you begin to isolate yourself or you find yourself short-tempered with those you love, a big change in social functioning may be a sign of serious emotional distress.
  • Your health is suffering. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems are linked to a variety of physical health issues--like headaches and fatigue.
  • Changes in your behavior are making things worse. Whether you’ve stopped participating in activities you once enjoyed or you've started turning to unhealhy coping skills--like food or alcohol--changes in your behavior could be a sign of a deeper issue.
  • You’ve experienced a change in your weight without trying. While some people overeat when they’re stressed out. Other people lose their appetite altogether. If you’ve noticed a shift in your weight, it may signal a decline in your psychological well-being.
  • Your sleep habits have become unhealthy. A change in sleep can also be a sign of a problem. Whether you’re waking every hour on the hour because your mind is racing or you've started staying up all night and sleeping all day, unhealthy sleep habits can be a sign of a problem--and it can also worsen your mental health.

It’s often tempting to wait and see if things change. But the longer you wait, the more difficult your symptoms may be to treat.

Other Times When You Should Consider Talking to Someone

Unfortunately, our mental health system is a bit broken. Insurance companies pay for treatment for people who already have diagnosable mental illnesses--rather than paying for prevention

But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until your symptoms are severe before you see someone.

You might decide to see a professional (even if it means you need to pay out of pocket) because you’re dealing with other issues that are causing you distress. Here are some examples:

  • You’ve gone through a traumatic experience and want to make sure that you are coping in a healthy way.
  • You’re going through a difficult time, like a job loss or a divorce, and you want to bolster your resilience or find meaning in your life.
  • You’ve noticed that you keep sabotaging yourself every time you get close to reaching a goal and you want to learn why you do that to yourself.
  • You want to gain a better understanding of how your childhood affects you now.
  • You’re interested in improving your marriage.
  • You want to improve your parenting skills.
  • You don’t feel worthy of your success and you want help gaining more confidence and ridding yourself of guilt.

If you aren’t sure if therapy could be helpful, err on the side of caution. Reach out to a therapist and ask if your issues are something that can be addressed in treatment. Some therapists offer a free phone consultation prior to scheduling an appointment.

Where to Find Help

There are several ways to find a licensed therapist. You might start by talking to your physician to request a referral.

You could also check therapy directories online (many of them provide biographies and pictures of local therapists) to see if you can find someone you might like to talk to.

You might even decide to try online therapy. Quite often, you can stay completely anonymous and chat with a professional from your computer or smartphone.