“What’s the craziest thing someone has told you?” is the most common question I get when people learn I am a therapist, particularly since the bulk of my career has been providing mental health services to court involved youth and families. I know the kind of stories they want to me to tell, but the truth is all kinds of people come to therapy, for all kinds of reasons. It is not reserved for those with craziest, most intense, life threatening situations. I currently work in a Community Mental Health Clinic and Private Practice, I am very certain life’s crazy happens to everyone.
“I am very certain life’s crazy happens to everyone.” ~ Stacey Younge, LCSW
There are a million reasons why we don’t go to therapy, even if we are interested in it. Time doesn’t allow it, the financial investment is too much, we have a developed a preference for talking about problems with friends, at church, or on your own. Usually it’s not until something life changing happens that these reasons become less significant. Since it has not traditionally been a common practice in Black culture we often don’t understand the impact therapy can have on our lives.
When was the last time you attended a brunch where a friend was celebrating a therapeutic breakthrough? How many of us memories of when Auntie used to spend Tuesday evenings with her therapist. Unfortunately, the Black community (and humans in general) tend to think of therapy as something selective vs incorporating it as a natural part of our life. It’s remarkable what you can unpack in a safe space, staring at your problems directly in the face. Sometimes the reason is we are just not really sure we need therapy.
Are my problems really big enough to discuss with a therapist? Instead ask yourself, at this moment could I benefit from an objective, nonjudgmental space to talk through some of the thoughts in my head. Here are 7 often overlooked signs to look out for that it might be time seek professions help.
You’re always exhausted.
I live in New York City, land of the busy. You ask anyone how they are doing; the reply is usually something around “Fine, Just been busy (insert some new venture here)”. It’s partly why I love this place, impressive people with new and exciting adventures to share. However, between that (and aging) it leads to exhaustion being explained by busyness. However, if you are not sleeping well and/or you seem to always have low or very little energy during the day it may be a sign of Depression or Dysthymia, a less severe, but long term form of depression. Your primary care physician is also a good place to start to rule out any medical issues. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the median age of depression at onset is 32.5. Feelings and emotions are more powerful than we realize and even if we have convinced our egos and friends we are fine, your body knows better and it may be asking for help.
Your personal and professional relationships seem to be changing.
Life can throw you curve balls and sometimes that mask you are wearing doesn’t hide as much as you think. – Stacey Younge, LCSW
Changes in friendships and relationships happen. It’s a part of life and will continue to be. Location changes, relationship statuses, children and newly developed interest can cause people to come together or grow apart. It’s perfectly normal. What may be a sign of something unusual is if you notice most or all your relationships have become strained. Whether it’s professional, friends or family you seem to be at odds with everyone so it may be time to look at the common denominator: you. Life can throw you curve ball and sometimes that mask you are wearing doesn’t hide as much as you think. This may be an indicator of a variety of mental health issues and could benefit from an outside, objective perspective.
You respond to a bee in the room like it’s a bear.
We all have our phobias of various things that might actually harm us, but for the most part if a bee entered a room it would cause a reaction, but most people would be able think through the situation and remove themselves or the bee. Once handled, things would go back to normal. Now, if a bear entered a room, it would be total paralysis for most people. Hopefully someone who has been trained on what to do if a bear walks into the room is present, but ultimately it would be total chaos. According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 7.7 million Americans suffer from PTSD, and affects women and African American at higher rates. Danger response systems are compromised in people who have PTSD and would respond to the bee like a bear walked into the room. If triggered, you may find yourself having reactions such as trouble breathing, heart pounding, anxiety attacks, feeling unable to go certain places and it may be a sign that you are dealing with PTSD and need to see a professional. Trauma can be treated and you eventually learn to treat a bee like a bee.
You are moving extra slowly or are extra fidgety, more than usual.
Watch your moves, beauties.
Yes, fidgeting is a thing and for the most part is normal. However, if you notice that you are fidgeting or are having trouble sitting still, more than usual or so much that someone else notices, something may be going on. It can also be the opposite, if your movements are slow and getting up and walking seems like an energy sucking task, it may be a sign. Fidgeting and moving slow alone are not enough to be diagnosed with something, but can alert you to pay attention.
You spend a significant amount of time zoning out.
With so much going on in the world it can be difficult to stay on task and remain focused. However, do you ever have days where you spend hours looking out a window or at your computer screen totally consumed by your thoughts? This may be a sign that you need someone to talk things out with. Especially if you notice it is affecting your work performance or you are not getting important personal task accomplished.
Constantly irritated or frustrated by everyone and everything
This is again one of those, “am I the common denominator?” issues. If you find that work, friends, family, people walking down the street are trigging you to feel irritated or cause you frustration; it may be time to see someone because chances are something else is going on.
Significant changes in your eating, sleep, and exercise patterns
The beautiful thing about a routine is that it is very easy to tell when something is off. You can easily look back on your day, figure out where something was different and pinpoint where you got thrown off. If you are not a person who has a routine, that can be more difficult because every day looks different. One thing we can all pay attention to is our eating, sleep and exercise habits. Has something changed and getting it back on track seems unusually difficult? Do you find yourself snacking more, sleeping less and can’t remember the last time you used a ClassPass credit? Something could be going on and it may be time see if you have other symptoms of a mood disorder or anxiety.
We interact with people every day and the world would be a much healthier place if we took the time to take care of ourselves. The general rule therapist go by is if something has been making things difficult at work, school, home or is causing problems between you and other people for a period of 2 weeks-6 months, then you are a great candidate for therapy. If you are feeling suicidal or have noticed a significant increase in drinking, smoking or drug use habits you should seek help immediately. Black women especially have been taught to put others before themselves and for many that method is more about survival than preference; however there comes a time when we have to recognize that we may be doing more harm than good. Emotions and feelings are more powerful than we give them credit for and they must be given the attention they will eventually demand.
Stacey Younge, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Sixth Street Wellness. Her private practice focuses on utilizing both traditional therapy and tele-behaviorial health specializing in depression, anxiety and trauma. She is also the Senior Youth Clinician at a community mental health center in Harlem, New York specializing in adolescents and justice involved youth. Stacey is a California native, runner and mental health advocate who is here to help you.