Should Someone Seek Help?
When should people seek help for a "mental"
problem? People need
help any time they are chronically unhappy or out of control. Just as when they
are physically sick, they have to make a decision about whether it is better to
seek medical attention right away or try to "wait it out." People may
feel trapped, alone, and helpless. They may be consumed by anxiety or worry, be
unable to sleep well or keep up with their jobs or responsibilities. They may be
unable to control their anger, gambling, eating, or use of drugs or alcohol.
They may have a relationship problem that they can't solve. They may be so sad and unhappy that they contemplate suicide. Under any of these conditions, or if
they are just dissatisfied with their lives and can't find a way out, they
should consider getting professional help.
Two factors that are often
considered, but that should never keep people from seeking help, are
embarrassment or a belief that nothing can help. Some people come from cultural
backgrounds that make them ashamed to admit that they, or their friends or
family members, have mental problems, just as some people are ashamed to admit
that they are HIV positive. The opposite should be the case; seeking help
for problems demonstrates an enlightened attitude and should be a source of pride. The
former Surgeon General of the United States,
David Satcher, recently said in the 51st Surgeon General's Report that treatment of mental
problems is now approximately as specific and effective as the treatment of
physical problems, and he argues that distinguishing between mental and physical
health is destructive. Yet a person who would hasten to the doctor if he had a chest
pain may stubbornly refuse to seek help for severe alcoholism that poses a far
more severe threat to his whole life.
too many times people wait for an emergency before they look for help.
This excerpt from a story from the San Francisco Examiner for July 26, 2000,
illustrates what can happen when people wait too long to do something about mental problems.
"A Richmond police officer shot and
killed a man early yesterday after he allegedly brandished a knife at police, authorities said. The shooting happened after the
suspect, George Dontae Mitchell, 26, called 911 at 2:45 a.m. to report that he was
feeling depressed and wanted to harm his family on Hartnett Avenue, police said. By the
time officers arrived, Mitchell had broken the windows of the home and ransacked the
interior, said police Sgt. Enos Johnson. A veteran officer, whose name was withheld, shot
Mitchell once in the upper torso when he charged at several officers about 3 a.m.,
Johnson said. Mitchell was pronounced dead at Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo."
Similar stories are told hundreds of times every year in the United States alone. These needless deaths could be prevented in most cases if the
afflicted person had received professional help, or perhaps if police departments had
better, non-lethal, ways of handling threats by disturbed people. Although only a small
percentage of people with mental disorders behave in violent and threatening ways, most people
with mental disorders can benefit from treatment, and all of them deserve the chance to make
their lives better. In the most extreme cases, the treatment can literally be life-saving.