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When to seek mental health help during COVID-19

By now, most of us know that the pandemic and its impacts are affecting our mental well-being and have been affecting us at some level, since the shutdowns began in March and April.

What’s harder to determine is when our self-care routines are enough to reduce our stress and restore well-being, or when we need help from other people.

Thankfully, the National Institute for Mental Health offers some practical guidelines for making that decision.

The first step, according to NIMH, is to examine your symptoms in terms of how much they are interfering with your daily activities.

Are you feeling down or having trouble sleeping but still able to function at work or school and still able to take care of yourself and your home?

Have your symptoms been present for less than two weeks?

If you answer yes to both of these questions, then NIMH recommends practicing self-care activities such as exercising, increasing your social connections, meditating, or getting more sleep to reduce your stress, increase well-being, and improve resilience.

If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, are worsening, or include any of the following:

- Difficulty sleeping;

- Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes;

- Struggling to get out of bed in the morning because of mood;

- Difficulty concentrating;

- Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable;

- Unable to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities; or,

- Thoughts of death or self-harm;

Then it’s time to consider getting professional help, including talking to a therapist.

One of the easiest and most frequently used ways to find a therapist, especially for the first time, is through your primary care practitioner. However there are also other helpful resources, like NIMH’s Find Help page here, Psychology Today’s list here or the American Psychological Association’s locator tool here.

As always, if you are in crisis and need immediate help, don’t wait - call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

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