I was twenty-four years old when I was diagnosed with a mental illness, bipolar disorder. What preceded those few normal looking words, was a year of hellish trauma that involved a trip over the edge of sanity into a black hole of irrationality, psychotic breaks with reality, and a complete and total loss of the self that once ruled a very powerful mind.
My whole life has been a series of tragedies linked together with the consistency of being misunderstood by most of the society I came in contact with. What tracked my journey was a trail of loss, failure, loneliness, and tragic events, leaving me broken and as hostile as any animal backed into a corner.
One doesn't wake up one day and say, "I think I may have a mental health problem." It's not as with so many other proclivities human beings come in contact with throughout a lifetime. There is the stigma of having something wrong with the mind that is mainly fueled by fear. We do not embrace what we fear and we fear what we do not understand.
Having been involved in the mental health field on both sides of the couch, as it were, for many years, I have come to the conclusion that there are no clear cut definitions for when is the time to seek professional help. From a professional stance, I would not encourage just anyone to seek help from a psychiatrist for they are physicians and do not often provide psychotherapy. Psychiatrists provide medication for serious mental health issues such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. People are often referred to a psychiatrist after trying to commit suicide, having gone through a series of testing through facilities such as vocational rehabilitation or a chemical dependency clinic, or through their own personal physician.
People are more likely to recognize their need to have someone to talk to. A counselor or therapist provides direction to self-help and a way through difficult times. Death, the loss of a job, a relationship, or a change in living environment might cause an individual to become too encumbered with stress and the pressure to function on a daily basis and that is when they might seek professional help. But again, it is not a common occurrence that one might simply peruse the yellow pages in hopes of finding a place to receive psychotherapy. Often direction comes through a reference from a friend, human resources at work, a pastor, or personal physician.
I would not recommend an individual seek out a psychiatrist unless they have been diagnosed with a specific mental health issue that may require medication. I would propose that any individual who is wondering whether they might be in need of some sort of psychiatric support ask friends or a physician to recommend a good therapist. Spending time with someone who will listen and help sort out life's every day catastrophes whether big or small is never a bad idea. If more people were willing or financially able to seek therapy, other health issues might not be so predominant and healthy relationships might be more common.