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When to Seek Help for Mental Health

Everybody has days they feel sad, anxious, scared or angry. Often those feelings fade with time — but not always.

So how do you know when your mental health has reached a point where you should seek medical help?

Dr. Stacey Dixon, licensed psychologist and behavior supports director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, offers some advice.


WellTuned: What are the signs that it’s time to get help for your mental health?


Dr. Dixon: There are really five big things to look out for.

You should seek help if:

  1. You have thoughts of harming yourself or others.
  2. Your thoughts, feelings or behaviors are creating barriers to living your life. For example, if you have a difficult time functioning at work, school or social obligations.
  3. You experience ongoing depression in which your mood is down for more than several days in a row.
  4. You have big shifts in sleeping, eating and energy that aren’t related to a physical health condition or life change such as having a baby or starting a new job.
  5. You’re getting feedback from other people that:
    1. Your thinking is odd or confused
    2. You’re not making sense, or
    3. You’re constantly being told you’re overreacting, which indicates your emotional responses are out of proportion with the situation.

Get confidential help for mental health emergencies by calling 855-CRISIS-1 or 855-274-7471

WT: What are things people might view as symptoms that are actually normal?


Dr. Dixon: Grief. There are a lot of behaviors associated with grief that are natural reactions to significant loss. They include:

  • Feeling really sad, numb or angry
  • Changes in your ability to think clearly
  • Changes to your sleep pattern or your ability to eat
  • Wanting to isolate yourself from others

These are all natural and don’t necessarily require treatment. A good measuring stick is to ask yourself: How much is this interfering with my ability to function? If the answer is significantly, talk to someone.

Depression diagnoses for BlueCross members rose dramatically — 33% — since 2013. This rate is increasing faster among millennials and teenagers. Women are diagnosed with major depression more often than men. Learn more in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s The Health of America report.

WT: What are the biggest challenges for people who need mental health care?


Dr. Dixon: A lot of them are cultural.

If your family and friends don’t believe in mental health care, they may tell you it’s not something you need. That can include religious beliefs because some faiths don’t see value in mental health treatment, or they believe it’s something that can and should be managed by faith.

The other challenges are practical:

  • Navigating the healthcare system
  • Finding a provider
  • Accessing insurance
  • Language barriers, and
  • Cost.

No matter your circumstance, if you feel like you need to talk to someone about your mental health, do it.

WT: Where should people start?


Dr. Dixon: If you have insurance, call your insurer. See what benefits you have and what providers are in your network. They should be able to tell you the estimated costs of care.

Some people also have an employee assistance plan (EAP) through their employer. The administrator of your plan can tell you who to contact, and in many of situations, you may even be able to start with free services — many employers will pay for some counseling sessions within a year to get somebody started.  

If you have a primary care provider (PCP), you can ask them where to go. Typically your PCP has good working relationships with mental health providers and they can recommend someone who fits your needs.

If you have questions about whether or not you should seek help from a mental health professional, you can also start with an online mental health assessment.

If you are a health care provider, the BlueCross behavioral health toolkit is a good resource. You can find screening tools and resources for everything from anxiety disorders to substance abuse to trauma.

If you are a parent of a child with specialized needs such as autism or Down syndrome, those specialties may not be listed in provider directories. But if you find a provider you like and they’re out of network, exceptions can be made, especially in rural areas where an in-network provider isn’t available. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you need help now, contact:

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.


WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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