How to Know When It’s Time for Professional Help: Part 3, Third Clues

CompassionateLove Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2017  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

dktlvgRemember the national news story of a woman whose skin grew around a toilet seat? She refused to leave her boyfriend’s bathroom for 2 years, and medical personnel estimated she sat on the toilet for at least a month.

In February 2008, her boyfriend called for help. He claimed he had given her food and water and tried to convince her to come out for two years. He was charged with maltreatment (because he did not call sooner) and sentenced to 6 months in jail.

We wonder why she would stay in there that long and not call for help herself. It boggles the mind to try and grasp the enormity of her phobia’s power. We do not question she had mental illness. How then, could her boyfriend allow her to suffer like that for two years without calling for help?

How are we to know when it is time for professional mental healthcare? There are clues. Keep in mind, not every person will show the same symptoms or intensity of symptoms. The clues discussed in this series are meant as guides, not diagnostic tools.  

Third Clues – Duration

Part one of this mini-series describes symptoms of depression that c
all for our attention. Part two warns about suicidal thoughts and a need for professional intervention. Certainly, when one’s phobia has a person locked endlessly in the bathroom, or when depression holds someone to their bed, help is needed.

There are at least nine main symptoms of major depression. You can read up on these on many mental health sites including Most of these lists I have read sound almost verbatim. 

Depressed mood; loss of interest or pleasure in most activities; fast and considerable weight loss or gain without intention; too much sleep or not enough; low energy, fatigue, lack of motivation; sense of worthlessness and/or extreme guilt; observable restless or “slowed down” behavior; trouble concentrating or making decisions; repeated thoughts of death or suicide.

When we see any of these symptoms, especially if there is more than one, we tend to
assume there is a problem. Maybe there is reason for concern. As complex humans whose moods shift with the weather, many of these symptoms do not add up to mental illness all by themselves. Most experts I have read say we must have a majority, or five of these at a time, and our functioning has to be seriously impaired as a result.

A grieving son may feel little interest in anything else for a few days. An unemployed person may lose sleep at first.  A woman who has suffered a break-up may lose weight quickly. Most of us can point to times we have experienced a few of these symptoms simultaneously.

The question is, for how long? Major depression may be diagnosed if symptoms have significantly interfered with normal daily functioning most days, for most of the day, for two weeks or more. So seriously, do not hesitate to call for help when it seems your or
a loved one’s life has come to a standstill.

photo-24768767-close-up-hand-of-a-doctor-writingAn important last word is this. Self-diagnosis is just as bad as self-representation in a court of law. We know just enough to be dangerous, and not enough. Few of us are trained mental health professionals, and fewer still are doctors of psychiatry. Just as we would (hopefully!) not ignore symptoms of cardiac problems, let’s not play doctor and assume depression will clear itself up.

Today’s Helpful Word

Proverbs 4:7

“Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”



NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

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