Do I have a psychological problem? Am I mentally ill?

This is one common question I get as a psychologist, sometimes the question may not be as direct or obvious, but the root of the problem is always “Do I have a problem if I’m…”

Some people feel anxious. Some depressed. Some feel mood fluctuates. Some have sleeping difficulties. Some repeat things.

Then at some point they wonder, do I have a mental illness? Is it a problem? Should I get treated? Should I take medicine or see a doctor? How do you judge whether it’s a problem?

For the person asking: I always ask, do you think it’s a problem? Is it causing distress to you? Is it causing distress to people around you? Does it affect your life massively (e.g. so disabling that you can’t function properly in at least one aspect of your life, work, relationship with family or partner, …)?

For one’s family: Can this person still function properly in life? Is it causing distress to himself and/or to people around him? (Quite often I’d say the people surrounding know it better!)

You may be checking the locks 10 times before you go to bed every night, but if neither you nor your family find it a problem, then it’s really no big deal! Similarly, you may have a family member who’s very bad-tempered, getting angry very easily, but this person is like this all his life, he can form proper relationships, then maybe this is not a big problem. One may sleep 4 hours a day and is suffering from it whereas another is feeling happy with his life.

So don’t be so sensitive and get worried so much about it. Ask yourself the questions above. Here I’d also like to emphasize, life is never perfect, there’re always ups and downs, so it’s completely normal to sometimes feel sad, low in mood, worried, anxious… as long as it doesn’t get chronic and/or acute.

For further and more in-depth screening tools and scales, check here.

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