(Health)

Why It’s Important To Do A Mental Health Self-Assessment — And How To Do So

You (must) do you.

Sometimes, we may think we’re fine, but we’re not really fine — we’re more anxious than usual, we have trouble sleeping, we’re irritable, and so on. This is when it’s important to do a mental health self-assessment and check in with ourselves. After all, we don’t want these “little” things to become bigger ones.

Karol Ward, psychotherapist, executive coach, author of Find Your Inner Voice and Worried Sick, says that life moves fast and stress can pile up. “Often, we can dismiss the physical and mental signs that signal we are off-balance and think they’re not a big deal,” she tells TZR in an email. “We tell ourselves that as soon as work, or family obligations, or what have you, calm down, we will feel better. But guess what? Those situations sometimes don't slow down. So we’re the ones that have to check in with ourselves.”

Dr. Joanne Frederick, a licensed mental health counselor based in Washington, D.C., seconds the notion of being your own support system: “We go to the doctor to get blood tests, pap smears, and other physical health checks, but mental check-ins are easier to do,” she tells TZR in an email. “Plus, everybody’s mental health is ever-changing and one day is not the same as another. So it is vital to stay in the loop with how you feel to prevent yourself from suffering through more severe issues.” Addressing a situation or state of mind early is always productive, she explains. “If your emotions are off-kilter, we impede ourselves in so many ways and do not live the quality of life that is possible for us.”

And Keischa Pruden, therapist and founder of Pruden Counseling Concepts, says it is vitally important to do a mental health check in for ourselves because we are more than our mental health. “Every aspect of our lives is connected,” she tells TZR in an email. “If our mental health is affected, chances are, our biological, social, and spiritual health will be affected, as well.” Ahead, you’ll learn how to do a mental health assessment of your own — and it’s easier than it sounds.

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How To Do A Mental Health Self-Assessment

“Mental check-ins are easier than reciting the ABCs,” says Frederick. “The simplest way to begin is by asking yourself questions to assess your overall well-being.”

  • How do I feel today? (Lonely? Anxious? Content? Etc.)
  • Do I have constant body aches, pain, and headaches?
  • Have I been more worried than usual?
  • Do I feel tempted to drink or use other substances?
  • Is my body receiving the care it deserves? (Am I eating well? Getting enough sleep?)
  • What am I going to do (or done) today that makes me happy?

These are all simple questions you can ask yourself after you wake up or before you go to sleep, she explains. “They’ll allow you to evaluate how you truly feel and will let you get a grip on your emotions before things spiral downward,” she says. Ward, too, suggests asking yourself certain key questions, like this checklist from her Worried Sick book.

  • How is your overall health these days?
  • Do you feel energized or tired?
  • Are you experiencing any physical problems, such as bad digestion, skin issues, muscle aches, or headaches, etc?
  • How long have these symptoms been happening? (Daily, weekly, monthly, or longer?)
  • Are these unusual symptoms for you to be experiencing? If not, have they happened before? If you answered yes, what were the circumstances?
  • What is different in your life now? Do you feel there is any correlation between your physical symptoms and certain stressors in your life?
  • If so, what might that connection be?

Frederick says to ensure that you actually do the check-ins, you can also schedule reminders on your phone. “Even more in-depth, you can schedule reminders to ring at the same time every day and create a routine of reflecting,” she says. “This will create a positive habit and will motivate you to have a daily activity to complete.” Keeping a journal, too, is a great way to track your mental health. “Jot down your true feelings and read them over to remind yourself about what is happening,” she says. “Then, if you notice recurrent emotional patterns, such as increased anxiety, you might want to evaluate the root cause and seek professional mental health therapy.” (More on this later.)

Pruden adds that, often, people internalize mental health struggles and experience physical issues as a result. For example, you may notice the correlation between your gut health and mental health: you feel anxious and get an upset stomach. “Some other questions to ask yourself include, ‘Is there something I’m constantly thinking about?’ and ‘Are there any issues in my life I am not addressing?’ If we reflect, ask ourselves some hard questions, and are honest with our answers, we can then take the steps to address what’s wrong.”

Use The ‘Stoplight System’

Sarah Belarde, a Los Angeles-based therapist specializing in treating anxiety, says another easy way to assess how you’re feeling is by using a “Stoplight System,” so to speak. “You can ask yourself if you are at a ‘green light,’ meaning you have capacity and feel emotionally well,” she tells TZR in an email. “Or are you at a ‘yellow light?’ Meaning you feel like you are reaching your capacity and noticing some mental health symptoms (difficulty sleeping, irritability, worries, etc.) and may need additional support? Or, are you at a ‘red light,’ meaning you have reached your capacity and feel burnt out, emotional, and need time to reset?”

Consider Seeking Out Help

Belarde says that if you notice yourself at a yellow or red light frequently — or feel lost about how to bring yourself back to green — it may be helpful to reach out to a mental health therapist. “While meeting with a therapist, you can learn coping skills and strategies to utilize when you are feeling like you’re reaching your capacity, or feeling more anxious or depressed,” she explains. “Learning coping skills can then help you manage and improve your mental health.”

Ward, too, says that if you find that your mood and emotions are not able to shift through good self-care — like exercise, nutrition, meditation, or socializing — then it may be time to consider professional help. “While we all feel down or sad on occasion, feeling depressed or anxious for long periods of time signals that you are in need of support,” she says. “Untreated depression or anxiety affects how you function in all areas of your life. Plus, not understanding or resolving what is causing you unhappiness may cause you to become stuck in life. Staying connected — and supporting your mental health — will help you achieve the personal and professional goals that matter to you.”

Frederick says other signs you may be off-kilter and should seek out a mental health therapist can include under- or over-eating, feeling helpless and alone, having suicidal ideations, or reaching for substances to numb your pain. During times of seasonal depression, or when you know a certain time of the year will be more stressful than others, it may trigger more anxiety and stress, too. “Often, individuals schedule appointments in advance,” she says. “This provides a security blanket for them, knowing a therapist will be there to support them during these difficult times.” And Pruden adds that it’s helpful to see if you start experiencing functional difficulties in your everyday life. “For example, if you find yourself experiencing crying spells, difficulties with sleep patterns, lost of interest in enjoyable activities, restlessness, and so on,” she says. “And if these issues continue for an extended period of time, a mental health professional can be helpful in helping you process your feelings.” But it all starts with doing a mental health self-assessment.