Is It Time To Start Therapy? Why You Shouldn't Procrastinate On Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated June 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Have you been considering therapy but holding off because you’re not sure if you really need it? This is a common scenario—many people wait a long time before pursuing counseling, even if they’re in significant distress. But that hesitation could have real consequences. Delaying treatment for mental health conditions may make them harder to cope with in the long run. How can you tell when the time is right to start therapy?

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Ready to get started with therapy?

The simple answer is that there’s typically no wrong time. Despite the misconceptions that sometimes surround it, counseling isn’t just for people who are experiencing severe mental health issues. Therapy can help with a wide array of life challenges and concerns. That said, there are some indicators that can suggest it may be a good idea to talk to a mental health professional. Keep reading to learn how to identify the right time to start therapy.

Why delaying therapy may be harmful

If you’ve been thinking, “Should I start therapy?” but not acting on it, you are not alone in that. Researchers have reported that it’s common for people to wait around 10 years after the onset of a mental health condition before receiving treatment. Even in cases of severe mental disorders, delays of five years have been reported.

Long waiting periods like this often mean that people are going years or decades with substantially reduced quality of life. Untreated mental illnesses like depression or substance use disorder may place a serious strain on your personal relationships, your career, and even your physical health.

Delaying the start of mental health treatment might also make recovery more difficult. Some research findings indicate that pharmacological treatments like antidepressants can be less effective the longer a person waits to get help.

Waiting too long for the “right time” to start therapy could even put a person’s life at risk. A 2009 study published in the European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience reported that the risk of suicide* in bipolar disorder was higher among those who had longer durations of untreated illness. Reaching out to a therapist, even before you’re sure you need help, could get you on track to the support you need.

You can start therapy even if you don’t feel unwell

It can be a common misconception that therapy is only for people with a mental illness. On the contrary, you do not need to have a mental illness in order to seek therapy. Therapy can help with a wide range of other concerns. 

In addition to offering support for mental health conditions, therapy can also help you:

  • Build assertiveness and confidence
  • Develop communication skills
  • Get clarity on your own goals, fears, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Deal with stress more effectively
  • Learn new problem-solving techniques

These are just a few of the possible ways therapy can offer support, but there are many, many other areas that therapy can help with. There’s no need to avoid counseling just because you don’t think you have a mental illness.

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Signs that it might be time to start therapy

Although you can start therapy any time you like, some specific changes in your behavior or well-being can be strong signals that getting help is a good idea. Some can be indicators of developing mental health conditions, while others are simply situations in which it may be helpful to have a trained professional to talk to.

Disrupted appetite or sleep patterns

Big changes in your typical patterns of sleeping and eating can be early warning signs of mental health concerns. This kind of disruption could indicate that severe psychological stress is affecting your body and routine. It’s may be often a good idea to see a mental health professional in this situation.

Reduced performance at work or in school

Does it feel like you have had difficulty functioning as well as you typically do in work or school? Personal challenges can keep you from performing at your usual level. The effort of wrestling with these personal concerns may leave you with little mental energy for other responsibilities.

Persistent irritability

Many of us occasionally experience brief periods of short temper because we’re stressed, upset, or even just hungry. However, if you find yourself constantly snapping at the people around you or getting disproportionately angry about petty annoyances, it could be time to talk with a counselor. Irritability can be an early symptom of disorders like depression and anxiety. Even if it’s not, getting advice on how to manage your anger instead of exploding could be a very good thing to benefit you both personally and in your professionally life. 

Feeling like you’re overwhelmed

What if the effort of day-to-day life seems like too much to handle? This can be a sign of emotional exhaustion, sometimes called “burnout.”. When your mental resources are depleted to the point that just getting out of bed feels like a challenge, seeking therapy may be the right call. You may benefit from speaking with a licensed therapist about your symptoms.

Looking for a neutral party to talk to

There may come a time when you feel the need to talk about something important, but you feel unable to discuss it with family members or friends. Perhaps you’ve tried to reach out to them, and they’ve been emotionally unavailable. Maybe you’re wrestling with a decision that you can’t trust them to be objective about. Or maybe it’s something deeply personal that you’re not yet ready to discuss with those close to you. In any of these situations, a therapist can serve as an unbiased, professional sounding board, an objective independent party who can listen and offer professional support. 

Physical symptoms

Research is making it increasingly clear that there are deep links between mental and physical health. A wide variety of physical conditions can be caused or exacerbated by mental health conditions can lead to a number of physical symptoms, including:

  • Headaches and migraines
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakened immune function
  • Fatigue
  • Cardiovascular illness
  • Digestive issues
  • Sexual dysfunction

When you’re experiencing physical symptoms without an obvious cause, it might be time to take a closer look at your mental health. Even diseases with clear physical origins can result in intense emotional stress that you may be better able to manage with a therapist’s help. 

Unhealthy substance use

Increased consumption of substances like alcohol or other illegal substances, such as or subscription painkillers, can be an important red flag that you’re in distress. It may indicate that you’re at risk for developing a substance use disorder, and it might also suggest that you’re self-medicating to suppress the symptoms of another mental health condition. Consulting a therapist now could help you address your substance use before it starts to seriously impact your life and your relationships.

Relationship issues

Mental health treatment doesn’t have to be one-on-one. If you’re having difficulties in your relationships with your romantic partners, children, or relatives, you might want to consider speaking with a couples or family therapist. They may be able to offer insight related to the specific challenges you’re facing in your relationships. They might also teach you valuable conflict resolution skills while helping you and your loved ones strengthen your relationships.

Life transitions or upheavals

Even if you don’t have a persistent mental health condition, you may experience high amounts of stress, sadness, and other challenging emotions in the wake of major life changes. Have you recently had a major loss? Are you dealing with unfamiliar life challenges like a career change or new parenthood? Support from a licensed counselor can be a valuable resource as you navigate these changes.

Desire for self-improvement

As noted above, you don’t need to have a mental illness or major concern in order to seek therapy. Therapy can also be an effective good way to get assistance with building positive habits. Mental health professionals can often assist you in building the motivation and discipline to make changes and built habits that serve you. 

Starting therapy online

What if you’ve decided you’re ready to seek therapy, but you’re not sure where to start? The idea of finding a therapist and starting therapy can sometimes feel intimidating. If that’s something you’re feeling, online therapy may be a good option. 

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Ready to get started with therapy?

With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist online by filling out a short questionnaire, and you can then meet with your therapist from home or wherever you have internet. This may make it feel easier to connect with a counselor whose expertise matches your needs. You can communicate with your counselor in a way that’s most comfortable for you, such as audio, video, or live chat.

Plus, a significant and growing body of research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy. One such study published in 2020 found that online therapy was at least as effective as in-person therapy for reducing symptoms of depression, and had “no differences in effectiveness” between Internet-based therapy and face-to-face therapy, suggesting that online therapy could give you just as much benefit as face-to-face treatment.

Takeaway

There are tons of potential reasons to start therapy, more than can fit in one article, but the list above should make it a bit easier to determine if the time is right. If you are wondering if you should start therapy, know that you’re not alone. Many people ask themselves this question when experiencing various challenges, whether related to mental health conditions or other life changes. If you’re in the early stages of a mental health condition, regardless of what you’re experiencing, getting therapy now could be crucial for your long-term well-being. 

And if you’re not, talking with a professional can still improve your life in a variety of ways. If the idea of finding a therapist and getting started feels intimidating, online therapy may feel a bit less daunting. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience treating whatever it is you’re facing. Take the first step toward getting professional support from a therapist and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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