Learn about mental health disorders and treatments
Mental health is as important to a person's quality of life as physical health. Unfortunately, many people who are suffering from mental health problems do so in silence, as a lot of people are ashamed or embarrassed to seek treatment. One of the major misconceptions about mental health disorders is that the sufferer can or should be able to just "get over it."
If you talk to anyone who's spent a significant amount of time in a mental health center, you'll learn that mental illness affects people from all walks of life and from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Seeking treatment or even talking to an understanding person can make a major difference if you or someone you care about is or may be afflicted with mental health problems.
Recognizing Potential Mental Health Disorders
There are hundreds of different mental health conditions identified in the psychiatric world's definitive text, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (usually abbreviated to DSM or DSM-IV, as it is currently in its fourth edition). Symptoms vary immensely, but there are some common diagnostic criteria used to identify whether or not the patient has mental health problems that will require treatment.
First, the symptoms—no matter what they are—must have been present for a significant period of time, usually measured in months. Also, the symptoms must negatively affect the patient's quality of life, professional success and/or interpersonal relationships in a quantifiable way. This is true regardless of whether you suspect you may be dealing with a relatively common condition like social anxiety disorder, rarely occurring phobias or any other type of mental health issue.
Seeking Mental Health Care
The first step towards healing is talking to a qualified professional. You can approach your family doctor, get a referral to a psychiatrist or a psychoanalyst through community mental health services or even make an anonymous phone call to a mental health hotline. Privacy is understandably very important to many people seeking help for mental health or addiction problems, so you're encouraged to go whatever route makes you feel the most comfortable, as long as you take that vital first step and open up to someone who understands. You'll also find many resources available at community mental health clinics.