One of my main realizations after working as a therapist in Egypt for over fiver years was that almost everyone around me felt as though they needed help. It’s almost a given that when people find out what I do for a living they pull me into a deep side conversation about the distress and helplessness they are feeling. This conversation almost inevitably ends with the question, “Do you think I need to see a therapist?”

The fact that most of my colleagues and I get asked this question so often says so much about our society. It says that there is a huge demand for psychological or psychiatric help, no doubt fueled in part by the chaos that is Egypt, but in my opinion even more by the oppressive and secretive nature of society. People are desperate for safe spaces where they can be themselves and where they can freely unload their baggage without fear of judgment under the security of confidentiality. As desperate as they may be, there is still a great deal of stigma attached to seeing a therapist, with many people believing it’s something only those who are mentally ill do or that it means the person is not “normal” or simply too weak to help themselves. None of these things are true. People seek therapy for many different reasons, from needing help coping with something as chronic as depression or anxiety, to something more short-term, like getting over the loss of a loved one.

You don’t need to have a specific ‘condition’ to be in therapy; a therapist can guide you through a rough patch in your marriage or help you understand and manage your anger. The aim of therapy, regardless of the issues that bring people in, is to alleviate suffering and to provide our clients with the right tools and strategies to cope with the conflict and stress of life. Therapy can be hugely beneficial to anybody, and while it isn’t always necessary, there are some cases where a lack of appropriate intervention can cause serious harm. If you or anyone you know has been experiencing any of the following problems to the extent that it causes significant suffering or impairment, it is time to seriously consider seeking help.

  • Your mood, appetite or sleeping patterns have changed significantly, which is often a signal that something is not functioning the way it should be.
  • You’re experiencing problems with one or more of your relationships or having difficulty maintaining them. This could mean marital problems-including those sexual in nature-or it could mean an inability to make and sustain friendships.
  • You feel constantly overwhelmed by relentless and intrusive thoughts that make it difficult to concentrate or sleep. These thoughts could be related to everyday problems and worries, or to your physical appearance and weight.
  • You are no longer able to enjoy the things you once used to, or you feel as though you’ve lost your desire for the things that used to make you feel good.
  • You experience recurring panic attacks or persistently avoid certain things or situations out of fear.
  • You’re experiencing unexplained headaches, digestive problems, weight loss or gain, or even poor immunity. You should always consult a doctor and carry out the appropriate testing to make sure there is no medical cause.
  • You have an unstable or negative self-image, often having thoughts like “I’m a failure and I’ll never be able to accomplish anything” or “I’m so ugly, no one will ever want me”. If most of what you think about yourself is negative, therapy might help to identify and challenge those beliefs.
  • You constantly feel helpless, as though there is no way out of what you’re feeling or experiencing; like you’ve tried everything but nothing’s working. Maybe you aren’t able to get the support you need from your family and friends, as is often the case, and this is giving you a sense of hopelessness and frustration.
  • You’ve been engaging in risky or unhealthy behaviors in order to cope. People often resort to things like drugs, alcohol, food or sex to soothe their woes and to help them find a temporary escape. Developing a dependency on these substances and behaviors can have serious consequences so it’s important to try and intervene early.
  • There’s been a drop in your performance or daily functioning, usually caused by an inability to focus or a lack of energy and drive. You could be forgetting to pick up the kids, or missing too much work. It could be that you’re having trouble getting yourself into the shower or maybe you’ve been making too many mistakes and you’re (this) close to getting fired.
  • You’ve become socially isolated or withdrawn. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting time to yourself or preferring to be alone, prolonged isolation is not only a sign that something might be wrong, but it can also have severe and long-lasting effects on one’s mental state if not addressed.
  • You’re experiencing thoughts of harming yourself or others. In some cases, when these thoughts are fleeting or when they don’t recur often, they are mostly harmless. However, if someone is having persistent thoughts of self-harm, or of harming another person or animal, it is highly recommended that they see a professional as soon as possible.

These are all signs to look out for, and if you’re still unsure about whether or not you might need therapy, it’s always better to err on the side of safety and go anyway; most of the time avoiding treatment only makes things worse and leads to needless suffering. If only one or two of these things apply to you and you find that you’re still able to function, it might not be a bad idea to look into therapy anyway. Just as you would go to the doctor for a check-up, everyone should consider seeing a therapist at one point in their life, or more if needed. A good therapist will work with you to identify any unhealthy and maladaptive patterns that could be causing you problems in life, as well as teach you different, healthier coping methods. Even if you’re perfectly healthy, therapy can provide valuable insight that is otherwise difficult to come by, and it can bring to light things that you may never have become aware of on your own.