You know that illness sucks. But for many young people with serious or chronic medical problems, it goes beyond sucking and into the land of real, actual trauma. You might be able to stuff it down for awhile into a deep, dark box. But the thing about trauma is that it tends to come back bigger and badder. True “healing” may require getting help! Here are warning signs that you may need professional emotional support.

1. Overwhelming Feelings
Imagine yourself as a pitcher and your feelings as water that fills this pitcher. Is water spilling over the side? If your feelings are too intense, it may be worth seeking the support of a professional to help you “hold” these difficult emotions.

2. Less Healthy Coping
If you are feeling overwhelmed, you rely on coping strategies—those strategies that have helped you get through something in the past. Some ways to cope are healthier than others. For example, working out, retreating to nature, or spending time with close friends are healthy ways to cope, but while overeating, under-eating, or totally zoning out into videogames may help numb the pain, they are clearly less healthy. Or you may find yourself coping by fighting or acting out, or even harming yourself or others, such as pulling your hair, chewing things, or causing physical harm. If you can only keep overwhelming feelings in check by leaning on these less healthy strategies for coping, it may be time to seek therapy.

3. Strained Relationships
How long has it been since you’ve seen your friends? Or, does it seem like you can’t relate with classmates the way you used to? Perhaps you are taking out your stress on people you love. If you can’t seem to connect with people the way you used to or want to, it may be time to seek help.

4. Sick All the Time
Sure, you have a diagnosis. But does your sickness seem to go beyond your illness? People are complete, interconnected systems—just as a chronic illness can affect mental health, so too can mental health create physical illness. If you just can’t seem to get healthy, there’s a chance that chronic stress or other mental health concerns have lowered your immune system and led to other physical conditions. To feel physically well, it might be necessary to reach out to professional support so that you can feel emotionally well.

5. Disconnected From Activities You Love
If you’re managing an illness, you may simply not have the time or ability to participate in the things you love. But if you take an honest look at what’s possible in your life and find you still can’t find joy in the things that once gave you energy, it may be time to seek help. Losing interest or “not finding the time” for things you love may be a symptom of a larger depression.

It’s so easy to focus on your physical health – after all, that’s “what’s clearly wrong.” But failing to take into account your mental health can have long-term consequences. If you find yourself in one of the above scenarios, please consider seeking the help of a professional therapist so that your minds and spirits are in the best possible shape to get through difficult physical challenges.

Kristi Pikiewicz
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.