We all know it’s important to have regular screenings and check-ups with our doctor for our physical health. But what about checking in on our mental health? We sat down with psychologist Nicole McCance to learn about the value of mental health assessments.

Why is it important to schedule mental health check-ins?

Regular physical health tests, like pap smears and blood tests, can catch issues early before they become serious. The same theory applies to our mental health.

“We tend to wait until we’re in a lot of pain to be motivated enough to get help,” says McCance. “If we don’t seek help sooner, our mental health problems start showing up in other parts of our lives.”

Examples of this include arguments with loved ones, neck and shoulder tension or sleeping poorly. Sometimes we might not even realize that our mental health issues can affect our physical health.

Checking in on your mental health can be a simple task, according to McCance. “Take a moment and assess how you’re feeling on a scale of zero to 10,” she suggests. “Or it can be more general: How good have I been feeling lately?” Some people may have specific indicators of heightened mental distress. For example, someone might know they become more impatient with their children. Or others may notice they’re finding it harder to fall asleep.

For those new to mental health checks, online tests and assessments can help guide this process. Mental health tests feature lists of questions around your sense of self, resilience and enjoyment of life. These questions encourage you to think about the state of your mental health.

How can we get into the habit of doing regular mental health check-ins?

Just like taking your multivitamins, McCance believes that mental health check-ins should be something we do every day. “It could be before bed, when you’re brushing your teeth in the morning or when you’re having your breakfast.” Tying the activity to a daily task acts as a cue or reminder to assess your mental health.

McCance also suggests scheduling reminders in our phones or calendars to assess our mental health. For some people, certain dates and times of the year can be triggers. So scheduling reminders for check-ins at those times can be beneficial. The anniversary of a loved one passing away can be a trigger. Or you might know that winter is a tough season for you. The holidays can also be a predictable time of stress.

Some of McCance’s clients also book appointments with her around these tough dates or periods in advance. “If my clients already know these are hard months for them, scheduling an appointment helps keep them accountable to getting the help they need,” she explains.

McCance says it’s also important to recognize when it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional. If you identify an issue during your regular check-ins, that’s an indicator to speak to someone. “If you’re not sleeping well, if you’re not your usual self or if you’re feeling off, that’s enough to speak to a therapist,” McCance says.

What are barriers stopping people from checking in on their mental health?

Time is traditionally the biggest barrier stopping people from taking care of their mental health. “We’re all very busy,” McCance explains. “Mental health is something that’s easy to put off for another day.”

Traditionally, finding time to see a mental health professional required travelling to a therapist’s office. “Traffic, paying for parking and getting a babysitter used to be barriers,” says McCance. But with the normalization of online therapy, it’s much easier to see a therapist these days. “Now, you can just sit on your couch, click a button and talk with a professional,” McCance says. “It’s so convenient.”

How do we change our habits and our behaviour to prioritize mental health?

Thinking about our mental health like we do our physical health can help make it a priority. McCance offers the analogy of how we attend to physical ailments. “If I had a broken arm, I wouldn’t say ‘maybe I’ll take care of it tomorrow’,” she explains. Like our physical health, a proactive approach identifies problems before they become serious. Addressing a small issue is much easier than waiting until multiple issues arise and pile up, according to McCance.

Get the support you need

Lumino Health can help you find psychologists across the country, including many offering virtual appointments.