Finding Mental Health Help
Think about the number of people you encounter on a daily basis – the people in a restaurant or grocery store, your neighbors walking down the street, all the people driving to and from work. You probably can’t notice on the surface, but many of them have a mental illness. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 50% of Americans will experience a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.
That’s a lot of people – more than 162 million actually. They are all around us; perhaps you are (or will be) one of them. And, truth be told, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But, despite its prevalence, there’s still a thick and heavy stigma associated with mental illness that has long prevented millions of people from seeking and receiving mental health help.
Thankfully, that stigma is lifting as the medical community and even celebrities and athletes share their personal stories and encourage people to seek help. But where is that help? It’s all around us, but it’s still sometimes barely visible. Here is a guide to finding mental health help in your community and what to look for to meet your needs.
Breaking the Mental Health Stigma
It’s perfectly acceptable – if not expected – that you go to your dentist and doctor for routine care. Should anything beyond the usual occur such as an abscess in a tooth or an infection, you book an appointment ASAP. Again, that’s perfectly acceptable and expected.
Yet if you are grieving the loss of a loved one, experiencing anxiety, dealing with an unhealthy amount of stress, or can’t seem to conjure a smile no matter how hard you try, there’s still a sense in our culture that you should “suck it up” or “just deal with it.”
Plain and simple, that’s wrong. Some of the most difficult challenges you will face aren’t as obvious as a broken bone but are rather confined to the mind and heart.
Consider your mental health just like an abscess, infection, or any other physical illness. Left untreated, it can and will get worse – even to the point where it affects your physical health. In fact, mental illness is the third most common cause of hospitalization for adults aged 18 to 44 years old. Just as alarming, adults living with serious mental illness die an average of 25 years earlier than those who don’t.
We don’t call a person with an infection “infected” so we should stop labeling people with a mental illness as “depressed” or “crazy.” The majority of those 162 million Americans who will have a mental illness are people just like me and you. They have families, they go shopping, they go to the movies and sporting events.
So if you are feeling down, anxious, or just plain “off,” please know that you aren’t alone and there is help available. Finding help can be difficult, though, so let’s talk about how to look for mental health help and identify the professionals that are a good fit for you.
How To Get Mental Health Help?
When looking for mental health services, the first thing you shouldn’t do is an internet search for “mental health services in (name of your city).” The internet is full of booby traps and that kind of search can lead you right into one. There are better ways to find help that is more fitting to your needs and your budget.
Instead, start with two places where you can get very specific information – your doctor and your insurance company. Your doctor already knows you. He or she may even sense that you need mental health help. Your doctor is also plugged into your local medical community and should know which mental health providers stand out from their peers.
Your insurance company can then tell you which mental health professionals accept your insurance plan. Not only that, but you can also find out the capacity of treatment covered by your plan – such as annual evaluation, quarterly medication management, and weekly/monthly individual or group therapy sessions.
From there you should have a handful of options. If not, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a helpline (800-662-HELP) and a Behavioral Health Treatment Locator that helps you search for services by type and location.
What Does Good Therapy Look Like?
Mental health treatment usually starts with an intake evaluation to assess where you are and what you’ll need to feel better. Depending on your situation, needs and severity, medications may be prescribed, but they only treat the symptoms of your mental illness and don’t work to identify or treat the sources of it. Good therapy does. But what does good therapy look like?
Good therapy should be collaborative and empowering. It should be considered a safe haven for your thoughts and feelings – warts and all. A good therapist can constructively and compassionately help you identify sources and triggers of your depression, anxiety, stress and more and then develop a treatment plan to better cope with them or even cure them.
A good therapist doesn’t need to have a wall full of academic degrees or awards. The true measure of a good therapist is how well they work with you. Your relationship with your therapist is professional and personal. It’s natural that personality clashes can cause strains in relationships. That’s why it’s important to have a therapist that you like and enjoy working with.
But remember that it takes time to develop a relationship with a therapist. Don’t expect the world from someone you just met. Let it develop before deciding if a particular therapist isn’t the best match for you. If they aren’t, they can recommend somebody that is.
Group therapy can be an effective complement to individual therapy. It reinforces the concept that you aren’t alone because group members give and receive support to each other. The therapist helps the group develop coping strategies through discussion and role-playing to demonstrate those strategies in action.
Mental Health Care is Important but Also Ordinary
No matter your age or background, taking care of your mental health is critical to your happiness and health. I consider it very important but I also want you to consider it very ordinary in the sense that mental health treatment should be as commonplace as seeing any medical specialist.
Getting the right treatment may require a little digging but you have all the tools you need with your phone, computer, or a chat with your doctor. Medication helps with symptoms but what’s most important is that you get the right treatment for what’s causing your stress, depression or anxiety. No matter where you live, help isn’t far away. And no matter who you are, you aren’t alone.
“Data and Publications.” Centers for Disease Control. Last updated January 26, 2018.
“Treatments for Mental Disorders.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Last updated April 5, 2017.
Last Updated: June 23, 2021