Mental Health: Finding the Help You Need
When your life spins out of control, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
The American Psychological Association (APA) advises that you get the help of a trained mental health provider if:
You constantly worry
You feel trapped
You aren't getting any better with self-help
You feel as if you can't handle things alone
Your feelings are affecting your job, relationships, or sleep or eating habits
You should also get help if someone who knows you well suggests that you go to counseling. Or if you have an untreated problem with substance abuse.
These are only some of the symptoms that call for getting help. You may have others that concern you.
If you have thoughts of suicide, get medical care right away. Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, or go to the nearest emergency room. Or call:
The first person to talk with may be your family healthcare provider. This is to find out if your symptoms may be caused by health conditions. If a health condition is not the cause, your provider may be able to suggest a mental health provider.
The mental health provider you choose should be licensed by your state. These are the types of professionals who provide mental health services:
Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with at least 4 years of specialized study and training in psychiatry after medical school. Psychiatrists can provide medical and psychiatric evaluations, treat disorders, provide psychotherapy, and prescribe and monitor medicines.
Psychologist. A psychologist has a master's degree in psychology or a doctoral degree in clinical, educational, counseling, or research psychology. Psychologists do psychological testing and evaluations. They are also trained to treat emotional and behavioral problems and mental disorders. And they provide psychotherapy and behavior modification. Psychologists can't prescribe or monitor medicines.
Social worker. A social worker has a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree and is licensed to practice social work. A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) can assess and treat psychiatric illnesses and do psychotherapy. They don't prescribe or monitor medicines.
Psychiatric or mental health nurse. This is a specially trained nurse with a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree. Mental health nurses can assess and treat illnesses. They do case management and psychotherapy. In some states, some psychiatric nurses with advanced training can prescribe and monitor medicine. They are called advanced practice registered nurses or APRNs.
Licensed professional counselor. A counselor has a master's degree in psychology, counseling, or a similar discipline and has postgraduate experience. Licensed counselors may provide services that include diagnosis and counseling. They don't prescribe or monitor medicines.
The cost of counseling services depends on if you choose a public or community-based provider, or one in private practice. The geographic area (for instance, rural versus urban) also effects the cost of care, as does the type of health insurance you carry.
You may get medicines from a psychiatrist and psychotherapy from another mental health provider (a psychologist or LCSW). If so, think about signing a waiver of confidentiality. This lets the providers share your clinical information. This clinical coordination helps ensure safe care. Know which provider you should call during a crisis.
Where to look
Finding the way to a solution can be as simple as a making a quick phone call. For example:
Contact your employer's employee assistance program (EAP). You may want advice for relationship or financial problems. Or you may need help for severe anxiety or drug addiction. An EAP can connect you to services you need.
Contact your health insurance provider, as it may or may not cover mental health services. Your health plan may have a special phone number you can call to find out if you have coverage. You can also find out what services are covered and any limit on the amount the plan will pay. There may be restrictions on where you get services.
Check with a community mental health center for guidance or a referral. You can find these centers online. They may be the most affordable choice for people who don't have access to an EAP or who have no mental health coverage. These centers offer many mental health treatment and counseling services. These are often available at a reduced rate if you qualify. They generally require that you have a private insurance plan. Or that you are getting public assistance.
If you don’t have health insurance or your insurance does not cover mental health, look for these resources:
Pastoral counseling. Your place of worship can put you in touch with a pastoral counselor. Certified pastoral counselors are specially trained ministers, rabbis, imams, pastors, and priests in a recognized religious body. They have advanced degrees in pastoral counseling and professional counseling experience.
Self-help groups. Another choice is to join a self-help or support group to learn about, talk about, and work on problems. These can include alcoholism, substance abuse, depression, family issues, or personal relationships. Be cautious when using online support groups. Red flags for online sites include those that promise a cure for your disease or condition, pressure you to purchase services or products, charge fees to attend, or suggest you stop traditional care (for example stop taking your medicines).
An informed choice
Before seeing any mental health provider, be sure the person has training and experience in your area of concern. This could include alcohol, depression, gambling, domestic violence, family therapy, or marriage counseling. For licensed professionals, you can check your state's division of occupational and professional licensing to make certain the person is licensed. You can also check as to whether or not there is any pending disciplinary action.
You also have the right to choose a provider who can meet your cultural concerns. For example, if you're a woman dealing with domestic violence issues, feel free to ask for a female therapist. But a therapist doesn't have to be like you to be able to help you. What's most important is that the therapist is someone you feel comfortable talking with honestly. And he or she seems to care about your well-being.