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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 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 using self-help approaches

  • 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.

Call or text 988

Get help right away if you have thoughts of suicide or harming others. Call or text 988 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger. You will be connected to trained crisis counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. An online chat choice is also available at Or Lifeline is available by calling 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). Lifeline is free and available 24/7.

If you are with someone who is in immediate danger, stay with them and help them remove the lethal means of harming themselves, Never leave the person alone, even for a minute. If they agree, take them to the nearest emergency department or, if that is not possible and it is a life-threatening situation, call 911.

Finding help

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. Your provider may be able to suggest a mental health provider if a health condition is not the cause.

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 care provider with at least four 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 keep track of 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 keep track of 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 keep track of 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 keep track of medicine. They are called advanced practice registered nurses.

  • 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 keep track of 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 health insurance coverage you have.

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 make sure of 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 need you to 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 alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, 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 they seem to care about your well-being. Don't get discouraged. Sometimes it takes a number of interviews until you find a therapist who meets your needs. Keep looking.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
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