Mental illnesses include several conditions, varying in levels of complexity, spanning from mild-moderate-to-severe. And finding a treatment provider for these conditions can be daunting, particularly finding someone who meets all your needs. It’s also important to understand that finding a licensed therapist alone isn’t enough. It’s also important to consider other aspects and requirements when considering suitable mental health services. For example, the seriousness of your symptoms, the need for medication, the type of therapist, and the type of therapy that may be ideal for you.
Defining Mental Disorders
Mental disorder is defined by 2 broad categories: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI). AMI includes all recognized psychiatric conditions. In contrast, SMI is a smaller and more serious subset of AMI. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines AMI and SMI as follows:
- AMI is a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. AMI can vary in impact, ranging from no impairment to mild, moderate, and even severe impairment.
- SMI is a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits major life activities.
Researchers have also discovered that the majority of psychiatric illnesses identified in the United States have a strong link to substance use disorders (SUDs). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): many people who develop substance use disorders are also diagnosed with mental illnesses, and vice versa. Multiple national population studies indicate that about half of those who develop a mental disorder will also experience a SUD at some stage in their lives and vice versa. This condition is referred to as co-occurring disorder or comorbidity.
If you have a drug use disorder in addition to your mental condition, it is strongly recommended that you seek mental health treatment that will help you deal with both conditions.
If this is your first time looking for a mental health professional, you might not be sure where to start. So here are a few tips to consider, along with questions to ask them.
Types of Mental Health Providers
There are many types of mental health providers, and until you start looking, you may not even be aware of them.
The majority of practitioners have received a doctorate or a master’s degree. Master of social work (MSW) and licensed professional counselor (LPC) are two common titles for master’s degree level mental health practitioners. Psychologists and physicians who specialize in mental health are among the professionals with doctoral degrees (psychiatrists). These diseases can also be evaluated and treated by family medicine physicians.
The following factors will help you when choosing the treatment specialist for your mental illness:
- Your condition or concern: Although most professionals may provide treatment for several disorders, a professional with a specialized focus could be more responsive to your exact needs. For example, if you have a drug use problem, you will need to see a psychologist who practices in this field.
- Whether you need medication: Only certain services can administer medication. Your family doctor may diagnose and recommend medication for psychiatric disorders. However, depending on your condition and the seriousness of the symptoms, the doctor can suggest that you consult a psychiatrist—a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental disorders and managing medicines.
- The seriousness of the condition: In general, the more serious your symptoms or complicated your condition is, the more experience and training you need to look for in mental health professionals. For example, you have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) with depression. Such complicated situations may require a psychiatrist, a psychologist, an addiction expert, or all of them.
- Your health insurance cover: Insurance plans differ greatly on the coverage of health providers. Check your coverage in advance. Your insurance policy may have included many specific mental health services or may cover only certain categories of service providers. Your insurance company, Medicare, or Medicaid will inform you about what kinds of treatment providers are covered and what your benefit limitations are.
Narrow Down Your List Based on Comfort
Once you have lined up some potential treatment providers, it’s time to narrow down your list. Before setting up your first meeting, consider your preferences about who you would feel more comfortable talking to, as well as other factors such as:
- Cultural background
Do not feel guilty about excluding any mental care providers based on these criteria. Your degree of comfort is critical when deciding on your long-term mental health provider. Other than these factors, finding a mental health clinic that’s close to you is also an important factor to consider. Doing a web search on ‘mental health services near me’ can significantly help you narrow down your options.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, contact these mental health clinics and ask a few questions. While some questions will be easily answered over the phone, others may require your initial session attendance.
Here are some questions you can ask to help you choose the right clinic for you:
- Education, training, licensing, and years of practice (licensing conditions may differ by state).
- Office hours, rates, duration of sessions, and which insurance companies they partner with or whether they work with Medicaid and Medicare.
- Their approach to treatment and philosophy: to make sure it fits your style and requirements.
- Whether they are specialized in certain conditions or age groups: some only work with teens, and others are trained in eating disorders or substance abuse.
Evaluate Your Progress
Once you have chosen a mental health service, ensure that the match is successful. If you don’t feel comfortable during your first meeting, talk about your concerns during your next session. Or consider finding a different treatment service. As time progresses, think about how you feel and whether your needs are being fulfilled. If you’re not happy, do not feel compelled to stick with that clinic.
Finding the best specialist may be hard work and may involve some trial and error. But the rewards outweigh any inconvenience you may go through during your search. Finding the right mental health clinic can help you:
- Resolve short-term problems, such as stress or disputes.
- Overcome any substance use disorders.
- Work on long-standing personal issues.
- Help ease disruptive or upsetting symptoms.
- Improve your relationship with others.
- Live and enjoy life in a more positive way.
Overcoming Your Hesitation to Seek Treatment
Mental illness carries a great stigma in many societies. It’s seen as a weakness rather than a genuine health concern. When it comes to seeking mental health treatments, many patients hesitate even though it is estimated that nearly one in five adults in the US lives with a mental health disorder.
While there is no known cure for mental illness, prolonged recovery is possible through comprehensive treatment programs. If you or someone you love is battling mental health disorders, seek professional help so you too could live a more positive and productive life.