An estimated one out of every five American adults will experience a mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. When you consider the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, millions of people may be caught between needing help and getting help.
If you suspect you may have a mental health issue, reaching out may be the toughest thing you’ll do in your life.
Where do you start?
Should you see a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist? Hyong Un, MD, chief psychiatric officer for Aetna Behavioral Health, advises you should start where you feel most comfortable. That could be a primary doctor, a help line or an employee assistance program. Many community options are also available such as a local community mental health center and support groups such as Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Someone making the decision to get treatment should focus on the positive step of seeking help. “Treatment should be a tool to make you or someone else better, instead of something you have to do. And rather than focusing on the symptoms, the individual should concentrate on how the symptoms interfere with their daily life and how it changes who and how they want to be,” says Un. “Time is an absolutely critical component when you’re thinking about getting mental health treatment. With serious behavioral health disorders, most people will not get better on their own and it becomes harder to treat as the disorder worsens.”
In other words, seek treatment sooner rather than later. This may not be as simple as it sounds, Un acknowledges. “We know that as the brain is being impacted by a disorder, a person’s ability to judge who they are and what they need becomes increasingly impaired. Getting and sticking to a mental health treatment plan can be very hard to do.”
The alternative is harder, though. For those who aren’t getting treatment, there can be a ripple effect of problems related to their disorder as well as other physical issues, Un says. In addition to health care providers, support lines and online resources like those from the American Psychological Association can be helpful. If available, an employee assistance program is also a valuable option.
Health plans also may offer behavioral support. Aetna’s Behavioral Health team helps health plan members who are facing a range of situations, including mental health disorders. Aetna also offers tools and information to help people struggling with cognitive or behavioral challenges.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are typically prepaid and give members access to a professional who can help understand what’s going on and assess the need for further help.
Before starting treatment, a medical or behavioral health specialist would need some basic information, including symptoms (noticed by the member or a close friend or relative); any stressors/triggers that affect the symptoms; any other medical conditions that may be present; and the names of all drugs or vitamins taken and their dosages.
If you are worried about a friend or family member, learn to recognize the warning signs that it’s time to get involved.