While it is estimated that one in five American adults suffers from mental health issues, only 40%¹ seek professional help.
The stigma and lack of awareness that still surround mental health problems continue to be barriers for people getting the treatment they need for what are highly treatable conditions.
If you or your loved one needs help to manage and recover from a mental health issue, accessing the right support as early as possible is important to prevent the condition from worsening or leading to negative health effects. Sometimes, all it takes is a few sessions with a therapist to start to feel better.
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It’s normal to feel anxious, have trouble sleeping, and lack focus from time to time. For many people, these symptoms quickly resolve once a stressful situation is over. For others, however, issues can continue for many months, significantly decreasing a person’s quality of life.
Common signs you need help with a mental health problem include:
Changes in sleeping patterns — insomnia or needing more sleep than before.
Inability to control emotions — excessive emotions (irritability, anger, crying, feeling numb to emotions) that are difficult to control or manage.
Substance use — turning to alcohol or drugs to feel better.
Difficulty concentrating — lacking focus or concentration that affects your work or school performance.
Social withdrawal — avoiding social situations, feeling unable to leave your home (agoraphobia), or feeling unable to control your emotions.
Nightmares — frequent nightmares that negatively affect your sleep and well-being.
Suicidal thoughts — frequent thoughts of death, impending doom, and suicide.
The above symptoms indicate that your mental health may need some improvement. While many of these factors don't necessarily mean that you have a mental illness, they are a sign that you would benefit from professional help.
If you feel that you can't cope with the problem on your own, and it's causing you difficulties in going about your life or other negative effects, it is important to reach out for help.
Call 911 in the event of any of the following mental health emergencies:
A person harmed themselves or others.
A person is highly likely to cause harm.
A person can't take care of themselves.
A person caused serious property damage.
A person is making a suicide attempt.
A person is having chest pains (which often accompany panic attacks).
If you aren’t dealing with one of these emergency situations but you are worried about your mental health, you can start to get support by making an appointment with your primary care physician.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and run blood tests to make sure your symptoms aren’t caused by an underlying physical health problem. Several physical health problems share symptoms with mental health conditions. Meanwhile, mental health problems often cause physical health issues² that also need medical attention.
Your doctor will then ask you some questions to evaluate your mental state before deciding whether to refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist. They will be responsible for making the final diagnosis and recommending a course of treatment.
The most common approach to treating mental health issues involves one or a combination of the following:
Therapy (talking therapy)
The earlier you seek help for any mental health you are experiencing, the faster you can start enjoying a higher quality of life.
Choosing the right mental health specialist is very important to how effective your therapy and treatment plan are. Things to consider when selecting the right specialist for you include:
Recommendations from your primary care physician
Recommendations from friends and family
Licensing, certification, and education (you can check such online resources as Psychology Today³, Good Therapy³, American Psychiatric Association⁴, or Choosing Therapy⁵)
Costs and insurance coverage
Scheduling flexibility (many therapists offer online therapy sessions)
The emotional connection and trust you build with a therapist are vital to your recovery. Research has shown that the quality of this relationship is the single most important predictor of treatment success. If there is no sense of rapport, you should consider other candidates.
Starting from 2014⁶, all new individual and small group health insurance plans must cover mental health services. Medicaid programs also provide some mental health services.
However, the extent of coverage can vary. In most cases, there will be a deductible. That's why it's important to consider rates at the therapist selection stage.
Make sure to study your health insurance plan to get the details and ensure it fits your needs. The Affordable Care Act demands all health insurers provide an easy-to-understand health insurance plan summary. If you have questions, ask your provider for clarification.
If a friend or family member is showing signs and symptoms of a mental health problem, you can provide support to them by:
Trying to talk to them about the problem and listening carefully
Offering them help with seeking professional medical assistance
Explaining how common and treatable mental health issues are
Educating yourself about the problem
Sharing resources with useful information
Showing them your willingness to provide support.
While supporting someone else, make sure to also take care of your own needs and seek help if you need it. Often, caring for a friend or a family member with a mental illness can lead you to feel overwhelmed, both physically and emotionally. Finding someone to talk to about this could prevent you from experiencing mental health issues yourself.
The majority of mental health issues are highly treatable. Unfortunately, less than 50% of patients seek professional help. If you notice any signs and symptoms that your or a loved one’s mental health is suffering, don't hesitate to seek support.
Knowing when and how to get help with mental health is vital to your quality of life. The earlier you get help, the faster and more effectively you can recover, while waiting can turn the issue into a serious illness.
Mental Illness | NIH: National Institute of Mental Health
Find a Therapist | Psychology Today
Find a Psychiatrist | American Psychiatric Association
Choosing Therapy | Choosing Therapy Directory
Affordable Care Act Expands Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits and Federal Parity Protections for 62 Million Americans | Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation