Consumer’s Guide to Mental Health Services, Page 1

If you have questions about mental health services, this consumer’s guide from the US National Mental Health Information Center is designed to answer them. Also see: “Guide to Mental Treatment and Therapy, NMHIC”.

Twenty percent of adult Americans — or one in five — will have a mental illness during their lifetime that is severe enough to require treatment, and many more have problems that prevent them from enjoying their lives. Often these people suffer in silence, rather than admit they need help. Asking for help is not an easy thing for many people to do, but it is a wise move when a person feels that something is wrong. This page is a guide to locating mental health services. Many individuals who are looking for help for themselves or a loved one ask the same questions. Following are some of the most commonly asked questions and their answers.

When I need help, where can I go?

For information about resources available in your community, contact your local mental health center or one of the local affiliates of national self-help organizations.

These agencies can provide you with information on services designed to meet the needs of those suffering from mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, panic disorder, and other anxiety conditions. In addition, they will have information regarding services designed for specific cultural groups, children, the elderly, HIV-infected individuals, and refugees.

I don’t have adequate personal finances, medical insurance, or hospitalization coverage — where would I get the money to pay for the service I may need?

In publicly funded mental health centers, such as those funded by state, city or county governments, the cost of many services is calculated according to what you can afford to pay. So, if you have no money, or very little, services are still provided. This is called a sliding-scale or sliding-fee basis of payment. Many employers make assistance programs available to their employees, often without charge. These programs — usually called Employee Assistance Programs — are designed to provide mental health services, including individual psychotherapy, family counseling, and assistance with problems of drug and alcohol abuse.

Are there other places to go for help?

Yes, there are alternatives. Many mental health programs operate independently. These include local clinics, family service agencies, mental health self-help groups, private psychiatric hospitals, private clinics, and private practitioners. If you go to a private clinic or practitioner, you will pay the full cost of the services, less the amount paid by your insurer or some other payment source. There are also many self-help organizations that operate drop-in centers and sponsor gatherings for group discussions to deal with problems associated with bereavement, suicide, depression, anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia nervosa, obesity), spouse and child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, and coping with the problems of aging parents — to name a few. In addition, there are private practitioners who specialize in treating one or more of these problems. You may contact local chapters of self-help organizations to learn about various services available in your community.

I don’t like to bother other people with my problems. Wouldn’t it be better just to wait and work things out by myself?

That’s like having a toothache and not going to the dentist. The results are the same — you keep on hurting and the problem will probably get worse.

Suppose I decide to go ahead and visit a mental health center. What goes on in one of those places?

A specially trained staff member will talk with you about the things that are worrying you.

Talk? I can talk to a friend for free — why pay someone?

You’re quite right. If you have a wise and understanding friend who is willing to listen to your problems, you may not need professional help at all. But often that’s not enough. You may need a professionally trained person to help you uncover what’s really bothering you. Your friend probably does not have the skills to do this.

How can just talking make problems disappear?

When you’re talking to someone who has professional training and has helped many others with problems similar to yours, that person is able to see the patterns in your life that have led to your unhappiness. In therapy, the job is to help you recognize those patterns — and you may try to change them. There may be times, however, when you will need a combination of “talk” therapy and medication.

Are psychiatrists the only ones who can help?

No. A therapist does not have to be a psychiatrist. A number of psychologists, social workers, nurses, mental health counselors, and others have been specially trained and licensed to work effectively with people’s mental and emotional difficulties. However, only a psychiatrist is a medical doctor and therefore qualified to prescribe medication.

Since I work all day, it would be hard to go to a center during regular working hours. Are centers open at night or on weekends?

Often centers offer night or weekend appointments. Just contact the center for an appointment, which may be set up for a time that is convenient for both you and the center.

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