A Guide to Seeking a Mental Health Provider

When I was on my journey to find a mental health provider/ behavior health provider, I was lost and overwhelmed! I found out quickly that it was not as easy as finding a doctor to help with a cold. The process was more in-depth, and quite frankly, extremely stressful. So, I thought it was worth taking a look at the process for those who are in need of a good mental health provider. I want to give you some insight on what you can expect and the process of how it works. My hope is this will give you some peace about the process and not get frustrated and give up. Or, help a loved through this process. I truly believe that mental health is just as important as physical health. You wouldn’t wait to get treatment for cancer until its too late, so why wait until you are ready to jump off a ledge or give up on life to get help? Here are the steps I recommend to take and what you can expect.

First, Answer the question, do you need help with medication, need someone to talk to, or both? A Psychiatrist is a trained medical professional and can help with medications, while a Psychologist is one who helps with counseling and therapy. One helps with the chemical imbalance in the brain while the other one helps you find new coping mechanisms as well as provides you with a nonjudgmental support. Psychologist concentrates on talking with a patient and helping them use behavior strategies to help relieve their pain, and suffering. Psychologist also address healthy coping strategies to help deal with stress. Mental Health issues are painful, just in a different way than physical pain. It has been proven that physical pain and chronic illness often stem from mental health issues and long-term stressful situations. Pills and skills work together and most often both need to be addressed when seeking to heal the body completely.

I myself needed both doctors and you will usually find them in the same office, you just cannot make an appointment with both doctors on the same day because of insurance issues. I needed medication to help with the chemical imbalance, but I also needed someone to help me with my coping skills and help me gain perspective when making medical decisions with chronic illness as well as deal with relationship issues and past traumas.

Second, is to contact your insurance company and see what your mental health benefits are and get a list of doctors/offices that your insurance will cover. This will give you peace of mind to know if your visits will be covered. Financial stress is a number one depression and anxiety trigger in my book! You may decide to seek help with your family practitioner. This is where most people start, but if you need to talk with someone, I highly recommend you look further and find an office to handle both medication and therapy. With the list from your insurance, you can move forward to step three.

Third, choosing a doctor and proceed with mental health office care. There is no secret to choosing the right person from the list you now have in your hand, but there are a couple things you can do. First, ask around with others you trust and see who they go too! Second, ask your family physician who they could recommend off your list. This will give you some peace knowing others can give you a good report on the facility or doctors you are looking at. I did and it was a great help!

Fourth, get into the facility for help. Most doctors will not schedule you an appointment over the phone. I have learned that most offices that deal with mental health have a process for accepting patients. This process usually starts with you gaining computer access and going to the medical providers website. Through this website you will fill out an application about yourself, your mental health history, and your insurance information. From there you will probably wait about 2 to 3 weeks for a reply. Through this reply you will either be accepted or rejected. Every doctor office has their reasons, but I mostly sum it up to the degree of your mental health illness. Those with more complex issues and multiple mental health diagnosis may require extensive care that a doctor may not be able to take on at that time. If that is the case, I highly recommend you seek out a hospital that has its own mental health department. Hospitals generally will not turn no one away, while private practices have the option to choose which cases to take on or not. If you do not think you can wait that long to get help, go to your nearest emergency room, or seek out an Intensive outpatient behavioral health program.

Fifth, find out if there is an option for an Intensive outpatient care, or as most facilities call it Intensive Behavioral Health Care. Intensive outpatient care consists of a 3 to 4 day a week group therapy that last from 9am to 1pm. Through this intensive care you are usually in small groups and will discuss different mind strategies for dealing with mental health issues as well as have access to a doctor to help with medication. This program usually last for up to 6 weeks and there is an application process to be accepted. This application process is similar to the doctor office, but may be in person. This gives them an insight if they will be able to help you or if you need more intensive care. More extensive care will include a Hospital stay.

Sixth, is there an option for a Hospital stay. This is usually the scariest and make you feel the most vulnerable. Hospital stays can last from 72 hours up to 11 days, depending on insurance coverage and necessity. If you feel as though you cannot wait over the weekend to see the doctor, or the time it takes for a medication to start working, then go the ER. Other options would be to call a mobile crisis unit for help. Most all major cities have these units and they will come to wherever you are and help you get the help you need. It’s a one-on-one interview to assess your state of mind and a skip past the ER process. At this point you would be in on the path of no return and help is absolutely necessary in order to guarantee your presence in this world tomorrow. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you get to this point. Waiting for help, waiting for doctors to accept you, waiting for medications to take effect, or finding the right one takes time and can be extremely difficult to navigate on your own. Getting 24/7 help and surveillance to guarantee your safety while you wait is nothing to be ashamed off. If this is an option you need, here is some of what you can expect.

  • Check in process will include you being taken to a room and being accessed to make sure you are medically ok before taking you to a mental health floor.
  • Once you are medically sound, you will then be taken to change your clothes under supervision into scrubs or clothes provided for you that are considered safe. Safe means no strings, no buckles, nothing that you could use to cause yourself or others harm. You will also have to answer lots of questions about your state of mind, your past history, etc.
  • Then you will need a room to stay. Not all hospitals have a mental health floor, or have the means to give care. If they do, it is very likely the floor will be full and there is not enough room for you. All mental health floors are locked down units that give the patients the ability to roam freely within that floor unit. It consists of a specific number of patients and is usually co-ed. Everyone either has their own room or share with one other person of the same sex. Depending on the facility. If there is no room in the hospital mental health floor, they will put you in a holding area until one comes open in that part of the state. There could be a facility within 30 minutes up to 3 hours away. Just depending. While in that holding area, you are with all kinds of mental health patients. You can receive meds to help keep you calm, but access to a doctor or therapy is not an option. It is truly a holding unit with a big open waiting room with stainless-steel bed rooms with a mattress on the floor. Meals are delivered to you and you wait here until a bed comes open in a near by facility. Phones calls are usually allowed once a day for about 10 min.
  • When the bed comes open it don’t matter if its 3pm in the afternoon or 2am in the morning. They will move you whenever it is convenient for them. Usually not in an ambulance, but a van or transportation vehicle. Once at the facility or hospital they will take you to the lock down unit and you will begin the check-in process all over again. Change of clothes with supervision, questions galore about you, your life, your past, and your mental health state. Depending on where they are in the schedule for the day, you will get assigned to a bed or sent to group therapy. While you are there, they have a strict schedule that is require for everyone to follow. It usually consists of meeting with a doctor during business hours for medication, meeting with a social worker, all day classes/group therapy, meal times, shower times, and sleep times. You will also have someone check on you every 10 to 15 minutes day and night as well as daily assessments with the health care team. Pills and skills are the main focus on treatment and are the main approach to mental health care. Honesty on your part is key and willingness to change coping skills and absorbs knowledge on mental health and the role it plays in your life will only help you reach a healthy state of mind. People are there for all different reasons. Some people are there because a family member called the cops on them, some because they personally sought help, and some are there because they tried to commit suicide and survived. Family visitation is allowed once a day for about 45 minutes, but no physical contact is allowed. Phone calls are also allowed but for only during a specific time frame, usually an hour, and the family must call in during that time and hope the phone isn’t busy. When it is time to go home, you will be released to your family. This can be hard going from one change to another very quickly for some. Others are busting at the seems to get our while some are still scared and leery for what awaits them at home. Sometimes it takes the whole family to make a change to provide a more stable and healthier environment for those suffering with mental health struggles. The more willing and helpful and supportive the family can be the less likely chance you or your loved one will have to go back in the hospital for treatment. Change in routines, coping skills, and thought processes are key, as well as opening up with your family or loved ones that are supportive of you. Once home regular therapy visits and medication maintenance is key and essential!!! A must!!!! I recommend weekly therapy and monthly medication visits until you feel stable and confident that you are heading in a healthy direction

Last, but definitely not least is the issues of substance abuse. Most all patients that have mental health issues struggle with some type of substance abuse issues. Without mental health care a person will continue to rely on the coping mechanisms of drowning their pain with pills, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc. Rehab is great, but it really needs to follow up with mental health care. So, if you struggle with substance abuse, please seek help with a rehab program that will help your body break the cycle of dependence then follow up with mental health providers to give you the support needed to stay clean and cope with your new circumstances.

I hope and pray this gives you some insight and makes your journey to find help more understanding and less scary. I personally have been through all these steps. If you wish to know further or are looking for help in your area of the world, please reach out!

 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

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