Mental illnesses are common–roughly 1 in 5 American adults have one–but people with depression or bipolar disorder can sometimes take up to ten years before they seek out care for themselves. Are you ready to take the first steps towards getting a potential diagnosis? Read on to find out where to seek help.
Where to Find Help
- Ask your primary care physician for a referral to a mental health professional. Other people who can refer you are crisis centers, or a local Mental Health America office. Ask for more than one doctor, so you can comparison shop.
- To get an evaluation, try the psychiatry department of a university. Psychiatrists at a college will be up-to-date on cutting-edge research, and be more willing to stick with proven drugs such as lithium because they’re well-researched.
- Contact your health insurance plan to find providers covered under your plan.
- If you are a veteran, try the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, located online at www.va.gov/health. You can also call 1-877-222-8387. Veterans who already have benefits through the department can visit www.va.gov/directory to find a mental health professional covered under the VA’s plan.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is also a great place to check for mental health professionals. The department is located online at http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment. You can also call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
- If you work for a large company, you may have an employee assistance program (EAP) available. Contact Human Resources to find a provider under the EAP.
- What about Medicare and Medicaid? Check Medicare at www.medicare.gov. Mental health professionals who accept Medicaid might be listed by your state’s Medicaid office. Click on the name of your state at http://www.benefits.gov/benefits/browse-by-category/category/MED.
What to Expect
You will first talk to your referred mental health professional on the phone. Ask them about how they like to approach therapy and medication. Make an appointment if you feel comfortable with them during the phone interview.
At the appointment, your psychiatrist or psychologist should refer you to a lab to check your thyroid levels and rule out other physical causes of mental illness symptoms. Your doctor will ask you why you called him or her, what you think the problem is, and about your job and living situation. You may be given a few questionnaires to evaluate your mental health and any adverse symptoms. This testing can take hours.
Sometimes, a mental health professional may want to interview your family and friends. Your doctor cannot interview them without your consent. Consider asking your loved ones if they’d be willing to submit to an interview.
After that, be patient! Getting a diagnosis–and an accurate one, no less–takes time, but it’s an important part of developing a treatment plan, including therapy and/or medications.