A QUICK NOTE:
In my debut novel, The Human Zoo, mental health is a heavily centered topic. There are many subtleties in it too. I did this because mental health is one of the most pivotal aspects of my life. Primarily as someone who struggles with mental illness. I've had to manage at one point or another eating disorders, depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and thoughts, ADHD, and panic attacks.
Furthermore, mental illness is complex. It has multiple facets and manifestations because it's intangible. Mental health is contrasting in that it's physically there with you all the time and yet tangibly unable to be touched. It is confounding.
To add to this frustration, seeking help is difficult. There is all this helpful information laid out to use, but it's almost too much. There is no fundamental way to find a good starting point. You're in luck because I am here to help.
The blog post today was written by one of my dearest and bestest (don't @ me for this) friends, Lindsay Meredith. Yes, I sound like 12-year-old writing in their diary. She is brilliant, beautiful, witty, and, most importantly, patient—a yin to my yang.
Lindsay's write-up is doctoral in nature yet simple, so anyone reading doesn't feel overwhelmed by unnecessary science jargon. Honestly, textbooks would be easier to read if they removed the excessive attempts to make it more complicated than it needs to be; I digress.
Please remember, mental illness and mental health are differentials from one another. If you have any questions, please let me know, and I can do my best to help answer them for you or direct them to Lindsay.
As a disclaimer, I am not a doctor, nor is Lindsay yet. But we are here to help as regular people.
Perspective from a clinical psychologist in training
Actually no, I’m not fine…
If lately you've been dealing with interpersonal problems or fighting your inner demons, the ones that make you respond to stress in unhealthy ways, want to stay in bed and binge Netflix series. Or tell you repeatedly, 'you're not good enough,' 'you're not worthy'—then you are not alone. More than 50 million other people in the United States will experience a mental health problem this year- a statistic that's likely to be a gross underestimate given this unrelenting pandemic and social climate. Yet, most people will not seek professional help. For example, research suggests that less than 10% of people with an alcohol use disorder are likely to seek treatment this year.
Why is that? Well, it isn't straightforward. There are so many barriers that keep people from receiving professional help, like mental health stigma, cultural factors, the sheer cost of care, and limited knowledge about connecting with a therapist. As a clinical psychology doctoral student and therapist-in-training, I'm hoping to provide a few simple steps that might help make your process of seeking therapy easier.
How can I connect with a therapist?
A great way to start looking into treatment options is to call your insurance company (if you have one) or visit their app/website to find information about your mental and behavioral health benefits. You should also be able to find a list of therapists or other mental health care providers who accept your insurance.
If you are already connected with a primary care physician, you can ask them for therapy referrals. Considering taking medication for your mental health problem? You can similarly ask about pharmacotherapy options.
Additionally, if you live near a university, you might consider seeing if they have a training clinic that offers low-cost or sliding scale therapy services. Often graduate programs like clinical psychology, counseling psychology, social work, or marriage and family therapy will house their own training clinics, in which graduate students serve as individual or group therapists. Luckily, these trainees are supervised by licensed providers and are regularly trained in therapies scientifically shown to be effective (e.g., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).
Another option is to locate online resources to help connect you to a therapist and provide more general mental health information. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (https://www.nami.org/home) is an advocacy organization for people with mental illness, and their website has lots of helpful information. Find yourself drinking more than usual during COVID times? You might consider going to 'Rethinking Drinking' (https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/) to learn more about healthy drinking habits, alcohol use disorder symptoms, and treatment options. Other resources like the American Psychological Association (https://locator.apa.org/) and Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists) have search tools to help locate therapists by region.
Currently, many therapy services are being offered remotely via video sessions, which have their benefits (i.e., flexible, safe) and their downsides (i.e., the potential for feeling disconnected or having technology issues). But overall, research suggests that Teletherapy services are no less effective than in-person services. You might also check out online counseling services like BetterHelp or TalkSpace.
Once you’ve *finally* called a therapist, they’ll schedule an initial meeting, where they’ll ask you questions about your struggles, your life, and what you’d like to work towards in therapy. If you’re feeling nervous or hesitant, remember that therapists are by trade empathetic, patient, and reliable.
In the meantime, or if you should never make it to a professional, remember to engage in self-compassion, self-care, and seek out social support because this too shall pass, because you are worthy.
If you find yourself in a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 to connect with a counselor. In case of an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.