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Seeking Help for Mental Illness

For many reasons, people may avoid seeking an evaluation for their mental health concerns. Unfortunately, such people continue to suffer without benefiting from the wide range of safe and effective treatments available.

An important first step in recovery is seeking professional evaluation and treatment. The following websites may be helpful in finding a qualified mental health professional:

Yet another option is to talk to your primary doctor. Roughly 60-65% of people with mental health problems are treated by primary care physicians, such as doctors practicing family, pediatrics, or internal medicine.

After the evaluation, your doctor may recommend medication to treat your condition. You may also receive a referral to another professional, such as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. Clinical psychologists are trained to provide psychotherapy, also informally known as “talk therapy”, to treat mental illness. Psychiatrists are physicians with specific training in mental health and the treatment of mental illness using medication.

You may also find the article Knowing When to Seek Treatment helpful.

Seeing a Professional for Evaluation and Treatment

It is important to remember that talking about your concerns with a professional does not mean you will be placed automatically into an asylum or long-term facility. Mental health professionals always try to choose the most independent form of treatment possible. Thus, outpatient care is favored over inpatient care, if it is clinically safe to do so.

It is also not true that mental health professionals try to radically change patients’ beliefs on topics such as religion or culture. Indeed, religion or culture can contribute positively to the course of clinical improvement.

Causes of Mental Illness

If you have symptoms or a formal diagnosis of mental illness, remember that it is not your “fault.” Mental illnesses are not the result of character weakness. True illness cannot be overcome by willpower alone or by ignoring the problem.

Instead, mental illnesses are thought to result from the following contributing factors:

  • Biological factors – Mental illnesses are often hereditary, meaning that they tend to run in families like other forms of illness. Research into mental illness has also suggested the biological and medical roots of such illnesses.
  • Psychological factors – Various psychological factors, such as trauma suffered as a child or the loss of a close loved one, may contribute to mental illness in some cases.
  • Social factors – Certain social or environmental stressors may also contribute to mental illness. These may include life events such as moving to a new place or divorce and chronic feelings like low self-esteem, loneliness, or anger.

Treatment for Mental Illness

Many safe and effective treatments exist. Depending on your symptoms and diagnosis, health care professionals will explain a course of treatment that best fits your needs. Some commonly used treatments include:

  • Medication – Many different medications work to reduce the symptoms of a range of mental illnesses.
  • Psychotherapy– “Talk therapies” such as cognitive behavioral therapy or psychodynamic therapy may be used. This type of therapy allows patients to better understand and cope with their disorder.

Psychotherapy and medication may also be used together or with other treatments.

Ways to Cope

In addition to taking the important step of seeing a professional for diagnosis and treatment, there are many other ways that may help you or a loved one cope with mental illness and stigma:

  • Remember that you are not alone.– Mental illness is common – with one in four Americans being affected each year. You are not the first to be faced with a mental illness or to receive treatment.
  • Remember that treatment works. Many people with mental illness are productive members of society who enjoy full lives. This is possible because many safe and effective treatments exist today, and many people with mental illness can and do recover.
  • Support advocacy and educational groups. Many groups around the country work to combat stigma. These groups often depend on volunteers. Joining such an organization and volunteering your free time can help to combat stigma. Some organizations that fight stigma include:

    The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMl)

    The National Mental Health Association

  • Demand change – If you would like to help dispel stigma in society, you can also talk to your elected representatives about changing policies that keep stigma in place. Such policies may include health insurance coverage that is more limited for mental illness than for other physical illness or too little funding for services for those with mental illness.

Additional ways to fight stigma are listed in Mental Health Overview. This article also includes facts on mental illness and further resources on the topic of stigma.

Other Sources

For first-hand accounts:

Read true first-hand accounts of mental illness posted on SAMSHA’s web site.

Read books written about mental illness, including first-hand accounts from the Mental Illness Reading List

To find appropriate care:

SAMHSA’s Mental Health Services Locator may help in finding a mental health professional in your area.

You may also find the NMHA article Mental Illness and the Family: Finding the Right Mental Health Care For You helpful.

This article was written by Jennifer Hoehn, Graduate Student, MPH Program, OSU College of Public Health.

For more information:

Go to the Mental Health health topic.