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Avert a Mental Health Crisis With These 4 Steps

Our culture has come a long way in acknowledging the ubiquity of mental health issues and supporting the pursuit of psychological treatment without judgment.
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The staff at my son's school say everything is fine, even though he no longer seems to be the boy I once knew...

My co-worker got another drunk driving violation and insists that she's just had a run of bad luck...

My friends think that my husband is stressed and I should leave him alone -- even though he is up all night on the computer...

My college-age child is binge drinking until he passes out, but everyone assures me that it's only a phase...

My brother died of an overdose six months ago. My friends are telling me it was his choice, and that I need to get over it...

Life is full of heartbreaking and confusing events. They happen to all of us at some point, and often become too much to handle on our own. We recognize when we aren't functioning, and we know when our friends, colleagues or loved ones don't seem like themselves. But then what? When the denial dies down, and the evidence is incontrovertible, determining the best way to get help poses our next challenge.

Our culture has come a long way in acknowledging the ubiquity of mental health issues and supporting the pursuit of psychological treatment without judgment. Gone are the days when people excused themselves for a dental appointment when leaving work to see their therapist, or explained that their uncle went "on holiday" to England instead of a treatment program for addiction. Despite our progress, there are few guidelines for finding assistance with mental health issues.

Get Help with These 4 Practical Steps:

1. Trust your instinct.
Refrain from fooling yourself into complacency by deciding your symptoms are due to stress, or someone else's irregular behavior is a passing phase. If your instincts tell you that there is something wrong, there is a good chance you are correct. In some cases, what you are observing in yourself or another may be the proverbial "tip of the iceberg." Consequently, the faster the issue is addressed, the less likely it will evolve into something worse.

2. Get out of denial and into your physician's office.

It's easy to trick ourselves into thinking that we can diagnose ourselves, or our loved ones, by watching reality television or reading ostensibly legitimate websites. A mental health issue cannot be treated effectively without a professional diagnosis, any more than cancer can be treated by reading a book. Encourage yourself or your loved one to visit with a physician to first rule out an organic explanation for seemingly ordinary symptoms of chronic stress or prolonged sadness. Physical disorders may be accompanied by psychological symptoms, and mental health disorders can masquerade as physical disorders. Only a qualified professional can determine the difference.

3. Find the appropriate mental health professional.
After organic causes have been ruled out, the search for a qualified clinician begins. Too often practitioners are randomly found through phone directories and un-vetted websites. Mental health professionals have a diversity of training, education, and clinical experience that will likely influence the way they approach treatment. The most effective strategy to find referrals is to ask allied health professionals such as your physician or nurse practitioner. Other referral sources include employee assistance programs, your health insurance company, or even supportive friends and coworkers who have successfully sought help for a similar situation or diagnosis. Lastly, national and state professional associations are another useful option. Members of professional associations are usually licensed, held to the ethical and legal standards of their profession, and do not pay for their listing on the association's website.

4. Use a discerning eye when consulting the internet for information.

The internet is like a big city -- full of brilliant ideas, diverse opinions, as well as people and places that may not be what they seem. Some mental health websites, blogs, and chat rooms may appear credible, but are not necessarily produced by credentialed clinical experts. Use sources that are established by well-known organizations that provide vetted referral information, as well as educational material that is based on well-conducted clinical research. Though there are many qualified web sources, the following websites will likely answer many of your questions:

American Psychological Association

Educational information: www.apa.org/topics/index.aspx
Referral Information: Find a psychologist http://locator.apa.org/

American Psychiatric Association
Educational information: https://psychiatry.org/patients-families
Referral Information: Find a psychiatrist www.finder.psychiatry.org/

National Institute of Mental health (NIMH)

Educational information: www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/index.shtml
Referral Information: www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Educational information: www.nami.org/Learn-More
Referral Information: www.nami.org/Find-Support

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA)
Educational Information: www.samhsa.gov/topics
Referral Information: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Don't give up.
Finding professional help can feel like running a marathon. It takes endurance, persistence, and the patience to continue your effort despite getting the wrong information, contending with unhelpful people and endless wait times on the phone, or dialing into automated menus with no hope of speaking to a human being. Stay with it. Eventually, you will receive the correct information from a competent agent, and find the help you need from a qualified and compassionate listener. Though the search can be demanding, choosing the pathway to a healthy life is the route that you and your loved ones deserve.