Mental health care can be a great tool for overall well-being at any time, and it can be a lifeline when going through an especially tough time. The coronavirus pandemic has caused new stressors in all of our lives, and you might find that you’d like to reach out to a mental health professional for support. The good news is that you have a lot of different options to consider. But this sort of a search can easily feel overwhelming — and if you’re not feeling your best, this can be even harder. So where to start?
Figure out what type of mental health provider you’d like to work with
Because of differences in education and training, different mental health specialists have different areas of focus, so you should work with someone based on your individual needs. It’s really just a matter of trying to figure out who could be the best choice for you.
- Specialists who can provide therapy and counseling: clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, licensed professional counselors, certified alcohol and drug abuse counselors, pastoral counselors, school psychologists, and more; occasionally psychiatrists provide therapy too, though this isn’t common
- Specialists who can prescribe medication: psychiatrists and psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners; in a few states and territories psychologists can prescribe medication too
Mental health treatment may or may not include medication. Some people do really well just working with a therapist, and some people do better with a combination of therapy and medication. You’ll need to work with a provider to figure out what will be most beneficial for you.
If you’re at a loss and really not sure what sort of a provider would be best for you, you can always ask your regular healthcare provider for guidance — your primary care provider, OB/GYN, or midwife, really whoever you feel most comfortable starting the conversation with. It’s important to speak with them honestly, but if you don’t feel like they give you especially helpful feedback, know that it’s not your fault — these sort of care providers simply aren’t mental health specialists. That’s why it’s so important that you move beyond your regular healthcare provider and work with a mental health professional who can provide you with specialized care.
Check with your health insurance
A big factor in the provider you choose to see might be the healthcare coverage you have. By law, health insurers are required to provide the same level of coverage for mental health conditions as they do for physical conditions, but in practice, the ways they provide this coverage can feel complicated, and reaching out to your insurer can help you get a clear understanding of the care available to you.
If you have insurance, check with your insurance to see what sort of mental health care treatment is covered under your plan.
Many insurers have an online directory that you can search through to be provided with a list of healthcare providers in your area who are covered by your insurance. Many insurers also have a special mental or behavioral health phone line that you can call for screening that will help connect you with a provider in your insurance network who could be a good fit.
Because your mental health coverage might be different from one location or provider to the next, it can be helpful to look into these details right from the get-go. If you have a preferred specialist in mind, call that provider’s office to ask directly about what kinds of insurance they take and the cost of services. And if they’re not accepting new patients, you can always ask them for a referral to another practitioner in your area.
If you don’t have insurance, you still have options
Many providers — including teaching hospitals and training institutes or government-funded community health centers — offer low-fee or sliding scale services that can make getting treatment possible even without insurance, so this doesn’t need to stop you from getting the help you need. If you’re in school, school counselors and student health centers can also be a great place to get started.
Some search tools you can use
- The National Institute of Mental Health provides a number of links to resources with searchable provider directories.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a searchable behavioral health provider directory.
- The American Psychiatric Association has a “psychiatrist finder” tool.
- Psychology Today has a “therapist finder” tool.
- For pregnancy and postpartum support, Postpartum Support International has a helpline and a database of local resources.
- The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has a searchable database to find mental health professionals who specialize in reproductive health and fertility support.
- You can also visit your state or county’s government website and search for the health services department.
When you can expect to speak with a provider
It’s not unusual for it to take a little while to hear back from a provider normally, and right now, since many providers are in high demand because of the coronavirus outbreak, the process of getting started may take a little longer. So reach out to several providers.
Once you do hear back and decide to move forward with a particular provider, know that it may also take a little while to be seen for your first appointment. But once you are, you can then expect to speak with your provider weekly or every other week — some sort of a rhythm that works for you both.
One final thing to keep in mind when working closely with a therapist: not every therapist will be a good fit for you. Therapists know this, and they want to be sure that their clients’ needs are being met. So if you start working with a provider who doesn’t feel like a good fit, don’t get discouraged. If you’re comfortable, ask them for a recommendation for another therapist or keep looking on your own. There is a provider out there who’s a good fit for you.
What you should know about telemedicine
Because of social distancing imposed by the coronavirus outbreak, many mental health care providers are now offering telehealth options, where you can speak with a practitioner over the phone or on video chat. And studies suggest that talk therapy through telemedical channels are just as effective as talk therapy in person. This means you can start working with a mental health professional now to get the support you need, even if you can’t leave home.
What to do if you need help right now
For more short-term or emergency situations, helplines and emergency phone lines are available to provide support at any time, like:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 or online chat)
- The Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990)
- The Crisis Textline (text HOME to 741741)
Reach out for immediate help if you need it.
Start your search today
This is a challenging time for so many of us. It’s entirely normal to need some help right now. We hope that you’ll commit to starting your search for a mental health provider today so that you can be one step closer to getting the support that you need — you deserve it.
Updated April 7, 2020
- Lisa Gillespie. “Even with coverage expansion, access to mental health services poses challenges.” Kaiser Health News. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, December 2018. Retrieved March 27 2020. https://khn.org/news/even-with-coverage-expansion-access-to-mental-health-services-poses-challenges/.
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- Amy Novotny. “A new emphasis on telehealth.” American Psychological Association. 42(6): 40. June 2011. Retrieved March 27 2020. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/06/telehealth.aspx.
- APA Coronavirus Resources.” American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved March 27 2020. https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/covid-19-coronavirus.
- “Help for mental illness.” National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved March 27 2020. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml.
- “Types of Mental Health Professionals.” Mental Health America. Mental Health America. Retrieved March 27 2020. https://www.mhanational.org/types-mental-health-professionals.