It's not always easy to know when to seek help and where to turn when you're ready for help. Dr. Mansfield, can you give us some advice on when and how to seek help for problems of living?
Sure, Dr. Jerman. There are a number of different reasons a person might seek help from a mental health professional. Some of those reasons include:
- Severe or long-term stress from a job or family situation, the loss of a loved one, or relationship or other family issues
- Symptoms with no physical explanation, such as changes in sleep or appetite, low energy, a lack of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, persistent irritability, or a sense of discouragement or hopelessness that won't go away
- Persistent thoughts of self-harm, or
- Referral by a healthcare provider who suspects a mental health condition
It's often a good idea to start with a primary care provider, who can do an initial exam to ensure that nothing in a person's overall health would explain their symptoms. Primary care providers are an excellent first step in approaching issues from a biopsychosocial perspective. They are also able to refer patients to a mental health professional they trust if they do suspect a serious mental health concern.
If you haven't been referred to a particular kind of mental health professional, but believe you might benefit from such help, sifting through all the available options to find the right resource can feel overwhelming.
There are various types of mental health professionals, and each type has different, specialty-specific training. It's important to look for a professional who has the credentials to treat your specific condition.
Unlike medications, which are vetted and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, psychotherapies aren't subject to a formal approval process. Instead, those therapies that are supported by rigorous research studies are designated as "evidence-based therapies." Because these therapies are grounded in the best available science, it's important to find a mental health professional who utilizes evidence-based therapies.
Finally, once you've identified a mental health professional, you may want to have a preliminary conversation to get an idea of how treatment will proceed and whether you feel comfortable with that provider. Many of the topics discussed in therapy are quite personal. For this reason, rapport and trust with your provider are extremely important, and can have a direct impact on how well you respond to treatment.