How to Get Started With Mental Health Care

May 13, 2021

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In the last year, mental health care has been top of mind as we collectively struggle with the pandemic, economic worries and stress. The number of Americans seeking help for mental health has skyrocketed. 

We spoke with Dawn Jiles, a licensed counselor and certified health and wellness coach with BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, for insight on how to get started with mental health care. 

Who should seek help with mental health care? 

Anyone with an issue or concern. If you aren’t satisfied with anything or you feel like your life is being impacted because of your mental state, you can access services. Anyone can get help for his or her mental health. 

How do I know when I might need help? 

You know you need help if you aren’t functioning well or feel like you aren’t your “normal” self. You may have a specific concern, such as problems in a relationship or a decline in overall health. Or you may just not be functioning in a way you usually would. That could be affecting your everyday life, lifestyle and situation. 

What are some things a professional can help with? 

A professional can help with depression, anxiety, mood disorders or stress concerns. Professionals can help with everything from concerns at work to substance abuse disorder. 

How do I get started seeking help? 

Talk with a primary care provider (PCP) about your health concerns or problems. You can ask the PCP to connect you with someone for mental health services. If you don’t have a PCP, you can look for resources independently by talking with family or friends. Schools often have counseling services, and many employers —like BlueCross — offer employee assistance programs.  

What should I know before a first appointment? 

One of the first things you should realize is it is OK to seek help. Often mental health is stigmatized, but people will experience different points in their lives when they may need assistance. I try to normalize that process. Mental health is just like any other health concern. We wouldn’t think twice about someone seeking care for high blood pressure. When you seek help for a mental health concern, you are getting treatment to have the best mental health you can so you can function at an optimal level. 

Be aware that seeking help will be an interactive process. Be prepared to ask questions and be open to sharing with your provider for the best outcome. Common questions you might have to answer include, “What brought you here today?” and “What would a day when everything is great look like?” 

A few other things to be prepared for include talking about your past and your present and what kind of treatment you have had. You may be asked to set some goals. 

Do I have to talk with a professional to address mental health concerns? 

There may be things you can do on your own, like changing certain habits, but you may want to look at what the root cause of the concern is. For example, if you aren’t sleeping well, you could make some changes on your own, but I would encourage you to seek help because it may be impacting your life in adverse ways. We wouldn’t hesitate to seek help for a physical health problem. The same is necessary for our mental health. 

What advice do you have for someone who isn’t sure if he or she needs professional help? 

There is no harm in making a phone call. Being able to bounce ideas with someone who is outside the situation and gives you feedback can be beneficial. Then you can determine if you want to engage in therapy or other services. 

Sometimes it can be helpful to talk with someone just for validation. Talking with a professional can help normalize what you are feeling and your thought processes. 

It is also important to know that if you engage with a provider and find you don’t have the right connection, it is OK to seek help elsewhere. You want to establish a rapport and feel comfortable. It’s OK if you need to look for another provider. 

What is a common misconception or myth about mental health care? 

Some people feel that others will think they are “crazy” if they seek help. But that is not the case. It may be you just need to work on a certain situation or you’ve been depressed for a very long time. There’s also a concern that, if you go to see a professional, you will have to take medication and everybody is going to know your business. That is not true. Your information will be kept confidential. Many times, therapy or counseling alone can be effective and not everyone seeking care for mental health concerns are started on medication.  

Why is it important to take care of our mental health? 

Our mental health is definitely important. If we can’t make good decisions, it impacts our relationships, our work and our self-esteem.

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