When your life spins out of control, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

The American Psychological Association recommends you seek the help of a trained mental health professional if:

  • You constantly worry.

  • You feel trapped.

  • You aren't getting any better with self-help.

  • You feel as if you can't handle things alone.

  • Your feelings are affecting your job, relationships or sleep or eating habits.

Other reasons to seek help: Someone who knows you well suggests that you go to counseling or you have an untreated problem with substance abuse.

These are only some of the symptoms that may warrant seeking help. You may have others that concern you.

Finding Help

The first person to consult may be your family health care provider to find out if your symptoms may be caused by medical conditions. If a medical condition is not the cause, your provider may be able to suggest a mental health professional.

The mental health professional you choose should be licensed by your state. These are the types of professionals who provide mental health services:

  • Psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor with at least four years of specialized study and training in psychiatry after medical school. Psychiatrists can provide medical and psychiatric evaluations, treat disorders, provide psychotherapy, and prescribe and monitor medications.

  • Psychologist. A psychologist has a master's degree in psychology or a doctoral degree in clinical, educational, counseling, or research psychology. Psychologists provide psychological testing and evaluations. A psychologist is also trained to treat emotional and behavioral problems and mental disorders, and provide psychotherapy and behavior modification.

  • Social worker. A social worker has a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree and is licensed to practice social work. Social workers can assess and treat psychiatric illnesses and do psychotherapy.

  • Psychiatric/mental health nurse. This is a specially trained nurse with a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree. Mental health nurses can assess and treat illnesses and do case management and psychotherapy. In some states, some psychiatric nurses with advanced training can prescribe and monitor medication.

  • Licensed professional counselor. A counselor has a master's degree in psychology, counseling, or a similar discipline and has postgraduate experience. Counselors may provide services that include diagnosis and counseling.

The cost of counseling services depends on whether you choose a public or community-based practitioner, or one in private practice.

Where to Look

"Finding the way toward a solution can be as simple as a quick phone call," says Donald G. Jorgensen, Ph.D., past president of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association.

He advises:

  • Consult your employer's employee assistance program (EAP). "If your organization offers an employee assistance program, you're very fortunate," says Dr. Jorgensen. "You can contact the EAP for any reason, even if you're not sure you need help. All contact with the EAP is completely confidential." Whether you want advice for relationship problems or financial difficulties, or you need help for severe anxiety or drug addiction, an EAP can connect you with services you need.

  • Call your HMO. If you have health insurance, it may or may not cover mental heath services. Your health plan may have a special phone number you can call to find out if you have coverage, as well as what services are covered and any limit on the amount the plan will pay. There may be restrictions on where you get services.

  • Check with a community mental health center for guidance or a referral. These centers are listed in the telephone book and may be the most affordable option for people who don't have access to an EAP or who have no mental health coverage. These centers offer a range of mental health treatment and counseling services, usually at a reduced rate if you qualify. They generally require you to have a private insurance plan or to be a recipient of public assistance.

Reference: Mental Health and Behavior section on Better Medicine

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