While there are lots of ways to improve your mental health, such as practicing gratitude, exercising, eating and sleeping well, helping others, and talking about your feelings with a friend, I’ve found the most effective way to maintain your mental health is through therapy. This is because therapists are trained for this very purpose – just like seeing a chiropractor for back problems, or a dermatologist for skin problems! You also do not need to have a diagnosable mental illness to go to therapy; therapy can help with lots of things besides treating mental illness! Some of these include learning self-love and confidence, improving relationships, setting goals, and aiding in transitions and big events.
But I’ve already talked about the why: what about the how?
Unfortunately, finding a therapist and/or psychiatrist can be very difficult, especially if you are dealing with something like depression or anxiety which makes it difficult to reach out and find places. While most health insurance does cover psychiatric help, it can be hard to find someone in your network; and even if you do, they might have an expensive co-pay or not be accepting new patients.
IF YOU HAVE INSURANCE:
Go to your insurer’s website and search for therapy/pschiatry/pschologists and you will see a list. It’s best to call places, but many also have emails. You can also go to your GP and describe the feelings you’re having, and they can usually refer you to someone. For short-term cases, they can also prescribe things like antidepressants. So if you’re unable to find a new doctor on your own, going to a doctor you already know is a great option!
IF YOU DON’T HAVE INSURANCE OR CAN’T USE IT (i.e., you are insured under your parents and they can’t know):
One great option is churches: it depends on the church, but a lot of churches have counseling available, even if you’re not a regular attendee of the church or even Christian. It’s free, so if you’re really in a bind, this is a great option. Just make sure you’re comfortable with the people you’re talking to.
Another option is university psychology departments. Therapists have to train somewhere, and many colleges will have students take on clients with the assistance of department heads or a licensed psychologist. Your sessions will probably be recorded or with multiple people, but the same privacy rules apply. Many of these are cheap and/or often sliding scale for income.
If you’re at a university, then there should be a specific center for mental health. While there are not always a lot of appointments, they can usually refer you to someone else. There are also often student groups aimed at helping those with mental illnesses, or putting out resources online to help students. UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge is a great example.
Group therapy is also a great cheaper, easier option. Many universities and therapists have groups available that are much cheaper and more consistent. There’s a great list of support groups in the US here.
Opening up to family and friends is also a great first step if you feel comfortable. But I do want to mention that they should not be your only crutch if you are dealing with something serious. They are not properly qualified to help you; plus they can feel a lot of pressure if they feel they’re the only thing keeping you healthy. That is not a healthy or sustainable relationship to have, and both of you will be better off if you are seeking professional treatment in addition to speaking with them!
Remember: there is NOTHING WRONG with seeking help! In fact, it’s incredibly brave.