The demand for mental health services has exploded over the past few years. Blame it, in part, on the COVID pandemic, which created both fear of death and feelings of isolation as most of us limited our interactions with others. Add to that the turmoil of wars in Europe and the Middle East, the sometimes-venomous nature of our domestic politics and, of course, the usual stressors that we all deal with daily.

Needing and/or wanting mental health services is relatively easy to determine. But the big question is how do you find the appropriate mental health services for your issues?

Here’s what you need to know in seeking, evaluating, and choosing the best mental health services to help you cope with your problems.

Get a comprehensive diagnosis. While you may know you need mental health help, you may not know the root cause of your issues. That’s why it is important to start with a visit to your primary care doctor. As a generalist, primary care physicians are trained to look at the big picture of your health. A complete review of your medical history and a thorough physical exam may uncover factors affecting your mental status. For example, you may have started a new medication or altered the dosage of a drug you have taken for years. Medication side effects often include mood or physical changes.

Another cause may be medical trauma. Several months after I had brain tumor surgery, I began suffering from moderate depression and anxiety. It turns out that is a frequent side effect of brain surgery. My primary care doctor suggested both a medication and a psychologist (who concentrated on such cases), which helped me a great deal.

Finding the right therapist. Your primary care doctor, after reviewing your situation, should be able to suggest the type of mental health professional you should seek out. This is easier said than done. Many different professionals offer mental health services.

  • Psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are medical doctors (either MDs or DOs) who specialize in mental health disorders. They have comprehensive medical and mental health training.
  • Psychologists. Psychologists are other highly trained mental health professionals. Usually with an advanced degree (MA or PhD), they study and help treat people’s cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behaviors. One of their main goals is to evaluate and understand their clients’ thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. They go about this by identifying behavioral and emotional patterns.
  • Social worker. Social workers help individuals, groups, and families prevent and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional problems. Social workers may be affiliated with a hospital or community services programs and are especially helpful working with families. Social workers are well-trained in identifying local services to help meet a client’s needs.
  • Clergy. A priest, minister or rabbi can be very helpful by providing guidance and support. Consulting with a member of the clergy along with one of the practitioners above may be reassuring during your time of need.

Questions you should ask. Before making your final decision on a particular therapist, ask if they have specific experience dealing with your issues. Ask if they accept your health insurance. And find out if they will be open to coordinating your care with your other doctors.

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