Seeking Help for Mental Illness

Mental illness is a common occurrence in the United States. In 2015, an estimated 43.4 million adults were diagnosed with a mental illness.

Mental illness is a common occurrence in the United States. In 2015 alone, an estimated 43.4 million adults ― 17.9% of all Americans over the age of 18 ― were diagnosed with a mental illness. That same year, it was also reported that 1 in 5 children has (or, at some point, had) a debilitating mental disorder.

Often referred to as an “invisible disease,” mental illness can be difficult to recognize in yourself and in others, which can make it difficult to know when to seek help. Sometimes we feel blue or anxious because of something that happened during our day or something upsetting we read or saw in the news. It can be difficult to establish what is part of your normal mood pattern and when it is time to seek help.

Emergency Cases

First and foremost, if you or someone you know is in crisis or feeling suicidal, go to an emergency room or a hospital or call 911 to get you the care you need right away. You can also contact a 24/7 help line like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to get immediate assistance and connect with local resources that can help.

When to Seek Care

When is the right time to seek help for a mental illness? A good rule of thumb is to determine if your mental illness is interfering with your daily life. If you feel too anxious or depressed to do normal activities, such as working or dinner with friends, it would be a good idea to contact a mental health professional to work through your anxiety or depression.

The state of your mental health can also depend on what is going on in your life. Major life changes, like marriage or divorce, births and deaths, job demands, etc., can all have a negative or positive shift in your life, which can throw your routines, behaviors, and habits out of sync. During times of transitions, it can be helpful to seek guidance of an impartial third-party.

In non-emergency situations, you can take the time to find someone who you can really connect with and help you feel better. This starts with getting a referral.

Get a Referral

Once you’ve determined you would like to see a mental health professional, you can find one by asking for a referral. You can ask your primary care physician, pastor, friends, or family. If you feel comfortable, let each person you ask know what is important to you ― gender, specialty, location, meeting environment, etc. You will get better recommendations based on this information and a higher chance of finding someone more quickly.

You can also look for a mental health professional online. Through basic location and subject searches or by using the American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator function, you can narrow your search considerably.

Insurance Coverage

The passing of the Affordable Care Act expanded coverage to support those struggling with mental health disorders and substance abuse problems. Most individual and employer-sponsored health plans must cover these services. This means that sessions with a mental health professional would be covered by your insurance; however, this may limit you to in-network providers. Some offices do not accept insurance, meaning you would have to foot the bill yourself, making treatment with your provider of choice cost-prohibitive.

Choosing a Mental Health Professional

Choosing a mental health professional that best fits your needs might take some research, but it is well worth it to find someone with whom you feel comfortable talking and sharing your most intimate and inner thoughts and feelings. Some common mental health professionals include:

  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • Clinical Social Worker
  • Licensed Professional Counselor
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor
  • Marital and Family Therapist
  • Pastoral Counselor

Although they will vary in education and specialty, each mental health professional should be certified or licensed to practice. For example, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD) and can prescribe medications and provide therapy, whereas a clinical social worker earned a master’s degree and can provide counseling.

When you select a mental health professional with whom you’d like to meet, call and spend a few minutes on the phone with them. During this conversation, you can ask about their approach to caring and counseling a patient with your concerns, what their office environment is like, and how they evaluate and create treatment plans for patients. If you feel comfortable with him or her after the conversation you can then make an appointment.

During your first appointment, be ready to answer questions about what you think your problem is, what you are struggling with, medical history, family and work life, and what you hope to gain from your sessions.

The purpose of therapy and counseling is to feel relief from whatever distress you have. It will provide you with the necessary tools to help you cope with stressful situations and the confidence to make good choices and live a more balanced life. To achieve these goals, you will need to feel comfortable with the mental health professional you choose.


Any disorder among children. (ND). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from

Any mental illness (AMI) among U.S. adults. (ND). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from