When it comes to treatment, it's all about what works best for the person—a combination of treatments may be best.
A primary care physician is typically the first point of contact for a person with an undiagnosed health concern. In many cases a primary care physician may diagnose and treat a mental illness and, when necessary, refer you to a specialist or mental health provider.
Dr. Keck explains the options that exist for seeking help from a health care professional.
Mental healthcare providers
Mental healthcare providers are professionals who diagnose mental health conditions and provide treatment. Most have either a master's degree or more advanced education/training and should have a license to practice, like a primary care physician.
Some may specialize in certain illnesses and may work in different settings, such as private practice, hospitals, community agencies or other facilities.
The most common types of mental healthcare providers:
- Licensed professional counselors (LPC): Most licensed professional counselors have at least a master's degree with clinical experience. These counselors can provide a diagnosis and psychological counseling (psychotherapy). They are not licensed to prescribe medication, but they may work with another provider who can prescribe medication if needed.
- Psychologists: A psychologist is trained in psychology, a science that deals with thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Typically, a psychologist holds a doctoral degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D.). A psychologist can diagnose and treat a number of mental health disorders, providing psychological counseling in one-on-one or group settings. A psychologist cannot prescribe medication unless he or she is licensed to do so. However, they may work with another provider who can prescribe medication if needed.
- Psychiatrists: A psychiatrist is a physician (M.D.) who specializes in mental health. This type of doctor may further specialize in areas such as child/adolescent, geriatric, or addiction psychiatry. A psychiatrist can diagnose and treat mental health disorders. They provide psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and are licensed to prescribe medication, if needed.
Psychology vs. psychiatry
Many people are confused about the difference between psychology and psychiatry and think it's related to the level of education or training a person receives. But the differences and similarities go beyond education and training.
Dr. Keck explains the differences and similarities between psychology and psychiatry, plus how they work together to treat mental disorders.
When a loved one or friend is impacted by a physical illness, we know the value of supporting them in their recovery. It's equally important to support individuals living with a mental illness. Support needs to be positive and understanding to foster an environment that encourages treatment and recovery.
When someone is diagnosed they may feel broken, unlovable, and worried that they will be abandoned. Tell them you love them, support them, and won't leave them.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Learn about their illness. This will give you insight into what they're going through and what you can expect. Do I know the facts about the illness? Have I ever asked them what it's like to live with their disorder? Do I understand the biological component of the illness?
- Have the right expectations. Mental illness can have a huge impact on a person's responsibilities, social obligations, and relationships. Their ability to maintain their productivity at work may suffer. While it might be long-term or a temporary issue, you may need to adjust your expectations of them for a while. Have I put unrealistic expectations on them? Can I recognize when it's the illness "talking"? Am I regularly frustrated with them?
- Show you care. Mental illness is a real illness—you have to accept the fact that you can't fix it any more than you can fix cancer. But you can help in small ways, like offering to take on a chore, bringing them dinner, or simply checking in to make sure they're okay and following their treatment plan. Do I know how to help them? Do I seek ways to be a part of their healing? Are we talking about it?
- Establish a support network. Supporting a person living with a mental illness is hard on them and those around them. Help them connect with a support network and consider getting your own support—it’s okay to need help too. Support networks include:
- Family – Family support is an extremely important component of the recovery process. Families should educate themselves on the illness and meaningfully participate in the recovery through acceptance and patience.
- Friends – Friends can offer support in the same way a family does. At times, people may feel that they are burdening their families or may not be ready to accept their support. Listening and expressing concern for those impacted by mental illness can impact their recovery in a positive way.
- Professional support – A mental health professional can serve as a reliable part of the support network as well as a facilitator of treatment and recovery.
- Peer networks – While they aren't counselors, peers who have experienced the same illness can give valuable insight on how to recover because they've been there. Peers provide hope, education, and advocacy. Finding people going through a similar experience is valuable in treatment. Advocacy groups (such as NAMI) offer free educational training, experience sharing forums, and support groups for individuals with mental illness as well as for friends and families who love them.
- Community and faith groups – Community-based mental health services can help you and your family work on all aspects of life and recovery. Common community services include evaluations of your mental health and role in the community, education to empower personal recovery, individual and group therapy, case management, and supported education and employment. These services are provided through small or large programs and while some work might be completed in an office, most of the treatment is provided at your home or in your natural environment. Your community or faith organization can also provide a safe environment for people to interact and foster a positive support network.
Dr. Keck explains the value of a good support network in mental health, plus where to find positive support.
Being an advocate
The stigma towards mental illness leads to a number of injustices. Individuals living with mental illness often encounter prejudice and discrimination, from lack of support from family and friends to inadequate insurance coverage for mental health services.
Organizations such as 1N5, Grant Us Hope, Mental Health America (MHA), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Lindner Center of HOPE are dedicated to educating communities and advocating for individuals with mental illness.
How to be an advocate for yourself or others
For access to quality care
- Do I know how health insurance covers mental health?
- Do I know the treatment options for the illness?
- Do I know how to find a good doctor or therapist?
For a partnership
- Does the doctor or therapist explain the treatment?
- Is the person getting treatment an active partner?
For commitment to treatment
- Do I know the consequences of failing to adhere to the treatment?
- Am I supporting and encouraging the adherence to treatment?
Taking a step forward
Here's how you can be part of removing the stigma around mental illness and take a positive step forward today:
- Reflect on how mental illness has impacted you or someone you care about.
- Record it in your personal journal.
- Share your story with someone—anyone that you feel comfortable confiding in.
- Break the silence by starting the conversation with someone today.