First Steps to Getting Help

I wrote in a prior post about my mental health treatment plan.  No one thing keeps me in recovery; it takes many different means of treatment.  But how did I end up where I am now?  How did my treatment and recovery begin?  For someone who has never sought treatment for their mental health issues, getting to a place where they are regularly seeing a doctor and therapist and having had built up a support community might seem like a daunting task.  Many do not believe they have the strength to seek help, while others are willing but do not know where to start.

Treating mental health issues, particularly depression, takes a lot of work, especially in the beginning.  You’re stuck in an unfortunate paradox of not wanting to be depressed, but the depression keeps you from having the energy to seek help.  I know many people who are stuck there.  They aren’t seeking treatment, their treatment is inadequate, or treatment didn’t work and they gave up.  If you aren’t suffering yourself but know someone who is, read this post about how to help and motivate someone to get into treatment.  If you are suffering and do not know how to take the first steps, read on.

First, you need someone to walk along with you through your journey.  If you haven’t opened up to anyone about your struggles, I urge you to speak up.  One of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do was to walk up to my wife in the kitchen and say, “I’ve been depressed, and I need help.”  It took me hours to muster the courage that Friday evening.  But if it wasn’t for me speaking up, there’s a strong possibility I wouldn’t be here today.

You will have to decide who to introduce into your journey.  The closer the person is to you, the more important it is that they walk with you.  You may fear judgement, rejection, or dismissal.  Unfortunately, it sometimes happens.  It hurts when someone close to you belittles you, tells you to “just get over it,” or throws your struggles out like a temporary tiredness that a good night’s sleep will cure.  Don’t let this fear dismay you; I will tell you that most people are not like this.  But if you do get this reaction, find someone else to walk with you and have the goal of educating the other in the future to better understand your illness.

When I told my wife I needed help, she assured me that we would get help.  After that assurance was a moment of an unspoken, “now what?”  We had never faced mental health issues before.  Like most people, we weren’t educated on how to get treatment.  Do we call a doctor?  What kind?  Maybe a therapist too?  Where do I find a therapist?  Are there support groups?  We found the answers through a trusted friend and mentor.  I answer many of these questions in the post I referenced above.  Here are some practical suggestions to putting each step of your plan in place:

  • Find a medical doctor.  He or she will be able to give a proper diagnosis and determine if medication is appropriate.  I highly recommend that doctor to be a psychiatrist.  They are specialists in mental health.  Ask your friends for a referral or call your general practitioner’s office (or a few offices) and ask them who they refer patients to.  Check with your insurance company and get a list of local psychiatrists who accept your insurance.  Unfortunately, many do not take insurance, but often you can get a partial reimbursement from your insurance company (call and ask).  It may take a long time to get an appointment, but if you have active suicidal thoughts, please tell the receptionist.  They most likely reserve times for urgent appointments.  If you are in a suicidal crisis (i.e. emergency), for your own safety you need to immediately go to a hospital or psychiatric treatment center.
  • Find a professional therapist.  You’ll find one much like you found your doctor.  First, ask the doctor for referrals to a therapist.  Also ask your friends and church leaders.  Some therapists take insurance, but others do not.  As it is with an out-of-network doctor, you may can get reimbursement.
  • Get into a support community.  Celebrate Recovery groups are great for supporting people with mental health struggles.  You can find a local group on their site.  Also get into supportive communities, like church small groups.  It may be hard to get out of the house sometimes, but you need to be in community with others.  I promise, when you get back home you’ll be glad you went.
  • Seek God.  Pray.  Read His Word.  Attend worship services.

This is how I got started on my plan.  Your treatment will likely be different.  There are other, more intensive treatments that I haven’t addressed, such as an intensive outpatient program (IOP) or inpatient program.  Ask your doctor or therapist if he or she recommends more intensive treatment for your situation.

My goal is to at least help you get started.  On this side of recovery, it breaks my heart to see people I know continue to struggle because they won’t get the help they need.  It’s worth it, trust me.  Life gets much, much better!


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